by Lauren Hendricks, CARE
In 2002, I attended my first MicroCredit Summit in Cote d'Ivoire. It consisted of a few hundred Westerners discussing how microfinance can help alleviate poverty in Africa. Fast forward to the 2010 MicroCredit Summit being held this week in Nairobi, Kenya. Not only are there closer to 1500 participants, but the vast majority of attendees are Africans from African organizations and institutions. I am struck by the fact that this is no longer an external process but an African movement that is rising from within, but also taking hold internationally. This is what progress looks like.
Contrary to other issues like hunger, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, etc., microfinance is a sustainable solution that recognizes the dignity of African people and respects the resources they can contribute. In Niger, the world's poorest country, nearly 200,000 women have collectively amassed $14 million in savings. Moreover, 60 percent of the money these groups save is loaned out to members. The rest is redistributed to the savers with interest.
The African excitement around microfinance is palatable. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki opened the Summit and proceeded to spend the morning discussing its importance to Africa with none other than Muhammed Yunus, the president of Grameen Bank and father of microfinance. It seems fitting that the Nobel Laureate who invented microfinance in Bangladesh in the 1970s is here in Nairobi leading the conversation about how to bring economic empowerment to scale.
What also excites me is that the savings-led microfinance approach CARE pioneered 20 years ago (which brings women together to teach them to save, pool their funds and provide loans to each other) is quickly gaining momentum. Perfect for rural areas, requiring no infrastructure and suitable for illiterate members, savings-led microfinance is reaching the bottom rung of Africa's economic ladder and being increasingly recognized for the suitability to Africa's unique circumstances.
Africans, who are growing increasingly tired of being given hand-outs, are excited to have a solution that puts their incredible resiliency and self reliance to work. Africans embody the Kiswahili word 'Harambee' meaning 'all pull together.' Harambee is what has been happening since that MicroCredit Summit in Cote d'Ivoire just eight years ago. It is dizzying to think of what can be achieved in the next eight.
Lauren Hendricks is Executive Director of Access Africa at CARE. CARE, a leading humanitarian organization, brings financial services to more people in Africa than any other international NGO reaching 1.6 million Africans in 21 countries. Learn more about CARE's microfinance programs.