Empowering Women Is The Answer

IMG_5367One of the many seeds that grew into Bambootique was when I read in one of my MBA’s economic textbooks that, when women have work, they are far more likely than men to spend their income on improving their children’s future – food, education, healthcare, clothing, housing, etc.  That was a lightbulb moment for me, although it was several years later before that seed grew into an actual business.  Still it was my own moment of empowerment, when I knew that I could do something profound that could change the lives of women and, in turn, help those women offer their children a better, brighter future.

A few days ago the New York Times ran a beautiful and concrete article on the very topic of eliminating poverty in the developing world through women. The authors, a married couple who co-wrote the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, talk about how when women have work they are less likely to be abused by their husbands because they are seen as valuable rather than as a burden. They provide employment for their poor neighbors.  They invest in their children’s educations. And as a result they boost their countries’ overall economies both now and, hopefully, in the future through their children.

The authors conclude that foreign aid as a blanket solution to poverty is inadequate. Shoving money at problems doesn’t necessarily get rid of them and, in many cases, makes problems worse.  However the authors point specifically to microfinance (giving small loans, mainly to women, to help them start or expand their own businesses) as one aspect of foreign aid that is most successful. Be sure to check out this well-written, well-researched article for more insights on the power of women to change their own lives.

95% of Bambootique’s artisans are women and many are micro-loan recipients through local lending programs. I don’t turn away men who make great products. But my vision is to empower women, knowing that men tend to have greater access to markets and other ways to earn an income than their female counterparts. I’m proud, in my own small way, to be part of such a movement. And I can’t wait to read Half the Sky, which I already have on hold at the library!

World Vision Microenterprise Event Next Week

I’m looking forward to attending this World Vision event next Tuesday night in Lake Oswego, put on by Women of Vision. “Equipping the Entrepreneuial Poor” will be held February 17th from 7-9pm at Lake Oswego United Methodist Church (1855 Southshore Boulevard). It’s to be “a lively panel presentation and a discussion on Microenterprise Development” featuring a World Vision staff member and several local bankers involved with World Vision’s microlending program.

Microenterprise, or micro-lending, is at the heart of many of Bambootique’s artisan cooperatives. Millions of people innurlaili1 the developing world make their income from small businesses.  Over the last few decades micro-lending has vastly changed the business landscape for microentrpreneurs by providing them an alternative to loansharks. Sometimes all it takes is a small loan of $20, $100 or $500 to help a small business owner take their business to the next level, boosting their family out of poverty.

Learn more about the successes of microenterprise here.

World Pulse Magazine Is Coming Back

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A few years ago I discovered a print magazine that made me want to cry it was so good.  The first few issues of World Pulse magazine were so inspiring I read them from cover to cover in one sitting. The magazine focused completely on women’s issues and stories from around the globe, unlike any other women’s magazine I had ever seen. There were stories about orphans in Africa and global midwives.  Other articles discussed women’s roles in the global fight on terror and drug wars, and women’s involvement in shaping the political landscape of South America.  Everything I read was very grassroots and looking at the lives of everyday women around the world, especially although not exclusively in the developing world. I was thrilled that founder Jensine Larsen had stepped out to produce such a publication and filled a glaring void in our news media.

From their website,

World Pulse is a global media organization dedicated to broadcasting the untapped voices and innovative solutions of women worldwide.

After just two issues of this fabulous publication, my subscription stopped arriving. I learned sadly the magazine was doing restructuring and was taking things online, at least for the short-term. This month though, the print magazine comes back and I can’t wait!

World Pulse is offering free issues of their next debut edition. You can request yours on their website.  Features include:

  • How women are transforming global communication using new media and cell phones
  • Women leaders on the future of microfinance
  • Women shaping the face of the coffee industry
  • Articles will link to the World Pulse community site: PulseWire.net, so readers can jump into the story and directly connect with featured leaders

Invest Wisely. End Poverty. Consider Microplace.

A few days ago I was thrilled to receive an email that started out:

Dear Elisabeth,

An interest payment of $3.58 was recently added to your PayPal account for the following: Manuela Ramos via Oikocredit Global Community Note.

Granted an interest payment of just over $3 isn’t much to be excited about, yet this email warmed my soul. You see, Manuela Ramos-Credit Mujer is a non-governmental Peruvian organization that makes microloans (very small loans, usually under $100) to economically empower women. I found the organization through Microplace, an ebay company that matches small lenders like me with small borrowers in the developing world. On Microplace I was able to read the profiles of a number of organizations around the world and choose which one I wanted to lend my money to. The organizations choose the actual recipients of my loan, but profiles of some of their clients are available on Microplace.

The loan I chose to give is a 3-year loan with 1.5% interest rate. Granted that’s not a very good interest rate compared to what I might get on Wall Street but it’s better than the money just sitting in my checking account. I love the idea of my money at work to empower women who just need a little boost to move their businesses to the next level. These women are small shop owners who use the funds to buy their first inventory or artisans who use the loan to buy raw materials (like those I buy from for Bambootique). Recipients of loans on Microplace, and actually recipients of most microloans, have an incredible payback rate of almost 100%.

I am a big believer in economic empowerment of the poor over charitable giving, since economic empowerment is sustainable for the longer-term while charity tends to solve problems only for the short-term. If you’re looking for a way to be involved in ending global poverty but want to do something beyond giving handouts, consider an investment through Microplace or Kiva, a similar organization I’ve blogged about before. With both organizations you get your money back, so long as the borrowers pay back, although with Kiva there is no interest. With both organizations you get heart-warming emails about your $3.58 of interest and the opportunity to truly change someone’s life for good.

Have you made a loan through one of these organizations? What has your experience been?

Gifts For Grads – Don’t Give Cash, Give Kiva

This year all the grads we know are getting Kiva gift certificates instead of a boring check or gift certificate to some chain store. Of course every cash-strapped graduate would love a check but with Kiva they get the money AND they get to do good.

Here’s how a Kiva gift certificate works. You buy a gift certificate for whatever amount you want (lowest is $25). Then the gift recipient goes to Kiva’s site and chooses an entrepreneur in a developing country to loan the money to. The microloans are overseen by various banking institutions and the payback rate is 99% (yes, as Muhammed Yunus said, the poor always do pay back). Once the loan is paid back the lender (your grad) can either choose to reloan the money to someone else or withdraw the money and pay their rent. It’s like giving a gift twice – first to empower a microentrepreneur, then to show grads in your life how proud you are of them.