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Entries in microfinance (3)


Drama & Insight: Breaking Ground's 2012 Summer Reading List

We have gathered together a selection of book recommendations from Breaking Ground staff and volunteers. They range from techinical economics texts to the story of a woman in Maine, but all pertain to Breaking Ground's mission. We hope you find something here to take with you on your travels, or to curl up with on the beach. 

King Leopold's Ghost
Author: Adam Hochschild
Recommended By: Alex
Not for the faint of heart, this book tells the story of the Belgian involvement in the Congo, documenting the ambition, deception and cruelty that surrounded colonial rule of Africa by various European countries. It is very readable--though difficult to stomach-- full of interesting characters, vivid descriptions, drama, scandal and insight.


When Rain Clouds Gather
Author: Bessie Head 
Recommended By: Gaetan
The book, which is fiction, tells the story of a South African apartheid refugee as he tries to establish a new life in a small community in Botswana. The book deals with many themes relating to agricultural development and, more specifically, the struggle to introduce "modern" farming techniques in a society rooted in tradition. Additionally, the book examines women's roles (and the power and potential women hold to create change), both in agriculture and society in general.

Mountains Beyond Mountains
Author: Tracy Kidder 
Recommended By: Erin
This fantastic book traces the efforts of Paul Farmer to cure infectious diseases in Haiti. It is an outstanding account of the perseverance and commitment required for holistic development. A health care facility won't be successful if people don't have access to clean water or if people don't believe in the healing power of medicine. Farmer learns through his work that any significant change requires many smaller changes -- in education, sanitation, politics and policies.

Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout 
Recommended By: Erin
Olive Kittridge tells the story of a retired and often grumpy teacher who lives in Crosby, Maine. The book is not about Africa or nonprofits or agriculture, but its message is one that relates to Breaking Ground's mission: we're all a community. Whether it's a small Maine town or the big world, everyone is connected. Goodwill should be shared.

Standing Again at Siani
Author: Judith Plaskow
Recommended by: Becca

As a religion major, I have read a lot of different articles and some books which relate gender to religion. From these different sources, I have gained an understanding of how important women's empowerment is. In this book, Plaskow addresses the complex gender dynamics within Judaism and how Judaism and other religions can be transformed so that women can be treated as equals to men once and for all. This book was great to read because it helped me understand how essential it is for women to attain the same rights and status as men, and it shows how being a religious person and a feminist is not a contradiction.

Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
Author: Chandra Mohanty
Recommended By: Catherine
This is a fascinating read on feminist theory. It examines the complications of relationships between Western feminists and women in developing countries, focusing on the often-crossed line between supporting and empowering women and reinforcing colonial power structures. Mohanty offers numerous models for developing successful working relationships with women in the developing world without homogenizing cultures or falling back on paternalistic models. The engrossing case studies make the book a quick and interesting read, while still exploring transnational feminist theory in depth.

The Bottom Billion
Author: Paul Collier
Recommended By: Alex
If you are ready for a serious economics lesson and to really delve into the question of how aid and trade effect the lives of people in the "bottom billion," then this is a great place to start. Much of Collier's focus is on government policy which, though not a direct route of action for most people, is something important to understand as a responsible and involved citizen of a globalized world.

Poor Economics
Author: Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Recommended By: Alex
I already mentioned this in an earlier blog post about microfinance, but because it is so applicable, I will mention it again. It documents the work of two economists to try and measure the real impacts of various development projects and in the process covers many topics relevent to Breaking Ground's work, especially discussing the importance of democratic community involvement. If you ever feel overwhelmed by the scale of global poverty and wonder if small projects can really make a difference, this is the book to lift your spirits--but with hard facts not empty platitudes.




Celebrating International Women's Day: Support for Female Entrepreneurs

Today in Dschang, the women from our entrepreneurial program will be proudly marching together, in celebration of International Women’s Day. I was excited to learn that the women had decided to march, because it exemplifies the spirit of mutual support and collective confidence building that are some of our program’s underlying objectives. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of the participants with Chymène, the class instructor, and saw firsthand the bond that has developed between the instructor and her students, and her pride at their success.  

Many of the participants in the course only had a minimal amount of formal education, and are unused to the formality of tests and homework. Chymène is patient with the women and carefully goes over each week’s work, ensuring that all the women understand each lesson. The section of the curriculum which is most difficult for many is accounting and Chymène was particularly proud to show me the women who now carefully record their daily income and expenses in their books.

When I asked the women what had been the most difficult aspect of the course, almost all agreed that the real challenge was not the class work, but putting that theoretical knowledge into practical use in their own businesses, and that they were grateful for the continual support and advice that Chymène provides. Chymène meets each woman at least once a month to go over their accounts and discuss any growing pains the business may be experiencing. Above, she is at the store of Justine Ndjanbong, watching as students come to purchase food on their way home from school.

So far 55 women have graduated from the class, and registration is under way for the next session. Of the women who have graduated, 16 received loans in September and 16 more are in the process of opening accounts. I hope that, as the program continues, these successful entrepreneurs will become mentors for young women in Dschang looking to start businesses, providing a vision of financial competence and independence, as well as guiding young women through the difficult first steps of launching an entreprise.

Members of Breaking Ground's Women's Entrepreneurial Program marched Thursday, March 8, in Dschang to celebrate International Women's Day.


Microfinance: “Just one of the possible arrows in the fight against poverty”

Thanks to organizations like Grameen and Kiva, microfinance and investing in entrepreneurs has received a lot of media attention over recent years.  Breaking Ground is excited to have moved in this direction in 2010, but we are aware that it is not a silver bullet. First and foremost, the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program teaches valuable skills, creates a supportive community and encourages women to imagine, and then materialize, a better future.  We added a financing element to respond to a real need in the community and we have determined that loans are the best method to ensure the sustainability of the program: when women repay their loans it is deposited into a fund for future graduates of the business class.

Before making the transition to loans, we spent a lot of time researching the pros and cons of microfinance models, and have designed an approach that we believe will be effective for years to come. 

Community Appropriate:

One of the central values of Breaking Ground, is that each program must be designed with the community it serves, so that it meets the unique needs of that community. Our approach is specific to the needs of the women in each community. This means we change the course and the loan model for each group with whom we work. 

Low interest rates:

Many microfinance institutions charge high interest rates, to cover the high risk of lending,  but because Breaking Ground is providing the capital for the loans, our partners are willing to take a much greater risk than usual, at a greatly reduced rate. We have negotiated a 5% interest rate with our microfinance partners. Of this 5%, 2.5% goes to the bank, to cover the cost of servicing the loan, and the other 2.5% goes back into Breaking Ground’s WEP fund to cover the risk of default.

A flexible repayment schedule:

Breaking Ground works with each of our entrepreneurs to establish a repayment plan, before she receives her loan. These plans take into account the specific timeline of her business and when repayment will be feasible.  This gives women the flexibility necessary to make bold moves and take substantial steps forward.

The size of our loans:

Breaking Ground understands that part of entrepreneurship is making big moves, so we give loans that range from $200 to $1000, depending on the experience and needs of each entrepreneur.

Recipient selection:

Loan recipients are selected by a committee that consists of members of Breaking Ground, members of GADD (the organization that runs the course),  representatives from our partner microfinance institution, and two of the women’s peers. This selection process ensures that each recipient’s business plan is carefully evaluated from many perspectives before being selected.

Size matters:

Because we aren’t looking to make a profit, we keep not only our interest rates, but the number of women receiving loans, low. This allows us to give each woman the support that she needs to succeed.

The title for this blog post, is a quote from "Poor Economics" by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning in more detail, about the role of microfinance in the developing world.