Housewife to Entrepreneur: Empowering Women with Microfinance

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I am a great believer in the benefits microfinance can bring to the world’s poor when delivered ethically and effectively. In April I had the privilege of visiting Nepal to work with our field partner Mahila Prayash, a microfinance cooperative based in Kathmandu and run entirely by women for women.

Microfinance as confidence boost

I met several clients and all of the staff of Mahila Prayash and I was struck by one thing in particular. Microfinance is not just about providing the financial means to develop a business; possibly the most important development I have seen in the lives of the women touched by microfinance is the incredible increase in their self-confidence.

Woman after woman (staff and client alike) told me about their past as a housewife with no income or employment opportunities, which largely meant that they were completely dependant on their husbands. They also told me about not having their ideas taken seriously by their communities. When Mahila Prayash started, the women from the cooperative were often jeered or outright dismissed because being women they were ‘incapable’. Through persevering they have changed the attitudes of the people they work with and are now accepted and even respected by most. Joining Mahila Prayash has allowed these women to work together to develop their ideas and self confidence.

Inspiring the next generation of women

While on my visit I stayed with a member of Mahila Prayash staff who had two very chatty teenage daughters. It was amazing to listen to them talk about women in Nepal. They reflected that most women were illiterate and just stayed at home, but their mother was doing so much more than that. While these two girls were very busy being fun loving and hanging out with friends, the pride and admiration with which they spoke about their mother’s job and her accomplishments in microfinance was truly inspiring. Both of these girls have aspirations to go to university and to have jobs and to move beyond the stereotype for women in Nepal. Their mother’s work helped show them the true worth and potential of women.

The double impact of microfinance

For me, while microfinance has always been a promising initiative, I have now seen first-hand the extended impact it can have. In Nepal, working in microfinance institutions is creating a space for women to use their skills and talents helping one another. They are changing their own lives and becoming incredibly valuable role models for their children, sisters and communities at the same time. We often talk about the incredible impact microfinance loans have on entrepreneurs, but overlook the impact the positive influence staff can have on their families and communities. After my recent visit, I’ll make sure to talk about both of these aspects of microfinance.  Both aspects empower women and have confirmed for me that microfinance has huge potential as a sustainable international development tool

Mahila Prayash currently works with over 2,000 clients in the Kathmandu area. They offer savings and loan products, with their savings products giving an incredible 11% interest rate and their loan products charging 17% (declining balance) interest.

Diane Rafla

International Operations Director