The cost of empowerment? As little as $25.
Twenty years ago, Amir Unisha Bergum was windowed, leaving her and her three children struggling to survive in a slum in Hyderabad, India. Eventually, however, Unisha discovered Mahila Sanatkar Mutually Aided Cooperative Society. Mahila Sanatkar trains women in traditional crafts, then finds and gives them work. Before joining Mahila Sanatkar, Unisha would earn less than $1 a day; now she earns more than $1000 a year. They receive ongoing training, and each group (usually made up of women from the same area) has a joint bank account: all women pay in for the materials, and all profits are shared equally. If someone cannot pay, the other women will cover for her. The women all view each other as family, and protect each other fiercely. Mahila Sanatkar has given Unisha and women like her a skill, an income, a future, and hope. You can read more about Unisha and Mahila Sanatkar here.
Cooperative groups like Mahila Sanatkar are one way that women in poor or developing areas are able to take some control over their finances and lives. Another increasingly popular form is called microlending or microcredit. In essence, microloans are smaller amounts of money that are loaned to entrepreneurs who don’t have access to traditional banking options. The money for these loans often comes from individuals around the world, who can often lend as little as $25. The entrepreneur who receives the loan must repay the loan according to a repayment plan, usually including interest. In order to qualify for a loan, applicants must have a business plan, just as they would need for a loan from a traditional financial institution. This ensures a greater chance of repayment of the loan, just as the loan, instead of a donation, ensures the entrepreneur is more invested in the business.
Microloans have been instrumental in empowering women across the globe. By providing access to money, women are able to purchase items necessary to start or expanding a business, making them self-sufficient, as Mahila Sanatkar made Unisha. Though a loan of $250 may seem small to many of us, $250 can buy a sewing machine, allowing a woman who already sews or mends clothes to more than double her output, thereby increasing her income. With that greater income, she can repay her loan, and then, if she chooses and business is good enough, buy another sewing machine (either with or without a loan) and hire another woman to help in the business, thus lifting two people out of poverty. By no longer having to wonder where the next day’s meal will come from, she can start to think about education for herself or for her children, and bit by bit, social change takes place. For more on how microloans can empower women and inspire social change, read microfinance organization ACCION’s “Microloans for Women: A Source of Empowerment and Social Change.”
Through organizations like Kiva and ACCION, individuals can donate to entrepreneurs around the world, spreading hope and social change. A loan to Kiva is considered a donation for tax purposes, unless you choose to withdraw the money at some point. But for a donation as little as $25, you can potentially change someone’s life. Additionally, if the loan is repaid‚ and most are‚ you can loan that $25 to someone else, making your money work twice as hard. Microloans really are the gift that can keep on giving.
If you’re interested in learning more about lending through microfinance organizations, visit the Kiva website or ACCION website. $25 truly can start to change the world.
-Katie Weidmann
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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