In 2006 a Bangladeshi economist called Mohammad Yunus was awarded a Nobel prize. It was not the prize for economics, but for peace. The co-recipient was the organisation that he founded: the Grameen Bank, a “bank for the poor” and the founding organisation of microcredit. Peace, as has long been recognised, is inextricably bound up with justice and, in its recognition of the equality of human beings and the universality of skills, and by providing those in greatest poverty with the means of lifting themselves out of it, microcredit is an instrument of justice, and of peace.
Microcredit is a system of lending a small amount of money to enable people (usually women) living in poverty to start an enterprise. It does not demand collateral but relies on the formation of borrowing circles through which women support each other and provide peer pressure to guarantee the loans.
Microcredit is not primarily about money. The formation of groups, the discipline of attendance and the peer support and pressure are what makes this form of credit succeed where others do not. The skills and common sense lie within the group, the members of which empower themselves and each other by mutual belief and support. The loan fund is recycled; repayments enable others to benefit; the results ripple out into the wider community. Microcredit is aimed at the destitute and believes in the unlimited potential of every human being. It is a system in which vision, discipline and a well thought out structure are combined to enormous effect, as has been proved by millions of people whose lives have been transformed in over 60 countries.
There has recently been a lot of negative disinformation propagated about microcredit, partly as a result of the distortions that have been created by those who have recognised that the high level of repayment (some 97% world-wide) makes it an attractive money-making proposition, turning something designed to help those who have least into an exploitative exercise. But to confuse these new loan sharks with the original model that has had such a powerfully positive effect on communities round the world is profoundly misleading and does great harm to one of the best tools for combating poverty.
The model referred to here charges low rates of interest, enables people to build community by co-operative rather than competitive practices, and recognises the innate skills of every human being. Funding is from charitable sources, recycled to enable new loans; it is not from “investment” that seeks to get something back.
Jennifer’s new book on money and microcredit, Small Change, Big Deal: Money as if people mattered, was published in 2012 by the Business Books imprint of John Hunt Publishing.
In 1999, while running a community centre in London’s East End, Jennifer won a Churchill Fellowship to study microcredit, and spent two months in Bangladesh, Poland and France, to look at the various models, including a week in the jungle in Bangladesh. She then set up for Quaker Social Action Streed Cred, a microcredit project which in the ten yars of its life catered largely for refugees and Bangladeshi women, dealing with 22 nationalities in its first year. It worked across 4 boroughs of the East End of London and in 2003 was awarded a British Urban Enterprise Award. In 2001 Jennifer left QSA and handed over a thriving Street Cred to enable her to work overseas.
In a year’s travel 2001-2, Jennifer gave talks and workshops on microcredit in a number of countries, including Australia, Mongolia and India, and subsequently advised on the design and setting up of a pilot project in Melbourne for Iraqi refugees. The pilot project was successful, and funding was found for a 3-year project.
In 2003 Jennifer spent two months in Madagascar at a home for destitute girls, where she trained one of the staff to run a microcredit pilot scheme. By the end of the year 16 loans had been made and the programme had spread to include some of the girls’ mothers and former residents at the home.
In 2005 Jennifer spent two months in Eastern Cape, South Africa as part of a joint programme between the local municipality and Oxfordshire County Council, funded by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum to raise the profile of tourism in the area. The Eastern Cape is a particularly poor and disadvantaged region and Nkonkobe Municipality is poor even by that standard with an unemployment rate of 82%; 74% have no income whatsoever; 35% live in traditional housing; 5% live in informal and backyard dwellings. The rest either have no home or live in mud huts or shacks (figures from the strategic plan, 2005).
A local worker, Cynthia Mancotywa, was trained to run the microcredit programme, called Masambe! (let’s get going!), and established it in four areas. As a consequence of her efforts the programme got off to a flying start with 241 women from Nkonkobe communities in and around Alice, Balfour, Fort Beaufort and Hopefield joining the programme. Jennifer has been back several times to give support to the programme. By May 2006 the number of women involved in the programme had risen to 460. and was registered with the National Credit Regulator and the South African Micro Finance Apex Fund (SAMAF).
Although a lack of transport and of support from the local municipality halted the programme in 2010, it has now been put under the umbrella of a local NGO, Borien Educational Fund for Southern Africa (BEFSA) whose directors have been involved in the programme from the outset, and whose understanding of the programme and the region will enable them to provide valuable supervision, accounting help and personal support. Several hundred women are still on the programme, and the original worker is committed to making it a success.
In January 2009 Jennifer was asked by Ashanti Development to go, with a colleague, to set up a microcredit programme in two villages in the Ashanti region of Ghana. This programme, Yen Daakye (our future), is now running with three workers in seven villages, and is about to start work in the local town. 200 businesses have been started. In 2010 Jennifer and her colleague started a new branch of Yen Daakye in the Tafo region of Ghana, where there are some 150 women on the programme.
The microcredit process used by Jennifer and her colleague can be seen on http://vimeo.com/makestuff/yen-daakye
and interviews with some of the beneficiaries of Yen Daakye can be seen on www.ashanti-development.org (link) (Please note that the training by Jennifer and her colleague was two months, not two weeks!) This will give some idea of the impact of the kind of programme that Jennifer delivers.
For a thank-you letter from the Queen of Kwahu-Tafo, see http://ashanti-development.org/2013/03/14/a-letter-from-nana-gyamfua-aduako-ii/