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Give Us Some Credit

Without giving women control of their economic future, the empowerment of microloans tends to stop at credit,” says Nancy Barry of Women’s World Banking (WWB), a group of microcredit agencies focused on women. Since the 1970s, microfinance–the system of providing loans as small as $1000 has doled out money and training to revitalize communities. The industry flourished once financiers realized that women, who comprise more than 50% of the world’s poor, are good credit risks. Unfortunately, the result has been a pattern of male-run lending groups shifting the emphasis from sustainable development to profit. Women are working to turn the tide. WWB requires that its affiliates have a majority of women in management positions. But there has been little incentive for others to follow their lead because large donors, such as the World Bank, do not require women’s leadership. So WWB started an “associates” program for agencies that are not yet led by women but are committed to increasing their role. WWB also helped to form the International Coalition on Women and Credit, which encourages poor women to participate in building their country’s financial infrastructure. Meanwhile, Susy Cheston has noticed a change in her funding network, Opportunity International, which has increased its number of women directors and clients. This has empowered women to secure electricity and clean water for their villages and organize child-care cooperatives and community drugstores. Asks Cheston, “Why stop at a loan when we can foster this type of transformation?”

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