Microenterprise and microfinance have the power to empower people and transform lives. The concept was pioneered in 1976 by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The bank was established for the purpose of making small loans to the poor − predominantly women – to help them obtain economic self-sufficiency.
The fundamental principle behind the Grameen Bank is that credit is a human right. This strategy was highly effective as the bank grew from 15,000 borrowers in 1980 to 7.67 million at the end of 2008. An astounding 97% of the 9.4 million Grameen Bank members today are women.
A Center for Rural Affairs’ study in the 1980s demonstrated high rates of self-employment in rural areas, but no economic development strategies to help in this area. Influenced by Yunus and Grameen, the Center created the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project in 1990 to fulfill the need uncovered by that research (www.cfra.org/reap).
Microenterprise development recognizes the fundamental ability of people to apply individual talents, creativity and hard work to better their lives. Microenterprise programs build on the unique ideas and skills of entrepreneurs by providing business assistance through micro-credit, one-on-one counseling, and specialized training to small businesses employing 10 people or fewer.
Microenterprises often struggle to qualify for traditional lending services. Microenterprise Development Organizations like the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project create jobs, build assets and overcome barriers of income and discrimination, all through small business development.
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