Four years ago when my son was just starting his college days, he was assigned a book to read over the summer. The entire incoming freshman class read the same book. Being curious about what the college found important, I read the book. Then my husband read the book. And kiddo? I think he read most of the book. The book forever changed the way I look at the world. I’ve recommended the book many times. I’ve loaned the book out to friends. I’ve even done a talk about the book for an organization to which I belong. And when the college brought the author to campus, I was there to hear him speak. The book? Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.
The book’s focus is on girls’ education, sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence, and microfinance. Carolyn See, the book critic of The Washington Post said in her review: “‘Half the Sky’ is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, but also a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue. It does so with exquisitely crafted prose and sensationally interesting material….I really do think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed.” I couldn’t say it better. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read.
The authors challenge readers at the end of the book to make a difference in any way they can. For me, that was done by spreading the word about the book to friends and making micro-loans.
Microfinance is an assortment of financial services that includes loans available to poor entrepreneurs and small business owners who have no collateral and wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a standard bank loan. Usually microloans are given to those living in still-developing countries. Recipients work in a variety of different trades, including carpentry, agriculture, and arts, food and clothing sales, etc.
Typically, microloans are small, not usually more than a few hundred dollars and don’t require collateral. Repayment schedules range from a few months to a year or so. Examples of uses include money for tools to start work in construction, supplies such as yarn or metal for artists, or funds for livestock, seeds and such for farmers. In some cases the loans may provide educational opportunities or improve the quality of health for individuals, families, or communities. Two-thirds of microloan recipients are women. Ultimately, the aim of microfinancing is to provide individuals with money to invest in themselves or their business to help get them out of poverty.
I make my loans through Kiva.org, an organization that provides lending opportunities in 85 different countries. The smallest loan amount is $25. I made my first loan in early 2012. It was repaid and rolled that same $25 over into a new loan. Lenders have the option of donating the repayments to Kiva for costs or keeping the money and re-lending. Since then, I’ve added a few other loans and have also re-loaned them as they are repaid. Lenders can read the stories about the people needing loans and Kiva provides updates to lenders about the recipients. So far, I’ve loaned to people in Armenia, the Philippenes, and Indonesia.
One of my loans was to Diah, a young woman from Indonesia who makes jewelry to sell. You can check out her jewelry and read her story here at Novica. Her loan was repaid, but you can still help her out by purchasing her jewelry. She’s very talented, and it’s quite beautiful and very affordable.