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Homelessness in NicaraguaNicaragua, a Central American nation between the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, has a population of more than 6 million. Unfortunately, homelessness is a current struggle in the country. The homeless are known as some of the most marginalized groups in Nicaragua, and the population of homelessness is only increasing. Currently, around “30% of the population lives on about$2 per day.” As Nicaragua lacks the key characteristics of a well-developed country, a correlative relationship between development and homelessness. Here are four facts about homelessness in Nicaragua.

4 Facts about Homelessness in Nicaragua

  1. A strong factor in homelessness is mental illness. Compared to the general population, the homeless population has a more difficult time seeking help and beneficial resources because of the prevalence of mental illness. Recent studies state that reports of mental illnesses are increasing. The main cause is a combination of economic problems and the difficulty of social interactions, especially with family members.
  2. With such a high percentage of people living in poverty, there are very limited opportunities for education and development. Families often operate farms for healthy crops, but they struggle to make a comfortable living. For some who don’t make a successful living growing crops, it may lead to homelessness. The Opportunity International Program has helped improve Nicaragua’s agriculture with “loans and technical assistance” with higher-quality crops. Crop growth has increased by 30%. The organization also fights homelessness in Nicaragua by giving the children of struggling families opportunities to receive an education. Opportunity International has partnered with more than 20 leaders to help downsize the number of homeless Nicaraguans struggling to make good livelihoods.
  3. Natural disasters in Nicaragua are major contributors to homelessness. Since the 2007 Hurricane Felix, as well as the prior and subsequent weeks of heavy rain, rural parts of Nicaragua are still struggling to recover. This has left a total of 436,000 homeless. The storm also destroyed large amounts of agricultural land and forests, further devastating the livelihoods of those with farms. International responses have been actively sending aid to the least developed areas of the country as well as where homelessness is most prevalent.
  4. Social organizations and students have volunteered for years to aid poor, homeless communities in Nicaragua. Habitat For Humanity has been working in poor rural areas since 1984. It continues to mobilize volunteers to take action in Nicaragua’s homeless communities by building small homes. It has helped supply 91,900 people in need throughout the country. To ameliorate the homeless problem, the organization estimates that Nicaragua still needs an additional 957,000 in housing improvements and new home construction projects. Habitat For Humanity continues to mobilize students to take action in Nicaragua’s homelessness starting by helping build small homes.

These points mark four facts about homelessness in Nicaragua. There is a strong need for economic improvements in order to reduce the homeless population. The first step is creating more homes for families to stay in and improving the current homes with more available resources. Furthermore, improvements in crop production can help families in agriculture earn a sustainable living.

Rachel Hernandez
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Macedonian Youth
Macedonia, an ancient gem of the Balkans, boasts sweeping emerald mountains and fresco-furnished monasteries. Home to an eclectic population with Eastern and Western roots, the country is also a breeding ground for ethnic and political turmoil, which slowly gave way to widespread poverty.

The country’s unemployment rate, though declining, is still above 20 percent; the poverty rate in households with children exceeded 60 percent in 2007. Fortunately, a number of international organizations are investing in the Macedonian youth to help the country recover from a prolonged period of stagnant economic growth and political turmoil.

Opportunity International is a nonprofit that lends financial support to entrepreneurs in Macedonia and 21 other developing countries. Providing access to loans, savings, insurance and business training, the organization enables and encourages Macedonian youth to work their way out of poverty, educate their children and create jobs for their neighbors.

Aside from monetary assistance, the organization has also invested $20 million in the past decade on electronic technologies. This helps lower transaction costs and expand banking services to marginalized households. ATMs, point-of-sale devices and satellite branches are becoming more prevalent in community-gathering centers and many of Opportunity’s 9.6 million clients now use mobile phones to verify identification, repay loans and make purchases remotely.

Founded by expatriates in 2007, Macedonia2025 is a “think-and-do” tank that focuses both on instilling education programs to mold future leaders and connecting the Macedonian diaspora to their roots. The Summer Diaspora Business Trip brings young Macedonians from across the globe to Skopje, the capital of their homeland, to visit historic sites, interns at local or foreign firms and network with influential entrepreneurs and CEOs.

On the domestic front, Macedonia2025 launched the Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF) to support smaller businesses. Just three years after its inception, the private equity fund has already amassed more than €3 million. With Homestrings and USAID slated to join the partnership, the future total investment is projected to be €15 million.

Claire Wang

Photo: Flickr

Opportunity International: Fighting Poverty Through Job Creation
The nonprofit organization Opportunity International is fighting poverty through job creation. Its goal is to create and sustain 20 million jobs by the year 2020 in an effort to end global poverty.

Founded in 1971 by Al Whittaker and David Bussau, Opportunity International helps people in developing countries work their way out of poverty by providing them with small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training. The organization was one of the first nonprofits to identify benefits in offering financial services to people in developing countries living in poverty. They have clients in 24 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Opportunity International goes by the motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.” They suggest that the traditional method of fighting poverty can lead to a vicious cycle. Donations of food, money and other basic needs improve lives, but only temporarily. Once the donation is used up, people’s needs return and the cycle starts again. The organization proposes that providing people with access to small business loans, savings accounts, insurance and training can change their lives for good.

Ninety-five percent of Opportunity’s loans go to women because, they say, women are poor in disproportionately greater numbers than men. To be eligible for a loan, a person joins a trust group and undergoes four to eight weeks of training to learn how to create a business plan, how to budget and how to save money. The trust group members take a pledge to guarantee each other’s loans and support one another’s businesses. This means that if one member of the group misses a weekly payment, the rest of the group has to cover it. This approach has led to 98 percent of loans being repaid and has proven to be an effective grassroots approach to tackling poverty.

According to the organization, the method that they use leads to a cycle that is different from the traditional method of fighting poverty. A woman grows a business, which increases her income. She is then able to feed her family nutritious meals, improve their housing, put money away in a savings account and purchase insurance from Opportunity to reduce her family’s risk. At the same time, she is able to hire her neighbors, giving them a chance to provide for their families. This system also transforms the community, hence their motto “Opportunity Changes Everything.”

Opportunity International’s strategy of fighting poverty through job creation has made an impact. The total amount of loans given is $838 million, they have 4.9 million clients with savings accounts and have supported 16.7 million jobs.

Kristin Westad

Photo: Flickr

Caterpillar's Role in International Development

Caterpillar Inc. is an Illinois based company that plays a dominant role in energy, trade, and infrastructure for developing countries. Yet Caterpillar is more than just business. The philanthropic efforts of the Caterpillar Foundation, founded in 1952, have contributed more than $550 million towards human development around the world. The Foundation has partnered with a variety of key organizations to fund projects in the areas of environmental sustainability, access to education, and meeting basic human needs for food, shelter, and healthcare.

As a Fortune 100 company with 2012 sales and revenues of $65.875 billion, Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines, and diesel-electric locomotives. They are best known for their big, yellow tractors. Caterpillar’s global reach and presence are unmatched in the industry. They have a presence in more than 180 countries around the globe and over 500 locations worldwide. More than half of their sales are outside the United States. As a powerful multinational corporation, Caterpillar has a very influential role in human development.

The Caterpillar Foundation invested $3 million during 2012 in a partnership with a World Resources Institute (WRI) project to promote the development of sustainable cities in China, India and Brazil. Through this “smart cities” initiative, WRI will work with five cities on strategies to increase energy efficiency, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and improve water quality, urban mobility and land use.

Specific project goals include solutions that will reach one billion people with new public transportation options; avoid 617,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in the transportation area; reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia water pollution by 15 percent; and provide more reliable energy to 11 million industrial, corporate and residential consumers. In total, the Caterpillar Foundation expects to support this project with $12.5 million over five years – all in an effort to curb the negative environmental side effects of rapid urbanization in the developing countries.

The Resource Foundation is another partner of the Caterpillar Foundation. This $3 million partnership will reach more than 11,000 children in Latin America and the Caribbean over three years, beginning in January 2013. Through a regional strategy targeting specific communities in 10 countries, the program seeks to improve academic achievement, gender equity and life skills among primary school-age boys and girls from 54 schools.

The Caterpillar Foundation has also been a long-time supporter of Opportunity International’s microfinance programs in more than 20 countries around the world. The Caterpillar Foundation’s investment has helped Opportunity International provide life-changing microloans to more than 75,000 small entrepreneurs, create 30,000 jobs and give more than 60,000 rural families access to basic banking services. A majority of Opportunity International’s clients are women who reinvest more of their earnings into health care, education and their communities, which helps break the cycle of generational poverty. As of July 2012, Opportunity International has four million clients, 17,600 employees, 2.3 million insurance policies, and a 95 percent loan repayment rate.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Caterpillar,CSR Wire
Photo: Companies and Markets

Female-Entrepreneurs

Since the start of 2013, a huge focus in the humanitarian world has been on the benefits of small entrepreneurial endeavors in developing countries. Due to global financial crises and budget cuts, especially here in the United States, investors are becoming more picky with where and to whom they are sending their money to. In many cases, they have opted for private organizations that directly put the money in the hands of local men and women who are making immediate and visible changes in their communities.

Ana Cecila Acuña is such woman. Despite her meager circumstances, having grown up in a small village in Nicaragua, her parents instilled in her a confidence that would help her dictate her own life and propel her towards success. A big obstacle that Acuña and many other women in her position have been able to overcome is making a name for themselves in a patriarchal society where not only does man dictate home life but also all outside business and negotiations.

Ana established a small home business selling oil and rice with the help of microloans from the nonprofit Opportunity International, managing to expand her business as well as to incorporate 20 other women and their ideas into the project. This venture led her to gain a seat on the board of the La Laguna Community Cooperative. A local political organization run exclusively by men, the Community Cooperative was in charge of handling the village’s affairs. When Ana recognized a fault with the way things were going, she decided to make the change herself.

Opportunity International, which started in the 1970s, is a microfinance nonprofit that has been providing loans, saving opportunities, insurance, and finance training to entrepreneurs in over 20 countries. After working with Ana and her small business, they funded the Cooperative with a $10,000 loan. The money was used to build a well in the village, providing close access to water for over 200 families, a luxury that the Cooperative was not able to figure out on their own. Instead of walking four miles by foot each day, the water is sent directly to the village homes through a piping system that was also installed.

Acuña’s achievements are remarkable for two specific reasons: the first is because of her socioeconomic standing prior to forming her business and joining her village government and the second, because she is a woman. Women in developing countries are being looked at to lead the escape out of poverty for their families and communities. Gayle Tzemick Lemon of the Huffington Post recently reported on the increase of female entrepreneurs and that “when women have income coming in research shows that the entire family benefits in the form of better nutrition and health”.

It is important to keep in mind the potential that every single human being possess. Whether they live in Angola or Arkansas, the entrepreneurial spirit is embedded in all of us; it simply needs encouragement, a bit of hope, and of course a little bit of money.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Huffington Post

Women Entrepreneurs, Champions Against Poverty
In the rural Nicaraguan community of La Laguna, Ana Cecilia Acuña is joining the ranks of a growing group of women entrepreneurs worldwide and defying the traditional gender roles of her community while improving the lives of everyone around her. Ana grew up in poverty, often without enough food to eat and working when she was young to pay for school. As an adult, Ana opened up a store that feeds her community with items such as oil and rice funded by micro loans from the non-profit organization Opportunity International.

One problem that faced her community was obtaining potable water from a viable source. With encouragement from Opportunity International, she joined the La Laguna Community Cooperative and later became the first woman member of the board. The cooperative then received a loan for enough money to dig a well and create water pipes that serve many of the families in the community. Soon they plan to have potable water running to each of the 3,800 people in the area. Fresh water in their homes supplants the previous method of walking seven kilometers to fill up a bucket of water. Currently, Ana Cecilia Acuña is one of five employees of the cooperative and is proud to make enough money to move out of her mother’s house and pay for her son’s school fees.

According to Vicki Escarra of Opportunity International, “when a woman is given an opportunity to change her life, she invests 90% back into her family.” From there the women entrepreneurs will invest what they make into their community. It is with the belief in this principal that Opportunity International hopes to raise $50 million for their One Woman Initiative that will provide two million women worldwide, like Ana, with loans to start their own small business. Seventy percent of the people who live on $2 or less a day are women. It is easy to feel helpless to make real change when faced with the daunting statistics of poverty, but the growing popularity of organizations that fund entrepreneurs using micro loans make it more accessible than ever to make real change in someone’s life on a small budget.

– Sean Morales

Source: The Huffington Post
Photo: TechnoServe