Featured Organizations, Gender Equality
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Girls’ Education: A Byproduct of Microfinance

Daw Ni, a widow and mother of three girls living in a small village outside Bago, Myanmar, used to support her family by Daw Ni_optworking odd jobs on local farms.  A $30 loan from Educational Empowerment’s micro-finance program allowed Daw Ni to open a small business serving mont-hin-gar, a traditional fish-noodle soup, to customers that she welcomes into her home.

Microfinance creates opportunities for women living in poverty to start small business enterprises.  In addition to obtaining a higher household income, these women develop increased decision-making power, self-confidence, and community influence.

While the savory scents of ginger, onion, lemongrass, banana stem and fried garlic wafting out to the dirt paths of the village might not lead passersby to think about education, in fact, proceeds from the business have allowed Daw Ni to send her youngest daughter to secondary school, an opportunity usually unavailable to girls in Myanmar.  Only 18% of Burmese girls complete secondary school, the lowest rate in all of Southeast Asia.  Daw Ni’s youngest daughter is one of the lucky ones.  Her two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.

There are many microfinance programs that promise to support women like Daw Ni.  What sets Educational Empowerment’s program apart is the holistic, grassroots approach.  EE partners with a local Burmese organization that collaborates with villagers to distribute low-cost loans and financial training to support their businesses.  Transparency is key. A savings component, group-loan structure, vocational training, and ancillary social and health services ease the burden on loan recipients and help the village thrive.

EE’s community-based microfinance program not only helps mothers keep girls in school but also bolsters local education, with a portion of loan interest dedicated to funding a small primary grade school in the village.

Girls’ access to education should be a basic human right.  

Investing in girls’ education bolsters their dignity, saves mother’s and children’s lives, and improves the socio-economic status of the entire community.

To take immediate action:

  • Join Girls Globe conversation on Twitter @GirlsGlobe
  • Donate to Educational Empowerment here.
  • Organize an event for International Day of the Girl, October 11th, to create awareness for girls’ rights
  • Let your voices be heard for girls worldwide!

Please visit us at www.educationalempowerment.org &  follow us on Facebook at EE, Twitter @EEmpower, and on Instagram

Educational Empowerment was created by women for women and girls. EE promotes literacy and education for children, families and communities in Myanmar severely affected by poverty and injustice. By empowering women and girls through education, we position women in Myanmar to attain their equal rights.

 

2 Comments

  1. This article makes an excellent point: “Girls’ access to education should be a basic human right”. I do not know EE directly, and assume the claims made here are valid. However, there is a danger in extrapolating this to the broader benefits of microfinance. Firstly, many microfinance loans are cripplingly expensive. Interest rates in excess of 100% APR are common, and over 200% are not unheard of. It is very hard for women to accumulate wealth when paying such rates. However, there is a less obvious downside to microfinance, contradicting the findings of this article.

    Micro-entrepreneurs tend to work in the unregulated informal sector, often selling fairly standard products in crowded and competitive markets. Growing such a business is labour intensive, but hiring staff is expensive, and further reduces the women’s ability to cover the interest expenses, let alone make a profit. Free labour would be ideal, tempting many women to withdraw their children, often daughters, from school, precisely to work in the micro-enterprise. The banks claim success in terms of loans made and repaid, but ignore the impact upon the children. Various academic papers have detected precisely this problem.

    To some extent this is offset by the positive impacts of microfinance upon girls’ education. But is that valid? What is perhaps even more concerning is the collective refusal of the microfinance sector to address this issue. If we accept that microfinance could have both positive and negative impacts on girls’ education, a basic human right, surely the wisest approach would be to identify the positive cases and promote that “variety” of microfinance, while also acknowledging the harmful “variety” and trying to eliminate it. Instead the microfinance sector has quietly brushed this topic under the carpet. It’s reputation as a poverty alleviation tool has come under fire recently, with endless academics concluding microfinance has minimal impact on poverty. The sector cannot be associated with child labour and accused of jeopardising girls’ education.

    The best example of this is the so-called SMART Campaign. This organisation, a self-regulatory body promoting Client Protection Principles, has repeatedly refused to include the rights of children in its policies. It is owned, staffed and managed by Accion, one of the less scrupulous and most profitable microfinance operators in the sector.

    If we want to promote girls’ access to education one simple means to do so is to encourage the investing community of the microfinance sector to take child labour and children’s education as seriously as they take profit margins and returns on equity.

    • eduempowerment says

      Thank you, Hugh, for your excellent points regarding the negative and rarely discussed impacts of microfinance in third world countries. I agree that microfinance has, for some time, been incorrectly touted as the ideal poverty alleviation tool. In many cases, it has increased the income of the financial institutions at the expense of the loan recipients. Prior to forming Educational Empowerment, I worked with a NGO in SE Asia which utilized microfinance as an income generating mechanism for beneficiaries. It didn’t take advantage of the loan recipients with high interest rates, but it did create a dependency that seemed unending. Rather than living from pay check to pay check, the recipients lived from loan cycle to loan cycle. I find Myanmar’s microfinance laws appealing as a household is limited to a maximum lifetime loan amount of $500. I believe this creates greater clarity and incentives to plan and succeed as there is a specified end point to the loan dependency. EE’s project in Bago is small. No funding institutions are involved. The interest rate is 2%, and recipients repay a portion of the principal as well as interest each month. As the principal fund is replenished more quickly, it is available for subsequent loans to current recipients and new loans to other village residents. A portion of the interest payments supports a primary grade school for the village children – a school where they learn critical thinking rather than rote memorization. Ancillary financial training and business mentoring is provided for free to loan recipients. EE’s benchmarks for success focus on secondary school retention, rather than number of loans issued, repayment rates, etc. Our goal is to develop a replicable model, and we are always open to suggestions if you would like to continue this conversation off line. Again, thank you Hugh. Melody Mociulski Co-founder and DIrector Educational Empowerment

      On Tue, Sep 2, 2014 at 2:12 PM, Girls' Globe wrote:

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