Information and news about success stories

vikram_akula_sks_finance
Originally an NGO formed in 1997, SKS Finance became a for profit company in 2005 when it was incorporated as an non-banking finance company (NBFC). Its mission is to provide low-income households with financial services, primarily in India, but potentially across the globe. Here are five facts about the company:

1. The company’s goal is to use microfinance as a tool for reducing poverty and increasing economic opportunity by providing access to insurance and credit. Loans start at about Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 12,000, or about $44-$260. These loans are typically given to poor women in order to help them expand their businesses. Poor women act as guarantors on each other’s loans, using a group lending model. According to SKS Finance, the loans are collateral-free and have a 99% repayment rate.

2. A variety of financial companies including Axis Bank, Barclays, BNP Paribas, CitiBank, HSBC, South Indian Bank, and ING Bank Vysvya have invested in and partnered with SKS Finance.

3. SKS Finance core values are: customer first, ethics always, and consistent quality. This involves transparency with customers, not offering bribes, and fostering innovation without cutting corners. Currently, the company is in the process of rebranding itself. SKS Finance is focusing on removing ambiguities about the company rather than making many specific changes. This need for rebranding came after founder Vikram Akula’s departure from the company and the upheaval that came with legislation passed in 2010. In the recent legislation, the Andhra Pradesh government sought to regulate the micro finance sector’s practices in terms of loan recovery and interest rate charges.

4. As of June 30 of this year, SKS has 51 LAKHS, and 1255 branches in India. The company has helped people like Ameena Bi set up a small mattress selling shop with her husband and a flower shop with the aid of her father. Currently Ameena earns INR 300 or $6 a day and her husband, Abdul, earns between INR 300 and INR 400, or $8.50, a day, whereas just three years before they were making INR 120 or $2 a day.

5. In 2011, Vikram Akula, the founder of SKS Microfinance, left the company amidst much turmoil. In hopes of an impending return, Akula suggested in September that the company had lost its way again. His statements were similar to the narrative that forced his departure two years ago. While current leadership at SKS is more than reluctant to give Akula any role in the company, he has ties with Biksham Gujja, chairperson of SKS Trust. SKS Trust, the largest shareholders in SKS Finance, nominated Akula for the seat now in dispute. SKS Trust is meant to serve SKS borrowers and acts as the largest shareholder in the company. Various people in the company have different attitudes regarding Akula’s possible return. Some say Akula has not made any attempts to return on his own, others that he has no support, and still others believe Akula’s actions are hostile in nature. Some have said there is a lot of support for Akula, otherwise he wouldn’t have received SKS Trust’s nomination. The effect of this public squabbling on SKS borrowers has yet to be fully realized, but doubts are being raised, especially by those worried about the interests of SKS Finance’s beneficiaries.

– The Borgen Project

Sources: SKS India, Business Standard, Economic Times, Times of India
Photo: Hugedatabase.net

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dumb and dumber motorcycle
In its 2013 report published on Monday Sept 9th, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) ranked the “ happiest countries ” to live in. Accordingly, general happiness “has been on the rise”, stated the International Business Times. The survey took into account various factors such as health and life expectancy, “perceptions of corruption,” GDP per capita, “freedom to make life choices,” “social support” and “generosity.”

The report makes it clear that the level of happiness is highest in Northern Europe, with Denmark ranking first and Norway as a close second, followed by Sweden in fifth position after Switzerland and the Netherlands, Finland in seventh position after Canada (sixth) and finally Iceland, in 9th place.

Meanwhile, the U.S., in 17th position, was outranked by Israel (11th) and Mexico (16th), while the United Kingdom ranked 22nd, France 25th, Germany 26th, Japan 43rd and China 93rd.

This report reflects the general idea that happiness should become part of the general agenda of nations, and that the GDP-centered approach is outdated, an idea first introduced “in 1972 by the former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan”, states the International Business Times.

“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more clearly aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said the Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General and Director of the Earth Institution at Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, to the International Business Times.

Indeed, well-being and happiness are as important as GDP for the development of a country, and they often go hand in hand. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world,” observed Sachs. One way to make people happier is to allocate a higher proportion of a government’s health budget to the treatment of mental illness -the single biggest “determinant of misery” in the countries assessed, according to the study authors.

Relatively new and at the origin of “happiness economics,” there is still little evidence regarding the effectiveness of using happiness for international peace and development.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: The Huffington Post, UNSDSN, Dayton Daily News, International Business Times, CNN
Photo: Collider

anne
As of 2009 there were 2.5 million children worldwide under the age of 15 who were living with HIV.  Of these, a disproportionately high 73,000 were from Ethiopia.  Compounding this already dire issue is the fact that 13 percent of Ethiopian children are missing either one or both of their parents.  This means that in a country of 93, 877, 025 estimated total population, about 4.6 million children are without parents.

The issue of HIV/AIDS is so rampant in Ethiopia that even the CIA World Factbook notes it in their population estimate.  In a special note, they alert the reader that their estimate “explicitly take[s] into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS”.  In other words, the disease is so prevalent that it requires its own special consideration when approximating how many people live in Ethiopia.

What happens when a country has both widespread HIV infection as well as a high percentage of orphans?  Sadly, there is a resulting proliferation of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) who receive neither the care nor medical attention that they require.

Cue year 2002, when the ENAT HIV Children’s Center was established to counteract this exact phenomenon.  At the same time, and in order to provide funding for this much-needed center, Kathy Olsen started the non-profit group AHOPE for Children.  Two short years later, AHOPE Ethiopia was established to replace the ENAT HIV Children’s Center.

AHOPE is a most apropos acronym for the group.  Standing for African HIV Orphans: Project Embrace, it represents at the same time both their actions as well as their effects.  AHOPE Ethiopia, a locally run NGO located in Addis Ababa, now oversees two children’s centers: Little AHOPE and Big AHOPE.  Together, they provide care for HIV+ children who either do not have family or whose family is unwilling to provide for them.

Beyond providing for their medical needs, AHOPE ensures that these children are growing up in a safe and nurturing environment.  Every child’s school fees are paid for, allowing them to attend various local private schools.  The Big and Little distinctions refer to the children’s ages at the orphanages; they are separated between older and younger children so that their social and emotional needs will be met.

For children who are lucky enough to have a family member willing to care for them, AHOPE runs a Child Development Center, where families can bring the children during the day.  Because the majority of these families are impoverished, the Center provides the children with “nutritious food, clothing, psycho-social support and schooling regardless of their family circumstances”.  Additionally, they offer daycare for younger children and training sessions to teach guardians about the emotional and medical needs of their HIV+ children.

Today, AHOPE is facing the best possible problem – with the introduction of ARVs (antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV) more and more of their charges are not only surviving, but also thriving.  During the past couple of years, AHOPE has started to “age-out” their first children.  As of 2012, they have established a Youth Transition Home to help those who age-out of the program adjust to living on their own.

To see how AHOPE can impact the lives of the children that they care for, read Sammi’s story here.

– Rebecca Beyer

 

Sources: AHOPEGlobalWA, CIA World Factbook

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There’s more than one way to make money count. People of late have become increasingly conscientious of where their money is going. Sure, most people want to get the biggest bang out of their buck, and why not? But more than just getting their money’s worth, there has blossomed an increased focus on making sure that money also has some humanitarian worth. That is to say, there is a growing desire to ensure that money being spent within the U.S. is benefiting not only the domestic economy, but the producers of the goods as well. There is perhaps no better proof of this trend than the increasing prevalence of fair trade goods and stores.

The philosophy behind fair trade is very straightforward. It is, simply put, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” Precisely what its name implies, fair trade ensures that the producers of products are fairly compensated for their goods, particularly those producers who are marginalized, either geographically or socially.

What impact, then, does fair trade actually have? Beyond improving the lives of the individuals who are doing the trading, money spent on fair trade goods helps societies in many other ways. The “3 E’s of fair trade” describe how your money is spent below:

Environment: Farmers around the world are forced to partake in agricultural practices that are detrimental to the environment because of limited monetary resources. In order to promote environmentally friendly farming, organizations such as Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, impose “some of the strictest environmental standards in the industry.” By providing equitable prices for goods that are conscientiously grown, fair trade encourages better environmental practices.

Empowerment: For a farm, plantation, or organization to be certified as fair trade, they must ensure an equal and safe working environment for women. By eliminating discrimination within the workplace, they empower women to attain better education and leadership roles within their communities. Furthermore, by providing equitable prices for goods, fair trade reduces the need for children to help as workers. This means that there are more kids in school receiving a better education to empower them for the future – plus, fair trade funds have commonly been used to help finance school supplies and scholarships!

Economy: Perhaps the most important impact of fair trade goods is that they help to lift struggling producers out of poverty. Whether it is a farmer in South Africa or a woman making handcrafted jewelry in Tibet, fair trade goods provide the income stability needed to enable producers to improve their own economic status.

Simply put, shopping for fair trade goods helps not only the producer, but also their community and the surrounding environment merely by imposing strict requirements and ensuring income stability. Be a part of this important movement and help Fair Trade USA reach their goal of “Fair Trade for All” – doubling the impact of Fair Trade for farmers by 2015 – by looking for fair trade certifications on food and clothes; take part in Fair Trade USA’s project and help the 3 E’s yourself!

Rebecca Beyer

Sources: Fair Trade USA, World Fair Trade Organization

LitWorld_global_child_literacy
The United States is one of the most fortunate countries in terms of literacy, with 99 percent of all people over the age of 15 having the ability to read and write. Other places, like Sub-Saharan Africa, are not so fortunate: only 63 percent of their population is capable of reading and writing. Haiti is another example of a shocking literacy rate, in which only 48.7 percent of their population is deemed literate. Around the world there are 793 illiterate adults and children craving to learn and understand. LitWorld seeks to change these numbers and actively reduce them through working with the people in these countries.

LitWorld is a nonprofit founded by Pam Allyn in 2008 that advocates for worldwide literacy and the right for everyone to have the same access to education. The organization also believes that education and literacy have the ability to change the world and break the cycle of poverty.

To date, they have launched programs abroad in Kenya, Haiti, and the Philippines, and here in the U.S. in New York City. These programs work to deal with the issue head on and tackle the problem effectively by involving teachers, program directors, and the parents of the children.

Among their active worldwide projects are the LitClubs and the LitCamps. The clubs are weekly two hour meetings outside of school that help boys and girls learn the necessary skills for reading and writing by having them write their own stories. Not only does this help them strengthen their technical skills, it is also believed to help cultivate LitWorld’s seven core strengths: belonging, curiosity, friendship, confidence, courage, kindness, and hope.

So far, the clubs are established in Ghana, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Kosovo, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uganda, as well as all throughout the United States. Currently, they are available to both boys and girls in school, but a club for parents is currently in the testing phases.

The LitCamps work in much the same way, but are only in session in the summer and winter. They can last anywhere from seven days to five weeks and harbor the same goals and principles as the clubs do. Students get to enjoy the normal aspects of camp and make friends, while increasing their abilities to read and write.

During the summer, children, especially those in poverty, lack access to learning and books which can be seriously detrimental to their literacy. LitWorld hopes to battle this issue by providing a fun and interesting camp that is free of cost to the community.

On October 11, LitWorld will be celebrating Stand Up for Girls! during the UN’s International Day of the Girl. LitWorld will be standing up by collecting stories about inspirational women and girls to put together in a narrative. They believe that all women and girls have the write to a proper education and the ability to read and write. There are 523 million females worldwide that cannot do either of these things, and they think it is high time for a change.

They offer activity packets to use on the International Day of the Girl and invite anyone to share their stories.

– Chelsea Evans
Sources: LitWorld, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Thai-bookshop

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A recent World Health Organization study has reported that the life expectancy for women over the age of 50 years has increased. Thanks to health system changes over the past 20 or 30 years, fewer women are dying for diabetes, cancer, heart disease or stroke, several of the leading causes of death among women.

Improved disease screening techniques and technology has contributed to this trend, however, healthcare services are still not as effective as the WHO would like to see. Dr John Beard, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Aging and Life Course explained, “Changing women’s exposures at earlier stages of their lives, particularly in relation to sexual health, tobacco and harmful use of alcohol, is essential to reversing the epidemic of chronic diseases” Beard said. In other words, there is still much progress to be made.

This progress would mean a reduction in the gap between life expectancy between women living in rich and poor countries, an occurrence that the WHO emphasized in its report on women’s health. Despite higher life expectancies in developing countries, the WHO states that the gap is too large to ignore. One of the main factors contributing to this problem is preventative care. Women in the developed world are far more likely to receive routine checkups and screenings.

Women in the developing world, however, may not have access to such services and therefore only receive treatment once the disease in onset. This is an issue that will only become worse as time goes on. About 550 million women live in the developing world and by 2050, almost one fifth of the entire population will be women who are 50 years or older. Although the WHO reported positive news about the life expectancy for older women in the Third World, the massive gap between them and women in the developed world in unsettling.

Mary Penn

Sources: Medical Press, CBS News

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Motorcycle_ambulance

Motorcycles are often the vehicle of choice in the developing world because of their ability to zip over harsh terrain and their low maintenance costs. A motorcycle manufacturing company, eRanger, has taken this versatile vehicle and given it a new purpose as an ambulance. The eRanger company builds motorcycles with a sidecar that serves as a stretcher to transport patients from remote areas to the nearest health center or hospital.

Called the eRanger ambulance, this motorcycle offers the high-power capacity needed to cover diverse and often difficult terrain in rural and remote areas. The sidecar stretcher acts as a bed for the patient, allowing for quick and effective transport. The stretcher is designed to be simple but safe, rugged but reliable, with a cushioned pad for patient comfort and a roll cage for safety.

Loading a patient is made easy by simply pushing back the roll cage and strapping the patient into the stretcher. A rain cover can be attached to the roll cage, providing comfort and privacy in different weather conditions, and this innovative ambulance also offers room for emergency medical supplies underneath the stretcher.

The eRanger ambulance also provides additional comfort through its rugged suspension system, which absorbs shock so patients bounce less during transport. This vehicle provides the perfect alternative to the popular 4 by 4 all-terrain vehicles because of its enhanced suspension system, low cost, and simple maintenance. Motorcycle ambulances are also preferable to car ambulances, especially during the rainy season, because they are better able to navigate over developing nations’ diverse terrain.

These motorcycle ambulances are already stationed at health centers through Africa where health workers and community members can utilize them as needed. The eRanger method goes beyond just providing the vehicles, though. They provide training, maintenance instruction, and tools to keep the motorcycles in good condition.

Sustainability is key, says the eRanger company, so they provide a maintenance unit with all the necessary tools and equipment for the eRanger ambulance. This affordable, reliable, and sustainable ambulance also helps communities become more self-reliant by taking health care into their own hands.

For example, the eRanger ambulance makes it possible for a mother in labor to reach a health care clinic quickly, reducing maternal mortality rates in many African nations.

The eRanger model also allows its motorcycle to adapt to the needs of problems in the developing world, from emergency ambulance to mobile medical clinic. The company also manufactures an eRanger immunization clinic, which recreates the sidecar into a stainless steel mini clinic with refrigeration storage, weight scales, and clean water unit.

This versatile motorcycle promises dramatic impact to healthcare in developing nations. Backing that promise is an eRanger patron, Nelson Mandela, who helped eRanger South Africa launch in the Eastern Cape. Since the launch, eRanger has built a college for riders and operators in Eastern Cape, which includes basic control of the vehicle, road riding, off-road riding, and essential maintenance.

In just five hours, operators can reach a basic competency to operate and care for the motorcycle, but advanced training is always available, says eRanger. With just the right mix of affordability, sustainability, and reliability, eRanger is helping save lives in developing nations by providing safe, quick access to critical health care.

– Georganne Hassell
Sources: eRanger, UNICEF, Changemakers, The Guardian
Photo: Motorcycle

Comic_Relief_UK
Laughter is fr universal language, and comedy is a much broader medium, than given credit for. Laughing is disarming, warm, enjoyable, and can help unite people. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that comedy can also connect and rally people to fight intractable problems. Humor can indeed be a powerful weapon against the scourge of something like global poverty and the absences of technology and education in communities. This is the very idea behind Comic Relief, an organization operating in the United Kingdom and abroad that stands up to poverty.

Existing officially as both a company and charity in the UK, Comic Relief began in 1985 during Christmas season at a Sudanese refugee camp. Renowned and well-meaning British comedians hoped to raise awareness of the Sudanese plight and the Ethiopian famine going on. The success of that first event spawned more live comedic appearances in Sudan and gave way to Red Nose Day in 1988, which brought much needed attention and money to the region that went directly to relief. Since that time, Comic Relief has grown in size and scope, spreading laughter and awareness of numerous other initiatives.

One of those other initiatives is Send My Friend to School (http://www.sendmyfriend.org/), a nonprofit movement in the UK working to make the Millennium Development Goal of education for all children a reality by 2015. A member of the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), the initiative boasts UK membership of over 10,000 schools and youth groups. Another initiative Comic Relief supports is the intrepid See Africa Differently (http://www.seeafricadifferently.com/) campaign, aimed at changing the world’s perception of the continent and sharing stories of real people there that aren’t covered in major news. For example, the London art scene has recently been enthralled with the works of West African artists.

A very personal and striking account of Comic Relief in action is the story of teen sisters Hazel and Hiayisani in Tembisa, South Africa. Orphaned after their mother’s sudden illness and death, older sister Hazel was now in the position of caring for herself and her sister. Poor and completely exposed to the worst of society, they were at risk of being split up by Social Services, falling into a life of crime or the world of sexual slavery. However, after finding the Bishop Simeon Trust, a Comic Relief partner in Tembisa, the girls were able to join other orphans. They now receive a stipend and care packages from the trust to live on, free education, and enjoy time at the Bishop Simeon facility with other teenagers.

Comic Relief is best known for its initial and ongoing fundraiser, Red Nose Day. Happening every few years, this international event is celebrated mainly in the UK and Africa. For those who participate, the objective is to put on a red nose and be ridiculous. Proceeds from the event go directly to initiatives like the ones mentioned above, aimed at education and the changing of negative international typecasts.

Comic Relief has shown that maybe laughter is the best medicine for social ails.

David Smith
Sources: Comic Relief –History, Send My Friend –About, West African Art Pops Up in London, Comic Relief –Hazel and Hiayisani, Africa, Red Nose Day –What Is It?
Photo: BBC