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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

Sista2Sista Club Empowers the Women of Zimbabwe
Gender inequality is a crippling factor that debilitates women and young girls in impoverished countries, such as Zimbabwe. In response to the increasing rate of dropouts and sexual abuse that is prevalent in Zimbabwe, the Sista2Sista club was established in 2013 to assist in empowering Zimbabwe women to learn about personal rights and advocate for themselves.

Stories like that of  15-year-old Shamiso Nyamutamba are far too common in Zimbabwe. By age 5, both of Shamiso’s parents had passed away and she was sent to live with her uncle, who planned to force her hand in marriage and send her to work instead of pursuing an education. Shamiso’s time with her uncle included abuse and discrimination and though she was fortunate enough to eventually escape the harmful environment, she was still required to make work a priority in her life in lieu of an education. Soon after her transition, Shamiso heard of the Sista2Sista club that offered a safe place for vulnerable girls, such as herself.

Shamiso eventually learned she was HIV positive since birth. Through the advocacy and empowerment that Sista2Sista provides, she continues to grow with their health services and school programs. She has “proven to be academically gifted,” and as described by Shamiso, Sista2Sista “taught [her] that early marriage is wrong… and to report cases of abuse right away.”

Since the organization of Sista2Sista started, 10,388 Zimbabwean girls have joined the club. The U.N. Population Fund provides financial support and advocates for the initiatives of promoting sexual and reproductive health rights. UNFPA works to reduce maternal mortality rates, provide family planning education and prevent new HIV infections and gender-based violence. The UNFPA supports the need for an informed “understanding of population dynamics and using an integrated, rights-based and gender-sensitive approach.”

Ongoing support for women through organizations such as Sista2Sista has created a movement in Zimbabwe that continues to invent new methods needed to advocate for furthering women’s rights. As outlined in the Girls and Young Women’s Empowerment Framework, the Government of Zimbabwe plans to increase accessibility to sexual and reproductive health services. Additional goals include increasing female participation in the decision-making processes and equality in all levels of education, as well as increasing the rate of violence reporting experienced by girls from three percent to 50% by 2020.

Amy Williams

Photo: Flickr

GAPP
In Honduras, as in many places, gender conceptions influence national prosperity. Reimagining the ways that men and women can contribute to their communities and economies and learning how to share the societal load can stimulate poverty alleviation.

More than 1.7 million people in Honduras live in poverty, and many live on less than $1.25 per day. Many impoverished people live in rural areas. In fact, 46 percent of all Hondurans live in rural areas, where the primary occupation is farming. About 38 percent of all Honduran employment is in agriculture, and many farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

USAID and Feed the Future have made significant strides in assisting the Honduran farming community by improving technologies and management practices to help farmers increase the value of their agricultural products. However, there is still a long way to go, particularly in regard to supporting female farmers.

Income gaps and marginal political representation have crippled Honduran women’s leadership in the agricultural sector, despite the fact that in western Honduras alone, more than 40 percent of farming households are headed by women.

For three years, USAID and Feed the Future have partnered with Lutheran World Relief (LWR) in a project called Gender in Agriculture: From Policy to Practice (GAPP). Aiming to stimulate women’s leadership in Honduran agricultural communities, the program is training female farmers in leadership, public speaking and investing. Its hope is that as female farmers become more involved in local political processes, they will gain access to public funding and loans that tend only to benefit male farmers.

One recent GAPP success is a municipal agreement that part of the civic budget reserved for gender activities be specifically applied to women-led agricultural enterprises.

In addition to empowering female farmers in Honduras to demand their own rights, GAPP also funds programs to educate male leaders about the importance of gender equity in agriculture.

Using the concept of “new masculinities,” GAPP teaches male community members to appreciate women’s crucial role in the agricultural sector. According to one male GAPP advocacy training participant, Maximo Mejía, “Being a man isn’t, as they say, being a big shot, but understanding and seeking equality with your partner.”

While the provision of funding and new technologies does alleviate the difficulties faced by female farmers in Honduras, helping people rethink gender roles and stereotypes will help ensure that economic stagnation dissipates.

Feed the Future continues to train women to grow home gardens, farm fish and utilize the latest farming technologies, while GAPP teaches female farmers in Honduras how to use their voices to gain the civic support they need.

At the same time, Honduran men are relearning not only women’s roles in their economy, but also their own roles in caregiving and family health. This mutual empowerment of men and women will help break the poverty cycle in Honduras.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr

Techno Girls: Guiding and Empowering Young South Africans
South Africa has made huge strides for fostering a more egalitarian society through addressing gender-based violence and combating gender stereotypes. An initiative called Techno Girls has offered up its hand in minimizing gender gaps, addressing the gender disparities head-on in the educational and career sector.

Techno Girls is an initiative started in 2005 by UNICEF in partnership with South Africa’s Department of Education, the Ministry in the Presidency: Women, the Department of Education, the State Information Technology Agency and Uweso Consulting.

The program provides opportunities for girls who prove academic merit between the ages of 15 and 18, and who come from disadvantaged communities to begin exploring career avenues in traditionally under-represented sectors — math, science, technology and engineering.

According to Statistics South Africa, in 2012, the percentage of women in non-agricultural employment increased slightly from 43 percent in 1996 to 45 percent.

Moreover, in the results for the National Senior Certificate Examinations in 2010, it was reported that 52 percent of boys passed in comparison to 44 percent of girls. For Physical Science, 50 percent of boys passed while 46 percent of girls did the same.

Although gender equality has improved over the years, more work needs to be done to balance out gender ratios within STEM subject matter and career sectors. Girls are often discouraged from pursuing a career in engineering or science and Techno Girls is working to change that.

For instance, Techno Girls provides mentorship, shadowing experiences and skills development initiatives where girls can gain insights and leadership skills in the public and private sectors.

Previous opportunities have included shadowing at the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), INVESTEC, and the Johannesburg Roads Agency.

As of 2016, over 5000 girls have benefited from the program and have moved on to receive university or college scholarships. The Techno Girls Alumni Program also provides support to ensure a higher completion rate at tertiary level schooling, and in securing job opportunities in their chosen fields of study.

Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, said that she wanted Techno Girls to run the economy to show that, “the struggle by women in 1956 was not in vain.”

“Whatever degree you take, it opens doors – it is a key. It gives you the ability to use logic, the ability to analyze any situation and the ability to think scientifically,” Xingwana explained.

With the program’s success and popularity, the Ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities identified Techno Girls as a key government program in furthering goals for gender equity.

Moreover, Techno Girls has been expanded to all nine provinces of South Africa. Women’s empowerment and potential in STEM sectors are on its way in South Africa.

Priscilla Son

Photo: Flickr

Circle of SisterhoodCircle of Sisterhood is an organization comprised of college-educated, American sorority women working together to provide educational opportunities for girls and women around the world.

Circle of Sisterhood was founded in 2010 by Ginny Carroll. She was inspired by the best-selling book, Half the Sky, which focuses on women’s education around the globe. The Circle of Sisterhood website quotes the aforementioned book which states, “one study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy.”

Carroll saw the Greek community as perfect volunteers for her mission as “they’re already organized, they already understand philanthropy, they already give millions of dollars a year to domestic work… the vision was, this was a way for all sorority women… to have a global effect.”

Sorority chapters on college campuses around the nation who choose to participate as volunteers for Circle of Sisterhood raise funds to build schools and create scholarships for girls and women around the globe. Chapters may opt to host a bake sale, trivia night, or any other fundraising event to collect donations from fellow students. Many campuses even host screenings of the documentary version of Half the Sky to inspire more women to volunteer.

According to Circle of Sisterhood website, “as college educated women, we know the value of achieving an education… every girl in the world deserves the opportunity to go to school.” Considering that only around seven percent of the world’s population currently holds a college degree, many sorority women feel it is their duty to try to spread their educational good fortune.

As of 2015, Circle of Sisterhood had already impacted 17 countries and built five new schools, such as Ethiopia, Kenya and others. The organization has also raised almost $500,000 in grants.

After six years, sorority women involved in Circle of Sisterhood have continued to show their gratitude for their own educations by helping other women and girls to achieve the same.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Land Rights in India

Rajesh Prabhakar Patil of the Impatient Optimists agrees with Melinda Gates that data is generally sexist, meaning there is often more research about men than women. He also believes that there is an urban bias — individuals living in rural areas are often excluded from studies.

This means that it can be especially difficult to find information about the plight of rural women. Patil, along with the nonprofit Landesa, seeks to change and gather more information about women’s land rights in India.

The Plight for Women’s Rights

Patil’s passion for women’s land rights in India stems from his personal belief that “land can provide [women] with a powerful tool to fight poverty — [the ability] to create opportunity.”

In rural India, one in 10 families includes a “dispossessed woman” who cannot own property. This could be a woman who is disabled, divorced, widowed or otherwise unable to live independently due to the stipulations regarding land rights for women.

Sometimes, women who are dependent upon their family, but are caught in dysfunctional relationships, cannot escape abuse due to their inability to purchase land and property that could serve as a refuge.

The lack of data regarding rural women in India can have a negative impact on women and their families. The government of the state of Odisha introduced a policy to give government-owned land to rural families in 2005. Unfortunately, due to a lack of documentation, many rural women were not considered as recipients for the program.

Landesa

Landesa, a nonprofit supported by the Gates Foundation, aims to find and assist women in India and other parts of the world who seek land ownership.

The organization conducts field research and works with local government officials to identify women and families in need of land. In India alone, 1,105,000 families have benefited from Landesa’s work.

According to Landesa’s website, an estimated 18 million families are both poor and landless in India. Their goal is to provide land to these women and lift their families out of poverty. The organization has been working with government leaders from various Indian states since 2000.

“What women do need is to be counted and to have programs responsive to their existence and their needs,” said Patil in a June 2016 post.

Patil appears optimistic about Landesa’s work on increasing women’s land rights in India. Rural women’s quality of life and access to opportunity may see an increase if they’re given the right to own land.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

India_WomenOn April 19, a small fleet of buses made their way through Srinagar, capital of the disputed territory of Kashmir, emblazoned with the words “Ladies Special Services.” The idea was proposed by the first woman Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in response to reports from women being harassed on public transportation. These women-only buses allow women to travel stress-free throughout India.

Harassment in India

Unfortunately, women are hassled on buses all over the globe. However, it is particularly difficult for women in India: a Reuters poll states that 80 percent report being publicly harassed, which ranges from cat-calling, groping or even rape. Women in Kashmir say the harassment is especially bad on the frequently crowded buses. Most have been leered at, groped or even followed.

Stigma often prevents them from reporting. A university student said that she did not tell her parents when a man was targeting her every day, in order to avoid excessive restrictions. Instead, she quietly started walking to school. Other women claim that if they do speak up or make a scene, people either ignore it or even blame them for provoking the molestation. A month before the Ladies buses premiered, Kashmir Observer calls out men who ignore the situation and encourages them to speak up, saying, “you would only be making the world a better place for your mother, daughter, wife or sister.”

Safety with Ladies Special Services

Currently, the Ladies Special Services fleet consists of five buses that make two round trips per day in Sringar. While some male politicians objected to the service, Chief Minister Mufti argued that they do not understand because have never shared these experiences. Because the bus is currently running at a fiscal loss, their service needs government support to continue funding. If not, the bus service will be forced to close.

Ideally, the service will continue. So far it has been a huge success. The bus is full of smiling, relaxed women. Transportation official Mushtaq Chanda reports that he receives a daily deluge of emails asking for expanded service.

Hope to Expand the Service

Ms. Hassan, a woman interviewed by BBC, says that this service is “an answered prayer” because traveling on regular buses is “like going to war.” Many hope that the service will be expanded to run more routes, more often in more cities. The Ladies Special Services have made huge strides toward gender equality by giving some women in India more freedom to safely travel and raising the issue of women’s treatment to the forefront.

Jeanette I. Burke
Photo: Flickr

World HungerThe plight of world hunger is nothing new. On average, one in eight individuals go hungry every day. Currently, about 795 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

This is especially critical in developing countries. There, food productivity and sustainability are just one amongst a plethora of other issues, including overpopulation, civil conflict and lack of education.

However, while the effects of hunger are not limited by race, religion or country, the answer to ending the world’s food shortage problem lies in many, perhaps unexpected places.

Women’s Empowerment

For instance, one such solution can be found in empowering women. Of the 600 million small farmers, herders and food providers in the world, half are women. However, this large fraction of food providers is hindered from producing adequate quotas due to cultural and gender boundaries.

Typically, women have less access to education, ownership of land or livestock. They also receive less credit than their male counterparts. As a result, half of the world’s food providers are unable or not producing nearly enough to sustain themselves, let alone the world’s population.

If these restrictions on female agriculturists decreased, however, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the number of hungry people in the world would drop 17%.

Education

Another solution to ending world hunger revolves around education. Countries in Africa and South America have fertile land, but with ignorant farmers, food production remains low. These uneducated agriculturists practice outdated farming techniques and in turn reap poor results.

But programs such as Food for Training projects focus on educating food providers in developing nations. They can dramatically improve food production levels and encourage long term self-sustainability at very little cost.

Moreover, school meal projects also reduce hunger amongst children, who most heavily feel the effects of food shortages. In turn, the free or reduced meals schools provide encourage families to send their children to school, which supports education.

Reducing Food Waste

Lastly, a crucial part of reducing and eventually ending world hunger lies in ending global food waste. If the world were to reduce its food waste, a third of the world’s entire food supply would be saved, which is enough to feed 3 billion people.

Ultimately, this would result in a food surplus that could sustain entire countries. However, food recycling projects and campaigns such as Feedback, which focuses on saving leftover produce and creating nutritious meals from marketable food scraps, help reduce hunger. This provides thousands of people around the world with free, nutritious meals.

World hunger has reduced significantly since the 1990s; however, it has since leveled in 2010. Strategies such as food waste reduction campaigns, education and discouraging gender inequality can make significant dents in the fight to end this battle.

Jenna Salisbury

Photo: Pixabay

energy use

How do you picture the face of work in deeply impoverished communities? One stereotypical image is of women lugging containers of water or hunched under the weight of harsh loads.

In many ways, these images aren’t too far from the truth. Research by the United Nations and other institutions on energy use shows that “energy poverty” affects 75 percent of the world’s women. Energy poverty is defined as unequal access to resources like fuel and electricity.

While climate change continues to devastate our world’s natural resources, the connection between women’s use of power resources and extreme poverty is critical to understand. But how will the link between women and energy use influence the future of poverty alleviation?

First of all, women do a majority of the world’s labor. As a result, they take the lead in forms of work that maximize energy efficiency. As access to different types of technologies expands at lightning speed, poverty intertwines more tightly with energy use.

Women and children spend around 200 million hours a day just collecting water. Instead, they could spend their time and energy on education, safety and development projects. This would encourage sustainable energy use and help transition families away from subsistence living.

Secondly, a rising 83 percent of the world (over 6 billion people) currently live in undeveloped nations. These countries tend to be reliant on coal, biomass and other less sustainable forms. The 2015 Africa Progress Report showed that a single village woman in northern Nigeria can spend 60 to 80 times more on energy than a member of an industrialized country.

Women are often the primary decision-makers when it comes to family choices about fuel and food. That power can be harnessed to a powerful degree.

Catherine Russell, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, recently called for sweeping reform on how stakeholders have approached women’s access to energy. She added that a greater number of women are needed in the field of sustainability in the developing world and elsewhere.

In short: preserving natural resources will be a key part of future efforts to sustain human development and alleviate poverty. Women make up half of the world’s users, and they are ready to send volts of change through their countries and communities. By studying women’s use of energy in developing countries, it will be possible to tap into a new kind of power for the future.

Eliza Campbell

Photo: Flickr

Twiyubake Cooperative

Jacqueline Musabyimana is the president of the Twiyubake Banana Leaf Cooperative. Twiyubake means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language. Musabyimana is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Her family, like many in the area, struggled to survive in the aftermath of the humanitarian crisis.

Genocide survivors were faced with difficult circumstances, including the loss of many (mostly male) family members. However, women were determined to lift themselves out of poverty with dignity and confidence.

The Twiyubake Cooperative is made up of master banana leaf weavers and other master artisans who have been making and selling banana leaf products since 2008.

Musabyimana and other women in the area learned to make hand-woven banana leaf baskets and jewelry to supplement family incomes. In 2011, U.S.-based Songa Designs International came to their village. The for-profit “socially conscious” fashion start-up was fascinated with the merchandise weavers were making and decided to help sell them.

Musabyimana was able to buy a plot of land, build a home, as well as purchase a cow and goat — all with the money she made by selling her products through Songa.

The Songa Designs website states that the dynamic in many areas of the developing world is for women to be entirely dependent on their husbands.

However, the company seeks to change the status quo by offering opportunities to under-resourced women so that they can “achieve economic independence by using skills acquired through everyday life to make a living. Songa Designs provides jobs for these women who negotiate their own salaries and earn fair wages.”

The Twiyubake Cooperative is one of the groups that belong to Indego Africa, a group whose mission it is to empower women artisan in Africa. According to the Indego Africa website, a cooperative is “a legally recognized form of association in Rwanda that was promoted by the government after the 1994 genocide.”

Following the genocide, the Rwanda population was 70 percent female and the economy was a disaster. Women were left to rebuild the country, but most lacked education and knew nothing about business or export markets. Indego Africa helps the cooperatives develop business and become sustainable.

The Twiyubake Cooperative employs female genocide survivors as well as the wives of genocide perpetrators. All the steps involved in making products for sale in the Twiyubake artisan line are done by hand — specifically, the metal working, beading, embroidery and sewing. In addition, the natural banana leaf and other fibers are grown locally.

Rhonda Marrone

Photo: Flickr