Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A woman's worth

by Angie D

Give a woman access to a bank and she borrows. Teach a woman to be a banker and she changes the world….

Dr. Marcia Odell gave a talk at Princeton on Friday to describe an exciting new development in microfinance, where women are the borrowers – and the bankers! Odell’s savings-led microfinance venture, WORTH, is a revolution in both finance for the poor and in social activism.

WORTH promotes literacy, financial inclusion, and empowerment of poor women in rural villages in the developing world. But unlike traditional microfinance organizations, WORTH does not establish its own bank and then lend to entrepreneurs, rather it teaches women to be bankers themselves, thereby allowing them to gain interest off of loans made through their own savings. Further, once a WORTH group is established, it has full rights to teach other groups of women how to run their own informal, village banks – so the institution is self-propagating and the payoff goes to the women, not the NGO.

But beyond this immediate objective of poverty alleviation and providing access to financial services, WORTH’s ultimate goal is empowerment of women. During her talk, Dr. Odell noted that where there is gender inequity and women are poor, they have no leverage in their homes or communities, thus they cannot fight against injustices such as domestic violence and forced unsafe sex. WORTH equips them with the female solidarity, group support, and financial independence they need to begin tackling these issues. Women who participate in WORTH have taken on anti-violence campaigns, set up insurance funds for each other in case of disease or other income shocks, and built infrastructure to benefit their communities. They are empowering themselves and others, as they become bankers and social activists.

To find out more about this sustainable, high-impact savings-led microfinance model, please visit WORTH's website.

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