Each year, on International Women’s Day, the world celebrates the enormous achievements of women while simultaneously reinvigorating advocacy for gender parity. It is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come, while looking forward with new goals in mind.
While there are countless obstacles standing in the way of equality, not all of them are immediately obvious. Tackling one such issue is FINCA Canada — a partner organization of FINCA International — which seeks to empower women and other poor and marginalized individuals through economic inclusion.
Living in North America, most of us haven’t had to think twice about accessing the financial tools we need to be successful. It’s easy enough for most of us to go to a bank and open a savings account or get a loan to go back to school or grow a business. However, many individuals living in developing countries — especially women — have long been unbanked, living without access to the basic financial tools and opportunities that would help them escape poverty and live better lives.
To combat this, FINCA has established a network of 20 microfinance institutions to provide access to basic financial services in some of the world’s most challenging economic environments. Utilizing a double bottom line approach to financial sustainability and social impact, today FINCA serves nearly two million people on five continents.
One of the many supporters to rally behind FINCA’s life-changing work is Etalk Reporter Chloe Wilde, who acts as one of the non-profit’s celebrity ambassadors. We sat down with Chloe to discuss her involvement and recent experiences with the non-profit.
There are many great charities out there, what about FINCA Canada captured your attention and made you want to get involved?
The moment I learned financial inclusion was one of the cornerstones of their business, paired with a focus on women in developing countries, I had a palpable desire to get involved and learn more. With almost two billion people worldwide unbanked, it is sad to hear that most of these are women, and that if interested in getting credit, they face more challenges
than men. In a time where women’s stories around the world are finally being heard, their concerns no longer pushed aside, their desires deemed worthy of pursuing, FINCA is allowing women to no longer be bystanders of their life due to societies’ roadblocks or economic challenges, but to be curators of their own life. Plus, I was raised by a single mom who did everything she could to provide for my brother and I and I wouldn’t be here without her … go moms go.
In June you visited FINCA clients in Haiti, can you describe your experience and share a moment or meeting that resonated with you?
It’s one thing to read a press release, have phone conversations about the work that is being done on the ground, or even watch client videos to learn about their stories, but it’s entirely different when you step off the plane, are greeted by a warm smile, the sun shining overhead and you realize: I’M IN HAITI. To say it was inspiring to see first-hand the impact of FINCA’s work, sit in on village banking meetings, and meet clients in their place of work, would be selling it short. With FINCA, people are given a chance to lift themselves out of poverty, not with a hand-out but rather with a hand-up; their vision, entrepreneurial drive, passion for a better life, and assurance that it can get better combined with financial education and loans allow for that. One particular moment that hit hard was when we were brought to a remote village. We were driving along a dirt road and walking down a path until we found ourselves joining a circle of people all seated on chairs going through their loan requests for the next cycle. What amazed me was seeing the client pitch their desired amount, and then anxiously wait to see if the rest of the clients at that particular village bank would approve the request. The beauty of this, is that if a client defaults, the rest of the village bank steps up and helps them repay — one for all and all for one. It not only keeps people account- able, motivated to repay the loans on time but also provides a sense of teamwork and security if something were to happen.
How does providing a small loan to mothers living in poverty make a difference long-term? And why should Canadians care?
When women start earning more, the positive effect begins almost imme- diately. It has been shown that women focus on their children’s nutrition, education, and also give back to the larger community. If you think about it, this is a two-pronged victory on the path to eliminating extreme poverty; the immediate impact of nourishment and education and the inter-generational impact of kids achieving higher education. The positive ripple effect is everlasting.
While in Haiti, we visited a food shop on a bustling street where vendors filled the sidewalks as far as the eye could see. This shop was run by
a woman, whose spot carried a variety of items from fresh produce to cleaning products, and housed a big storage unit at the back. Her shop was not always in such a prime location or able to offer customers’ what they needed. She stood at the front of the store sharing the story and how she ended up there — starting small and growing over time with larger loans. It was clear she had immense pride for the shop, for herself, but
more importantly, for her children who now had access to better nutrition and the prospect of going to college as a result.
Let’s be active participants in ensuring these women have the chance to feel empowered and supported, and to let them know they can be game changers in their own lives and the lives of their little ones.
How can Canadians get involved with the great work FINCA Canada is doing with families around the world?
The easiest way is to make a donation on their website. Follow them on social media and share their work. For organizations that would like to explore new partnerships, contact them directly: they’re very nice people! 😉 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anything else you would like to add?
Next time you grab your credit card to fill up on gas, buy a coffee, or indulge in a new purchase, take a minute to step back and realize that it is a privilege. The ease at which we have bank accounts, accessibility to financial education and opportunity for growth is something I believe we all deserve, no matter what country or socioeconomic status. Let’s spread that privilege worldwide.