Magazine article UN Chronicle

Microcredit: Moving Women Forward

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Microcredit: Moving Women Forward

Article excerpt

Elvia is 25. She is a single mother in Guatemala, a country where the non-governmental organization CARE reports that approximately 20 per cent of women under 18 become unwed mothers. Elvia comes from a large, poor family (11 brothers and sisters). She became pregnant at 19 and was abandoned by the baby's father. She later took loans from CARE and has created a sewing and chicken-raising business. With her mother, she sells 600 chickens every seven weeks. She vows to make sure her six-year-old daughter does not make the same mistakes she has made.

It was with women like Elvia in mind that more than 2,900 people from 137 countries gathered from 2 to 4 February 1997 at the Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C. The delegates launched a nine-year campaign to reach 100 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of those families, with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005.

Today, however, there is a risk of losing the opportunity of microcredit to unleash the pent-up potential of hundreds of millions of the word's poorest. The Microcredit Summit Campaign defines the poorest as the bottom half of those living below their nation's poverty line. Too many in microfinance argue for a focus on building financially self-sufficient institutions at the expense of reaching the poorest families. The Campaign and some leaders in the field are demonstrating that combining institutional financial self-sufficiency with reaching the poorest is achievable and urgently needed. The Microcredit Summit Council of UN agencies, which the UN Development Fund for Women co-chairs with the International Labour Organization, has supported the campaign since its inception. But until now, there has been no bilateral or multilateral donor agency training its partners in using cost-effective, practitioner-friendly poverty6 measurement tools that allow programmes to identify and reach the poorest women1 nor i s any training its par6tners in combining the goals of reaching the poorest families with building financially self-sufficien6t institutions. The time is ripe for change.

Since its launch, the Microcredit Summit Campaign has been working to disseminate the latest developments in the field of micro-finance, with a special focus on its four core themes: reaching the poorest; reaching and empowering women; building financially self-sufficient institutions; and ensuring a positive, measurable impact on the lives of clients and their families.

A survey of micro-finance programmes involved in the Campaign reveals that the 925 microcredit practitioners who reported to the Summit in 1999 are currently reaching 12. …

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