Snohomish County (WA) RESULTS holds microfinance forum

April 9, 2010
by Teresa L. Rugg, MPH; Snohomish County RESULTS Group Leader; RESULTS Regional Coordinator

While many global microfinance leaders are meeting in Kenya this week for the Microfinance Summit Campaign Conference, the Snohomish County, Washington, RESULTS group held their own forum on microfinance April 6 that was comprehensive, engaging, and all around a great experience for everyone!

A year ago, our member of Congress, Rep. Rick Larsen, mentioned that he would like to join us in a community event. Since his interest seemed to lean toward microfinance (after persistently educating him on this issue for 5 years, mindful not to cross the line of being annoying!) we suggested a spring event during the congressional recess. Rep. Larsen has always been clear that he is not an expert in microfinance but could lend the federal government perspective on this poverty alleviation tool.heat

Our panel consisted of Rep. Larsen and two experts from the microfinance world, both involved in different aspects of microfinance globally: Rick Beckett, the president and CEO of Global Partnerships, an organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for the poor. Rick came to Global Partnerships in 2006 and has led the organization’s strategic expansion, impacting more than 812,000 families, through partnerships in seven Latin American countries with more than $39 million in capital at work.

The third panelist was Carol Schillios, founder of Fabric of Life. Her foundation teaches microcredit strategies, micro-enterprise development, and group lending practices to clients. This year her Schillios Consulting Group celebrates 25 years of service to microfinance worldwide.

We began by giving a brief description of RESULTS, followed by a 15–20 minute presentation by each panelist. We then opened the floor to 70 participants to ask questions. I loved the way Rick began his presentation. He showed a picture of a woman named Miriam with her family, who live in El Salvador. Behind them was the one-room house where Miriam lives with her husband and 11 children. The house is made of a few bricks, wood, and an aluminum roof. The title of the slide was “What $2 a day looks like.” Rick went on to describe microfinance and the work of Global Partnerships on the ground.

This forum gave Rep. Larsen the opportunity to listen to the fullness of microfinance and hear the mechanics of different models, and to share his perspective so that the community learned how their government is involved in microfinance. Rep. Larsen stated:

  • Why it is important to support microfinance: It works; it is in our nation’s security interest; it promotes the alleviation of poverty.
  • What our tax dollars are doing with microfinance: He mentioned the importance of having the U.S. Agency for International Development reaching the poorest of the poor with its loans and having an accurate tool to measure this effort.
  • Key Issues: Moving beyond the loans and looking at the laws and legal frameworks that can prevent microfinance from reaching its potential.
  • If we want microfinance to be a priority to Congress, keep the heat on! “Members of Congress do not see the light until they feel the heat!” he said. He spoke about the critical role that grassroots activists, like RESULTS activists, play in ensuring that microfinance and other issues that address global poverty remain a top priority.

Carol Schillios moderated the Q&A and did an outstanding job describing the social, gender, and cultural context of microfinance. Her descriptions of the former street beggars, now business women in Mali, inspire long past her presentations!

Many participants said they learned about this event through many different sources. There is a reason for that! We:

  • Sent out press releases a month in advance to all small papers in the region, including a follow-up release two weeks before the event;
  • Inquired about and were granted an op-ed written by Rick Beckett and published two days before the event (with an insert about the event);
  • Shared an event flyer with friends and family, focusing on the faith and business communities;
  • Partnered with a local microfinance coalition for publicity;
  • Had Global Partnerships and Fabric of Life announce the event on their websites and in e-mail alerts;
  • Succeeded in having The Seattle Times write about the event on its blog;
  • Had the local business journal and business section of the daily paper highlight the event in print and on their Web sites;
  • Had announcements on the local radio station;
  • Contacted via the Web local churches and tailored a flyer and article they could put in their Sunday bulletin a month before the event.

This was our first microfinance outreach event. Of the 70 people in attendance, roughly three-fourths were people who were new to the group, and all — yes, all — wrote down their names stating they wanted more information about RESULTS! We have some more good work to do!

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