When it comes to rejuvenating an urban community, expert opinions will often cite a variety of political, social and economic ills that range from the need for education reforms, infrastructure investments, improved racial equality and political reforms among many critical leverage points. Adding citing lighting is not something that leapst to mind. however Detroit has accomplished a milestone on its way to its goal of urban revitalization by doing just that. Read more about the city of Detroit’s latest success here.
The idea that poor people and their families can save anything meaningful seems as ludicrous as the assumption by Muhammed Yunus in 1976 (Price of Dream) that small amounts of credit could help build poor families start businesses in Bangladesh. Jeff Ashe and Kyla Neilan’s In Their Own Hands demonstrates both. In fact, the poor can do so effectively, on their own and with little to no outside help – a departure from the approach of the microfinance movement. When NGOs train participants and then “get out of their way” — these rural and urban groups perform best. Women and men in each group manage themselves and their money more effectively than constant NGO-interaction or supervision. The savings group movement enables not only the poor but the very poor to do what they could not do before: save first, then borrow from each other and continue the process over and over again without help from the outside.
Mr. Ashe’s chronicles his own personal journey from the Peace Corps volunteer forming solidarity groups in Guatemala to microfinance practitioner in Boston. He admits his own misgivings with the micro-lending movement (see this 2007 SSIR article here) and its microfinance institution-building efforts in the 1990s. He poignantly tells of his own sartorial discovery of these groups thriving in Nepal and his own efforts afterwards to launch them in some of the harshest climatic, economic and political environments across Africa and Latin America.
The novel is a compelling read for anyone interested in exploring a poverty-reduction model that is easily scalable, highly-efficient, low-cost to implement and teaches people and their communities to help themselves by putting the power of choice in their own hands.
I sat in on a webinar, Creating Green Jobs for Low-Income Individuals in late March on green job creation at the base of the pyramid (hosted by Jason Friedman, Friedman & Associates) and I was pleasantly surprised. I am a public skeptic (and a closet-optimist!) when it comes to green enterprises and green economy which seems to need subsidies and lots of public goodwill to make a go of it in today’s competitive business world. Green enterprises are nice to talk about but will they ever be profitable and achieve a dent on local economies or create local wealth for communities? Cue two community development non-profits, on opposite coasts of the US that are profitable, create local jobs, serve a substantial client base, and reverse environmental degradation. Too good to be true? Terry McDonald, Executive Director, of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP) in Lane County, Oregon (near Eugene) doesn’t think so. And he should know because SVDP serves 84,000 clients yearly and hosts no-less than 3 profitable green businesses. One of SVDP’s businesses, a recycled glass company, Aurora Glass realized approximately $1 million US in total yearly sales and employs 25 staff. On the opposite coast, Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises, Inc. (GBCE) works to create profitable green enterprises in the local communities of Bridgeport, CT. Adrienne Farrar Houëll, Executive Director explains that GBCE launched The Green Team, an environmentally-friendly construction company and Park Green, a mattress reclamation and recycling company less than a year ago. Although in relative infancy, the two green enterprises have already created a total of 33 new jobs in the green sector. GBCE intends to build upon these accomplishments with the goal of creating 100 new jobs in 2-3 new green profitable businesses over the next 4 or 5 years. My skepticism for sustainable green enterprises continues to erode as I watch them grow!