By Margo Purcell and Dr. Bob Dickson
Last year the power of microcredit was globally recognized when Mohammad Yunus and his creation the Grameen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize for their incredible work giving life-changing funds to the world's poorest. The world also recognized the hope that it gives to the poor receiving the funds as they work tirelessly to end their own poverty and regain their dignity.
The full impact of microcredit can be found in the report from the Microcredit Summit Campaign, a program of Results Educational Fund USA whose goal is to give microloans to 175 million of the world's poorest women by 2015. And while the report gives an account of the incredible impact microfinance has had in the past 10 years, it also warns that the field is taking a few ominous directions.
Let's start with the good news. In 2006 alone, 133 million clients received a microloan and 93 million of those clients were among the world's poorest people, those living on less than $1 a day. That 93 million figure is up 1,123 per cent since 1997 when data was first collected.
Highlighted in the report is the groundbreaking work of Jamii Bora, a microfinance group in Kenya that started eight years ago with loans to 50 street beggars.
Some 700 in Calgary, Alberta were fortunate enough to learn about Jamii Bora directly from its founder Ingrid Munro at the 13th annual RESULTS Canada fundraiser in October. Inspiring is an understatement. What began with loans to 50 beggars in Nairobi has grown in eight short years to 170,000 savers and 60,000 borrowers.
When noticing a trend in clients struggling to pay back their loans, they investigated and found that 93 per cent of those clients were using their loans to pay medical bills. So, Jamii Bora created their own health insurance for members. The cost for a family of four is $12 per year. A secondary result of this insurance program was that it saved several mission hospitals from closing due to the infusion of insurance premiums. Munro refused to seek donor funds for this new venture "because then they would send a lot of consultants who would tell us it's not possible to do what we had decided to do."
And on the note of consultants and expert advice, we must turn to the bad news. The report addresses the misguided, expert advice from the World Bank, an institution whose mission states it seeks "a world free of poverty." The past two presidents of the World Bank have ignored over 1,200 members of Parliament from around the world who have requested that half of World Bank microfinance funds be given to people living on less than $1 a day. There has been a minor shift from new World Bank president Robert Zoellick as he discussed the issue in October with 29 members of the U.S. House and Senate.
Tragically, talking is all he has done. Discussing the issue will not save the 26,500 children dying each day from largely preventable malnutrition and disease or help the nearly one billion people living on less than $1 a day.
The importance of getting the World Bank and other development funds to the very poor is all the more evident with another piece of bad news in the report. This news came from an IPO that netted some $400 million for initial investors when they sold one-third of the Mexican microfinance institution, Compartamos.
Compartamos' practice of charging clients 100 percent each year in interest and other fees brought a strong reaction from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus. "Microcredit should be about helping the poor to get out of poverty by protecting them from the moneylenders, not creating new ones."
So in the report, along with the good news comes some bad news. For those who attended the Results Canada fundraiser in Calgary, the message was clear: Those who have been touched by microcredit have had extremely positive changes in their lives, but there remain many left to be reached.
We in the western world live in privileged countries that a century ago saw massive immigration of the world's poorest people leaving their homes in search of new opportunity. Our ancestors were much like the members of Jamii Bora and we in the west now have a voice that can be heard more readily than that of the world's poorest.
So, to exercise your voice, take action to shape the world into the place you wish it to be.
If that includes giving opportunity to the world's poorest to access microcredit, allowing for a dignified route out of poverty, then phone, write or talk to your own legislative members and let them know.
As Ingrid Munro says, "It doesn't matter where you came from. What matters is where you want to go."
Margo Purcell and Dr. Bob Dickson are partners in Calgary, Alberta with Results Canada www.resultscanada.ca, a volunteer driven advocacy and educational organization dedicated to ending the worst aspects of poverty and debilitating diseases.