Women make up 50 percent of the world's population, yet they only hold one percent of the economic capital, which means many are the main victims of global poverty. Despite some fantastic advances in recent years, Malawi is just one country where women are poorest. This is often because of illiteracy that is fuelled by high levels of school drop-outs, as parents can't afford to keep children in education and need to put them to work. Without the skills available to get onto the job ladder, women are being forced into poverty.
This is a situation that at the Microloan Foundation we feel needs to be dealt with urgently, but not through traditional aid provision. Instead our goal is to provide women with the means to work themselves out of poverty. Micro-financing is about giving people a hand up, not a hand out, by providing them with a small loan - usually only £40 on average. But an effective micro-financing programme like ours doesn't stop there, we also provide training and education. Educating recipients in starting and running a business plays a huge role in creating change and helping these women out of poverty. Many did not get to finish primary school because of the cost. Many then had no choice but to marry and then face the same problems with their own children, creating a chain of poverty that it is difficult to break.
Over the past 11 years we have worked with many people around the world who are interested and able to help to give women a hand up out of poverty. I recently had the opportunity to take serial entrepreneur and member of the BBC's "Dragon's Den" Deborah Meaden to Malawi for the BBC's Lifeline charity appeal to show her how our work is making a difference.
On the trip Deborah made an interesting point that when she invests in someone, "the first thing I want to know is if they know what they're doing... Most businesses fail because people don't know what they're doing." This is why the training provided by MicroLoan is on-going and ensures each woman has the support she needs to become successful and self-sufficient. The women are taught in groups, where they learn all the relevant business skills and pledge to support each other through difficult times.
Once the women have received training, they are given small loans starting at twenty five pounds, which they can use to set up market stalls, clothes shops or sell produce. Once their initial loan has been repaid, they can apply for further, larger loans, to help them expand their businesses. When a loan is returned to the charity, it can then be passed on to another woman to allow them to go through the same process. By helping these women establish a revenue stream, they are able to provide a reliable source of food and medicine, afford an education for their children and lift their families out of poverty.
As Deborah saw during her visit, effective micro-financing doesn't just help one person - it can help many families. With repayments in the high nineties, it creates an opportunity to then re-loan so donations keep on giving. In this way microfinancing works like a seed, starting with just one small loan to one woman, to then growing several businesses until it improves the quality of life for the whole village. This 'multiplier effect' is a chance for one micro loan to change lives over and over again.
MicroLoan Foundation is established across Malawi and now Zambia, providing business loans, training and support to some of the world's poorest women and helping them to work their way out of poverty.
An example of this in action is Abigail who Deborah met with on her trip to Malawi. Abigail has six children and struggled to provide food and medical care for them. After working with MicroLoan for ten years, she now runs her own restaurant called Chica Goodas, which employs three staff and can comfortably support her family and educate her children.
Successful micro-financing matters to women like Abigail. A modest cash injection can generate a stable income, creating a profitable cycle of trade and income. Our female clients are able to grow their businesses and create employment for other locals, meaning multiple people can earn a livelihood, all from one loan. Deborah came back from the trip to Malawi passionate about giving these women the ability to work themselves out of poverty using their own initiative and drive. All they need is the support network to help them do that in the first place.
To watch Deborah Meaden's appeal on behalf of the MicroLoan Foundation, please visit the MicroLoan Foundation website.