I'm the Communications Officer for the Women's Opportunity Fund and thought I could shed some light. The Women's Opportunity Fund (http://www.opportunity.org/wof) is part of the Opportunity International Network (http://www.oinetwork.org), a coalition of 67 organizations in 29 countries that supply small business loans to entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe & Russia. We partner with indigenous non-governmental organizations, providing funds, technical assistance and training in group lending. We were participants in the Microcredit Summit (http://www.microcreditsummit.org). As fellow practitioners with Grameen Bank, we try to complement our resources (along with other microlending institutions) to reach as many of the poor as we can. We are, however, separate organizations.It's a sad fact, but only 2% of the poor people who run their own businesses have access to credit or savings services. The Women's Opportunity Fund, in particular, focuses on loans to extremely poor women. Women make up 70% of the world's poor, and often have no access to financial services such as credit or even savings accounts. These women are usually already working at their own small businesses, but have trouble keeping them afloat without the required working capital. By giving them a loan of $80-150, they can make substantial investments in their own businesses. Clients can then buy soybeans and corn at the wholesale bulk rate, rather than having to buy on credit at exorbitant rates. They can also use the money to keep their roadside kiosk inventory at stable levels, rather than having to wait until all of the inventory is sold to buy more. While $80-150 may not sound like much to you and me, these small amounts of capital make huge differences in the lives of our clients. Clients tell us that now they can feed their children three times a day, rather than just once—or that they can now pay for their children's school fees.Since the women we serve are so poor, they do not have anything to offer as collateral. That's why we have to give out loans in groups called “Trust Banks.” Trust Banks are groups of 15-40 women who guarantee each other's loans. Their mutual word is their collateral. This has proven very successful, in that our repayment rates are over 98%. The Trust Banks meet every week to repay their loans, and discuss business and community issues. Clients are also encouraged to begin saving and are offered (many for the first time ever!) a safe place to save their money and collect interest. Many Trust Banks have even begun group savings, in addition to individual savings accounts, that they use to help those in the neighborhood. Trust Banks have sponsored orphans in their neighborhood, providing them with food and shelter with the money in the group savings. They have also organized Community Health Brigades with free medical services to the neighborhood with their savings. This is one of the most amazing parts of our group lending program—the fact that it promotes community development and transformation, as well as individual achievement. As TMF Selena points out, microcredit is the epitome of Foolish charity. It's not even charity—it's bringing economic access to those who desperately need it—the poor. While this may be more information than you expected, I did want to give you a bit of background. Visit our website (http://www.opportunity.org/wof) to learn more, and feel free to let me know if you have any more questions.
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