Empowered women mean an empowered community, a Fulbright visiting scholar says.
By LUCIA ESPINO
Trupti Biplabketan Jain, Michigan State University Fulbright visiting scholar, said one-third of the world’s poor population live in India during her lecture Nov. 8.
Room 218 of the nursing complex was almost full as about five professors brought classes to her lecture titled “Microfinance and Impoverished Women: Status, Challenges and Prospects,” sponsored by the department of services for women and non-traditional students.
Jain showed a picture of women who were helped by a microfinance institution; she said they were just a handful of all the women the institutions want to help.
Jain said these women were like many others: They grew up to get married and have children, but they did something different.
After seeing the economic struggles their families were going through, they decided to ask the bank for a loan, but they were denied.
“The banks think that poor people are not bankable,” Jain said. “This is a regular story of life in India.”
“Microfinancing is banking for the poor, not poor banking,” Jain said.
It is an economic development tool, and its objective is to assist the poor out of poverty.
Jain said microfinance institutions funds first came from private corporations, now they also come from the interest earned on lending.
The government is not giving any money for lending but it provides grants to take care of administrative expenses, Jain continued.
Microfinance institutions give small loans to low-income people, with very low interest and no collateral, to be invested in those people’s new business with the expectation that later they will be able to pay it back.
“It is a business of trust,” Jain said.
Even though microfinancing is a new concept, India has the biggest percentage of outreach with 15 to 20 percent of the poor in a microfinance program.
“Microfinance institutions are doing more than just providing the money,” Jain said. “They are approaching the people, show (them) how to start a business and (how to) keep their business.”
Jain said these institutions organize groups in the same economic level, but with different occupations, gender and interest.
Although these programs concentrate on helping women become financially independent, the institutions also help men who are willing to learn about microfinance.
“Women that join these groups also need the support of the men to be successful,” Jain said. “Men are also benefiting from the success of the women in the program.”
Jain said that not enough funds and low financial literacy from the members in the groups are the main problems for these institutions.
“Too much money in the hands of the group, when they are not ready, just doesn’t work,” Jain said. “The groups are not only dealing with economic issues, but also with social issues.”
The microfinance institutions work with the group to identify their needs, aspirations and obstacles.
They assist the members to overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals, Jain said.
Jain explained how by empowering women, these institutions also empower the communities.
These microfinance institutions empower women by enhancing their contributions to their household income and increasing the value of their assets, Jain said.
This will reduce poverty rates and allow households to spend more in education, which helps with a better attendance in school and lower dropout rates, Jain continued.
It will also allow women to spend on their health care to improve maternal health, nutrition and lower child mortality rates, Jain said.
Sara Samano, disability support services counselor, asked, “How long a process will take?” referring to the time between the institutions putting a group together, until the group is ready to use the money on their own.
Jain said it depends on the group’s participation and willingness. “We’ve had groups that take 17 years to be ready and open their own business.”
Roxana Avendano, American Sign Language sophomore, said, “I like the idea that it is mostly women, but that (it) is also community-based.”
Jain said she admires the commitment of the staff at the empowerment center because it was reflected in the smile of the women who had overcome their struggles with the support of the center and the college.
The most important teaching Jain will take back to her community is “helping the elder women in terms of acquiring education,” she said.