Women taking a pop at poverty
VAIL You relieve poverty one entrepreneur at a time.For less than youd spend on a dinner out, you can fund just such an entrepreneur.Friendship Bridge is a local organization that provides loans to women in Third World countries, helping them start their own tiny businesses and break the cycle of poverty. Itll set you back between $100 and $200.Pam Kennedy started Friendship Bridge, a local chapter of Opportunity International. The international group helps thousands of impoverished women around the world launch their own micro-businesses.Opportunity Internationals Suzy Cheston will be in town Monday to lead this summer first Vail Symposium session. Cheston is senior vice president for policy for Opportunity International, advocating for greater access to microfinance and AIDS programs to help the poor. She also is co-chair of the Microenterprise Coalition, executive director emeritus of the Womens Opportunity Fund and a member of the Opportunity Network.Cheston will discuss the success of bubbling up through microfinance, as well as her experiences working in El Salvador and other countries.We are really looking forward to opening the summer with this global topic that really touches the lives of individuals, said Fraidy Aber, executive director of the Vail Symposium.
The Vail Valley circle is a group of local volunteers who meet quarterly. They focus on a village in Guatemala where they provide small loans to women, around $100 to $200, to help them start small businesses.The women weave, buy chickens so they can sell the eggs, buy a bull to begin an animal husbandry business, harvest bamboo then weave baskets and sell them in the markets … the list is as long as their imaginations.Its very innovative and very moving to see these women as they improve their lives, Kennedy said. These countries have little or no opportunity.Its not an aid program. What history has taught us is that these loans are much more effective than straight-out aid, the teach-someone-to-fish theory.It teaches them to be self-sufficient and enables them to take pride in their workmanship, Kennedy said. Aid programs tend to encourage people to stand there with their hands out.The women must learn everything: what loans are and how they work, cash flow for their businesses, profit margins, everything that goes with handling money.The program provides loans for groups of five women each woman is funded individually. If one woman doesnt pay back her loan, none of them ever gets loans again. The peer pressure works and partnerships are effective.We have a repayment rate of 98 percent to 99 percent, said Kennedy, an entrepreneur herself who owns Sintra Tile & Design. Thats higher than banks in the U.S.Their Guatemalan village was hammered last year by Hurricane Stan. The storm didnt get much press and its victims not a lot of aid. A call for donations helped these women get on their feet again.Kennedy started the local chapter after going to Guatemala with Opportunity International and meeting some of the women they have helped. Friendship Bridge provides micro credit with a focus on women in rural Guatemala.
MicrofinanceOne of the errors of international development aid is that sometimes it just doesnt look at the smaller picture, Kennedy said.Microfinance organizations like Opportunity International, in creating banks for the poor, have learned that providing small loans to those who have escaped the notice of the worlds financial systems can have a huge impact. Opportunity International provided more than 800,000 entrepreneurs with microbusiness loans in 2005. One of its hallmarks has been reaching women, who comprise nearly 90 percent of its clients.The local Friendship Bridge organization is a branch of a chapter in Evergreen. They run small fund-raisers and the local chapter has adopted a sister town where theyre helping 25 women. Opportunity International is helping 6,000 in that part of Guatemala. The Edwards Rotary is donating money and the club has its own projects going.The local and international organizations offer insight trips during which you can meet the women being helped.This is a very hands-on non-profit, Kennedy said.Cheston recently testified before the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives at a hearing on microfinance. Her testimony focused on galvanizing Congress and the U.S. Agency for International Development to finish the job by ensuring that all of the worlds poor have access to microfinance services that can transform their lives.Vail, Colorado
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