Opportunity International Bank of Malawi in Business Week

Wow, microfinance certainly has caught the world's attention. Claudia facilitated the interview for this article in Business Week:

Proponents say the beauty of microfinance is how a small amount of money can have a ripple effect on so many lives. In capitalist terms, it's the power of leverage. In human terms, it's the story of Dorothy Njobvu Kanjautso, a 35-year-old mother of three in Malawi who was widowed eight years ago. Through Opportunity International, a nonprofit group that received the Gates Foundation's first-ever microfinance grant in late 2005, she has taken out six loans over the last three years to build a school with seven teachers and start a separate business selling frozen treats from a cart. She used her first $70 loan to buy mats and games for the children; subsequent loans let her add a primary school and expand enrollment.

Being able to employ other people in the community is one way Kanjautso's loans paid off. At home the loans have improved the nutrition and education of her children. Before their mother's business took off, Kelvin, 12, Natasha, 11, and Vanessa, 9, ate meat maybe once a month, and meals were not particularly nutritious. Now they eat meat once a week and have a more balanced diet. They go to a private school with a 30-to-1 teacher-student ratio, far better than the 70-to-1 ratio in government schools. Better education and nutrition greatly increase the odds of their being able to stay above the poverty line.


The Gates Foundation's efforts, which range from funding a trans-African network of commercial banks for the poor to a plan to bring credit unions to the poorest regions of the developing world, also support technologies that push beyond what is common in the West. In a region where banking services are often nonexistent, it has helped fund one of the more innovative approaches. A $2.2 million grant to Opportunity International in late 2005 included funds to help hand out biometric smart cards to clients of the group's microfinance institution in Malawi. The cards work much like atm cards except they use fingerprint-reading technology. That's important because most clients don't have official identification documents since they don't drive and don't travel outside the country. When Malawi entrepreneur Kanjautso uses the ATM, she says she feels like one of the wealthy travelers that she associates with ATMs: "I look like a foreigner. I'm so proud of it."

Read all about it: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_48/b4011089.htm?chan=search

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