My first foray into micro finance was in 2007 while on a field study in Ghana. I went to a small micro finance office in Kumasi to interview one of the female loans officers. The concept seemed simple enough – provide people with small loans to help them build their business and lift themselves out of poverty. As with any loan, the business owner repays the loan as their business grows. When major banks only provide mass amounts of debt with crushing interest rates where could those who only needed a little help to get started turn? In the 7 years since Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank micro finance has proven to be one of the most effective ways to get people, especially women, the funds they need to grow their business.
The concept was simple for me to grasp, but the paradigm shift profound. Contrary to the long held belief that people living in extreme poverty require an endless stream of aid in the form of charitable donations, and those being barely enough to stave off total starvation, I learned that, as in Western society, most people living in developing countries desire to work, earn a living, and build a better life for themselves and their children. Learning about micro finance changed my perceptions about people living in extreme poverty and helped me to see that they were, in fact, people just like me. People who had goals for themselves, their careers, and their families. People who were happy to work hard to achieve their goals and, like me, needed a bit of help from time to time to move them further toward those goals. As a student nearing the end of my degree I certainly understood how a little (or, in my case, a lot) of financial assistance was important to helping me reach my goals. The same is true for those living in extreme poverty.
Though my thoughts about aid and and it’s ability to lift people out of extreme poverty changed my actions were slow to follow. In my interview with the loan officer I neglected to ask the most important question: is there anything I can do to get involved? In my naivety, I didn’t quite understand that the funds for these loans had to come from somewhere and they weren’t coming from any of the conventional sources. The realisation that I could play a part in the micro finance cycle didn’t occur until 3 years later. That’s when I first heard about Lend With Care, a joint venture between Care International and The Cooperative, to channel millions of £s towards small loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Through Lend With Care you can make a donation as low as £15 to an entrepreneur of your choice and over time the entrepreneur repays your donation, or rather, your loan. Once repaid, you can choose to take back your money or re-invest it in another entrepreneur. It actually is the gift that keeps on giving.
Once I learned that I could play a part I gave a loan of £15 to Farima, a restaurant owner in the Phillipines who needed just over £2000 to buy more food in order to increase sales at her restaurant. Farima had a proven track record do repaying small loans and growing her business. As I read about Farima’s story and goals it almost felt as though I was simply loaning £15 to a friend, or doing my part to help see a project on Kickstarter get off the ground. I gave my loan a month ago when Farima still required 80% funding. Last week she was fully funded and I’ve already received my first repayment. To be honest, I can’t wait to receive the full repayment because I’ll know that Farima’s business is growing and I can then reinvest it in another hard working entrepreneur as they lift themselves out of poverty.