Empowering Women? — Count Me In

The other night I was watching Deal or Not and Howie Mandel was telling some poor angst-ridden contestant that $53,000 was a lot of money, a life-changing amount of money. It struck me as ironic that this statement was coming from a guy who probably makes that much for every time he points his clasped hands at a model and says, “Open the case.”

$53,000 would not be a life-changing amount of money to a celebrity, just as $5 would not really affect my life in any major way. If a 5 dollar bill came as a birthday present from my Great Uncle Oscar tomorrow, I might stock up on Symphony bars or just blow the whole wad buying a tenth of a new pair of jeans.

But imagine if that 5 dollar bill could change the course of an entire family’s life. Unitus is an innovative non-profit organization that says it can do exactly that. This month they’ve launched an Empowering Women campaign just in time for Mother’s Day. On their site you can create a tribute page to a woman who inspires you.

You can also take a few dollars and become a woman who inspires and empowers others, who changes lives. (I know that sentence is dripping with clichés, but bear with me.)

I’ve known Geoff Davis for quite a while and have listened to him talk about his job and to his wife talk about supporting and missing him as he leaves her for weeks at a time to travel the globe. He runs Unitus, a non-profit group that uses solid investment and business practices to help relieve poverty worldwide.

Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to what this group was doing. There are a ton of non-profits out there that claim that for only $25 per month, I can feed a family of four in some foreign country with a name I can’t even pronounce. They all seem kind of hopeless. If my $25 stops coming, what happens to the family? Does feeding someone for a month really help stop the cycle of poverty that their family’s been struggling with for generations?

A few months ago, I saw a documentary (you know I can’t resist a well-made doc) about microfinance and the way it’s empowering people (mostly women) around the world to change their own lives and the lives of their families.

I’m not exactly a financial genius so I’ll try to explain how this works in simple terms that make sense to me. If I go off course here, I’m sure Geoff will set me straight.

If you ask people living in complete poverty what they need to change their future and make them capable of supporting their families, it’s often something simple like chickens so they can sell eggs, a sewing machine so they can start a tailoring shop, or reeds so they can make and sell baskets. Often it would take as little as $50-$100 dollars to set up a sustainable business and stop worrying every day about how they would be able to feed their children.

The problem is, no bank is willing to give a loan to someone with absolutely no collateral to ensure the debt will be repaid. Microfinance works by giving small loans to women (and men) in a community who all agree to manage and repay the loans together. The only collateral needed is the word of the borrower and the members of her group.

More than 95% of those receiving microloans repay them so the money can be passed on to other micro-entrepreneurs.

94% of those receiving the loans are women who use them to create hope for future generations. Many of the women, once they’re empowered as business owners become increasingly innovative and pay off and take out many loans, growing their businesses and employing others.

Besides the monetary payoff, there is an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you take the initiative to help solve the problems in your own family and community.

accomplishmentI think of the giddy glee I experienced as Dan took this picture after I received my first paycheck as a writer. I can only imagine my feelings of self-worth and accomplishment if those few hundred dollars had been the turning point in my family, the moment when we would take control of our own financial destiny.

Unlike other microfinance organizations, Unitus first puts all donations into well-managed financial growth investments so your $5 truly will be multiplied before it is given to women who will then repay it and pass it on to others.

When I think about the impact my few extra dollars can have, my heart grows a few sizes and I add my endorsement to many others who are rallying behind this awesome initiative.

Go watch their short video, pass the word along and find out how easy it can be to literally change the world.

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