Empowering Women? — Count Me In

The other night I was watching Deal or Not and Howie Mandel was telling some poor angst-ridden contestant that $53,000 was a lot of money, a life-changing amount of money. It struck me as ironic that this statement was coming from a guy who probably makes that much for every time he points his clasped hands at a model and says, “Open the case.”

$53,000 would not be a life-changing amount of money to a celebrity, just as $5 would not really affect my life in any major way. If a 5 dollar bill came as a birthday present from my Great Uncle Oscar tomorrow, I might stock up on Symphony bars or just blow the whole wad buying a tenth of a new pair of jeans.

But imagine if that 5 dollar bill could change the course of an entire family’s life. Unitus is an innovative non-profit organization that says it can do exactly that. This month they’ve launched an Empowering Women campaign just in time for Mother’s Day. On their site you can create a tribute page to a woman who inspires you.

You can also take a few dollars and become a woman who inspires and empowers others, who changes lives. (I know that sentence is dripping with clichés, but bear with me.)

I’ve known Geoff Davis for quite a while and have listened to him talk about his job and to his wife talk about supporting and missing him as he leaves her for weeks at a time to travel the globe. He runs Unitus, a non-profit group that uses solid investment and business practices to help relieve poverty worldwide.

Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to what this group was doing. There are a ton of non-profits out there that claim that for only $25 per month, I can feed a family of four in some foreign country with a name I can’t even pronounce. They all seem kind of hopeless. If my $25 stops coming, what happens to the family? Does feeding someone for a month really help stop the cycle of poverty that their family’s been struggling with for generations?

A few months ago, I saw a documentary (you know I can’t resist a well-made doc) about microfinance and the way it’s empowering people (mostly women) around the world to change their own lives and the lives of their families.

I’m not exactly a financial genius so I’ll try to explain how this works in simple terms that make sense to me. If I go off course here, I’m sure Geoff will set me straight.

If you ask people living in complete poverty what they need to change their future and make them capable of supporting their families, it’s often something simple like chickens so they can sell eggs, a sewing machine so they can start a tailoring shop, or reeds so they can make and sell baskets. Often it would take as little as $50-$100 dollars to set up a sustainable business and stop worrying every day about how they would be able to feed their children.

The problem is, no bank is willing to give a loan to someone with absolutely no collateral to ensure the debt will be repaid. Microfinance works by giving small loans to women (and men) in a community who all agree to manage and repay the loans together. The only collateral needed is the word of the borrower and the members of her group.

More than 95% of those receiving microloans repay them so the money can be passed on to other micro-entrepreneurs.

94% of those receiving the loans are women who use them to create hope for future generations. Many of the women, once they’re empowered as business owners become increasingly innovative and pay off and take out many loans, growing their businesses and employing others.

Besides the monetary payoff, there is an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you take the initiative to help solve the problems in your own family and community.

accomplishmentI think of the giddy glee I experienced as Dan took this picture after I received my first paycheck as a writer. I can only imagine my feelings of self-worth and accomplishment if those few hundred dollars had been the turning point in my family, the moment when we would take control of our own financial destiny.

Unlike other microfinance organizations, Unitus first puts all donations into well-managed financial growth investments so your $5 truly will be multiplied before it is given to women who will then repay it and pass it on to others.

When I think about the impact my few extra dollars can have, my heart grows a few sizes and I add my endorsement to many others who are rallying behind this awesome initiative.

Go watch their short video, pass the word along and find out how easy it can be to literally change the world.

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15 Responses to Empowering Women? — Count Me In

  1. Kimberly says:

    Wow…that looks fascinating. Definitely going to check that out. Thanks for the link! You rock!

  2. Katie Gruver says:

    Kathryn, Thanks for this AMAZING post. You summed up microfinance and our strategy perfectly! Our goal is to give women (and men!) all over the world the opportunity to build a better life for there families. Currently, thanks to the tremendous support of our donors, our microfinance partners are helping to empower more than 1.6 million families around the world. By 2015, we’re confident that we can reach 15 million families!

    The Empowering Women campaign is an opportunity for individuals to help support this cause AND celebrate the fabulous women in their own lives.

    Thank you again for helping spread the word! We’re inspired everyday by the women we serve, and we love hearing from others who are as well.

    Here’s a live link to our 1 minute Empowering Women Launch Video: http://www.unitus.com/sections/ew/learn/launchvideo.asp.

    If any of your readers have questions, you can always contact us at info@unitus.com.

    All our very best, Katie Gruver and the Unitus Team

  3. heather says:

    Oh, I just learned about all of this last month for the first time. I kept thinking I wanted to research and organization that provided mirco-loans, as it is something I really would like to be a part of. Thank you for doing some of the leg work for me!

  4. Poppa2B says:

    I know about families that struggle daily just to eat. My wife tells me stories about some of the children her mom teaches. Some of them do not get food before going to school so my mother-in-law will take extra food so they can have something to eat. My wife and I took a little different approach. Children books that are written in english are super expensive, so whenever we see a sale on them my wife will spend a lot of time looking them over. She has to make sure that there is nothing that will be considered offensive. Once she makes her selection we then FED-EX them to her mom and they are donated to the children of the school. Sometimes it might seem foolish to spend $5 on a book then spend $20 to send it but I don’t really care. Some groups will fight poverty by helping the family with their daily lives, my wife and I fight it by providing additional learning tools for the kids. I never want to forget that there are others who are worse off than me. I do believe that $5 in the right hands can change someone’s life for the better.

  5. Microfinancing really is the way to go. After all, if we can help people help themselves, then we are doing so much more good for them than just providing food. Although, food donations are great, too.

  6. chilihead says:

    Wow. What a fantastic idea. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. MamaToo says:

    Thank you so much for drawing attention to this. A friend of mine gave her friends Christmas Gifts by dedicating several microloans in our names. What a way to love on other women of the world and share something with each of us! Great post.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I didn’t know that was what he did…

  9. nosurfgirl says:


    I LOVE this program. Absolutely adore it. Hubby and I watched an hour-long documentary on microfinance last year– a wonderful thing. Such beautiful women, so motivated, and doing something with their lives. It works to enhance others’ earning potential around them, too, and serves to inspire the communities where it takes place.

    Thanks for posting about this!!

  10. RGLHM says:

    Crazy. I was in Calgary this weekend and we were discussing this very topic at dinner. Maybe I should get on researching it.

  11. RGLHM says:

    It was Jeffery Sachs whom we were discussing though.

  12. Sarah says:

    Love to see you posted on this topic. I first heard of microloans a few years ago after watching a documentary about it and have always felt like it’s an extremely worthy cause!

  13. Brandi says:

    So this is the epitome of “Give a (wo)man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a (wo)man to fish and he eats for the rest of his life”? These people get the financial start they need to build a better future?

    Sounds better than not knowing whether my $XX.00 is going, to the charity’s recipients or to the charity’s non-profit office supplies/CEO pay/”executive” weekends/company car/etc. That has always made me leery and untrusting of charity’s.

    I wish I wasn’t so cynical.

    Thank you for the information.

  14. TftCarrie says:

    Thanks for passing the word along. This site looks great. I am been involved with Kiva, a similar microfinancing company and it has been a great experience. I loaned money to a woman in Africa so she could get more supplies to make more beads for her growing business which supports her family. And I have already started getting paid back. The whole process is truly amazing.

    This year I actually decided to give Kiva gift certificates for birthday presents. Who needs one more little doodad? I see that with Unitus, you can do something similar and donate in honor of another person. It’s such a great idea and a perfect Mother’s Day gift.

  15. Pingback: Unitus. Innovative Solutions to Global Poverty

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