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Microfinance as a Solution: Beggars, Thieves, AIDS and Prostitution

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I recall Muhammad Yunus talking about how the workers at the Grameen Bank loved working with the beggar program, which extends tiny microloans to beggars to help them buy things they can sell door to door. Dr. Yunus' patience with this wonderful program was exemplified when he would respond to questions about why only some of the beggars were no longer begging:

"Give them time. Begging is their core business. It takes time to shut down their begging division and increase their sales division," he would respond with a wonderfully mischievous smile.

Recently, at a Microfinance Summit in Columbia, where Dr. Yunus was present, Sam Daley-Harris, a wonderful man who co-founded RESULTS (and who gets things done!), spoke about innovative programs in which credit was made available not only to the poorest of the poor, but to those whom no one believed could be helped by microcredit. He sent me the link and text of his opening address, after our email exchange revealed that Microcredit is a way to halt sex trafficking... Read on:

"And I ask you to challenge yourselves to take your accomplishments to the next level -- to build microfinance institutions that are at the cutting edge -- that use microfinance to end poverty in your country, your region, and around the world.

I know that that sounds like an impossible task, but that is what the leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean have asked for. I was so inspired by your responses to the survey we sent last year asking for your top choices for plenary and workshop titles for this Summit. Out of 50 titles circulated, the number one selection by leaders of microfinance in Latin America and the Caribbean who responded to the survey said that the session they wanted most was: "Breaking the Rules of Microfinance to Better End Poverty: Innovations from Around the World."

That wish will be granted. After lunch today we will have that session and you will hear from two of the global rule-breakers. Of course a third rule-breaker, Muhammad Yunus, probably the greatest rule-breaker in the world, is on this stage with me.

One rule in microfinance is that we can only reach the "economically active" poor, those with a stall in the market, with a business that is up and running. After lunch you will hear from Anne Hastings of Fonkoze in Haiti and Ingrid Munro of Jamii Bora in Kenya, people who have broken that rule and are successfully making loans to the ultra poor, to people who are living with HIV and AID, to beggars, thieves and prostitutes.

Several years ago Anne Hastings held a small Summit in Haiti with a big vision. She brought several leaders from Africa, Asia and Latin America to help Fonkoze answer this question: What is the best methodology we can use to end poverty in Haiti? Don't you love that question?
Recently Ingrid Munro told me that after the post election violence in Kenya 18 months ago, Jamii Bora received funds to rebuild some of the markets that had been destroyed in the rioting. Jamii Bora decided they had to find the hooligans who burned down the markets and engage them in rebuilding the markets.

One of the leaders of the rioting was known as "The General." Jamii Bora engaged The General and his gang in rebuilding the markets and then engaged them in microfinance. He came to Ingrid recently and told her that he hadn't been able to go home to his village for 10 years because his mother was so ashamed of what he did. But he just went home and he said his mother cried for three days because she was so proud of how he had turned his life around.

There is the vision of using microfinance to better end poverty and then there is vision of using microfinance for redemption. The dictionary defines redemption as restoring one's honor or worth, setting one free. Isn't that our highest goal for microfinance, assisting people in restoring their honor and worth and setting them free from the bondage of poverty?"

-- Sam Daley-Harris

The link and more information on the microfinance summit can be found here and at RESULTS.org