Saturday, August 23, 2008

Investing in the lives of the poor

The past few days, I've been going in and out of the slums of Tatalon as I help out a local cooperative put together their newsletter. It has been a depressing, but humbling experience. Depressing, because I see poverty up close and not much has been done to uplift the lives of these less privileged. But it was a humbling experience at the same time, as I listened to mothers share their joys and pride in seemingly mundane things. How they find satisfaction in every little triumph, thanking God for making their lives "much better" now, makes me feel so little. Makes me wonder, who is richer -- these women in Tatalon and the women of Forbes? Hmmm. The nanays of Tatalon remind me of Solomon's words of wisdom of Solomon. Indeed, if people only find satisfaction in their toils...

I'd like to share a short article I wrote on this cooperative that has been providing micro-financing to urban poor mothers. Read on...

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For some, P2,000 may be one dinner’s budget in a fancy restaurant. But for a family in a poor community like Tatalon, it may be a catalyst of change – a ticket to break out of the bondage of poverty.

So says Zeny De Jesus, chairperson of the Inner City Development Cooperative (ICDC) as she challenges the well-heeled of the society to support initiatives to provide micro-finance to the poor.

“Change in our country is possible if we all help each other. People who have money to spare can do so, not by giving alms, but by providing start-up capital for the poorest of the poor to start their own businesses,” she points out.

A social worker by profession, Zeny has been involved in the micro-finance industry for decades, training different organizations across the country in developing programs for the poor.

In fact, ICDC is a testament of how money of those who have can impact the lives of those who have none. And it does not take much to be of help to others.

For instance, P1-million can already provide micro-credit to 500 mothers for a start-up capital of P2,000.

With the amount, every borrower will have an average of P1,000 additional income for her family. In three months, every borrower will also have a savings of P850 since all members are required to save at least P10 every day.

But Zeny says, no matter how small or big the amount, supporters can be assured that their investment to poor communities through ICDC will be maximized.

“Over the years, we have developed a system to maximize minimum amounts to provide livelihood to the less privileged. As a result, they become more productive in their communities. In the long term, their productivity helps our economy because it means lesser unemployment,” explains Zeny, who holds a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from the Asian Institute of Management.

Aside from loans and savings portfolios, ICDC offers non-financial services like trainings on entrepreneurship to hone the members’ business acumen. A regular values formation program is also in place. On top of these trainings, ICDC gives assistance to needy members.

“We challenge our fellow Filipinos, and even supporters abroad to look into the ICDC program and see how they can be agents of change in alleviating the plight of the Filipino poor,” she says.

The end goal, Zeny points out is to see the development of community partners from borrowers to social investors, and from passive on-lookers to active agents of change in their respective families and communities.

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