Wisconsin Microfinance: Empowering Women

April 3, 2017

Wisconsin Microfinance was founded in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti that killed hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the livelihoods of the vast majority of people in and around Port au Prince. Our original mandate for our Haitian partner was to make 80% of new loans to women.  This was in keeping with recommendations from the work that Muhammad Yunus did in developing the Grameen Bank.

Yunus demonstrated that women’s economic well-being is directly linked to increased household income, better-educated children, and enhanced health and nutrition.  Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that increased income to mothers in farming communities can have a tenfold impact on children’s welfare, compared to income held by men. Therefore, empowering women was a linchpin for the work of Wisconsin Microfinance since its origin.

Wisconsin Microfinance is taking a leadership role on women’s economic empowerment. Our programs are distinct and different. We’re working – systemically, at scale and across countries – to help women develop the skills, the tools and the resources to become successful.

This work is aligned to our overall contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals, one of which, Goal 5, focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls across the world. As a result, our efforts are dedicated to doing more to support women in the developing world.

Wisconsin Microfinance is helping women to confront cultural norms that act as barriers in the developing world; notably, how roles as mothers and caregivers can clash with entrepreneurship and involvement in community decision-making. Practical measures to give women access to affordable credit is a key stepping stone in their empowerment.

Wisconsin Microfinance also plays an important part in boosting women’s self-esteem and paving the way for a new generation of female entrepreneurs, who are role models in their own right.

We recognize that there is no silver bullet to ensure that women are championed and fully supported in the communities we are involved in. Many leading institutions doing work in the developing world are increasingly focused on understanding what works and what doesn’t.

At the same time, we remain focused on our own distinct programs. For example, we are piloting a new program in Haiti targeting a displaced community as they find new land to rebuild their community. We have recommitted to gathering information about the difference a micro-loan makes in quality of life, both for a loan recipient, her family and her community.  We hope to contribute to the development of best practices in microfinance and see our work scaled in other countries where access to credit is extremely limited. In short, women’s empowerment is a key part of our commitment to helping entrepreneurs and their communities achieve better incomes and living standards.

Ultimately, we believe that it is vital to give women a platform to become visible, vocal and understood. We are showcasing the contribution that women make to economic development and economic empowerment in poor communities in Haiti and the Philippines. By targeting women for our micro-loans, we help them get the recognition they deserve and create role models which challenge the gender stereotypes that so often hold women back.

In late April and early May, we will be hosting fundraising galas in Madison and Milwaukee that will celebrate, honor and empower women. We invite you to join us and to play a small role in supporting and encouraging women entrepreneurs.