A microfinancing model that has been lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the developing world since the late 1970s, empowering mostly women to start their own businesses, is now looking to do the same for Australia’s underprivileged.
Founded by Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh in the late 1970s, the Grameen Bank’s goal is to reach 25 million people worldwide by 2025.
But it is not just the third world where the model can prove effective. Grameen Australia is bringing the highly successful ‘Grameen Today’ program to our shores, and has received $3.5 million in funding from the Australian Government to establish a new microenterprise program aimed at supporting women on low incomes.
“Grameen Today enables entrepreneurial people on low incomes, especially women, to build small businesses that create financial independence and meaningful livelihoods,” says Grameen Australia chief executive officer Adam Mooney.
“We aim to reach more than 30,000 women with enterprise aspirations who are experiencing unemployment, financial exclusion and poverty in our first five years.
“The devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have made even more urgent the need to bring the Grameen microenterprise concept to Australia.”
He emphasises the model enables women to create opportunities for themselves, and to find a pathway out of poverty and disadvantage.
The first site for ‘Grameen Today’ will be in Broadmeadows, Victoria with a branch to open in the coming months.
The program will provide small loans, financial training and support to members seeking to generate income through microenterprise.
Women on low incomes from a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences including sole parents, carers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, migrants and refugees, and women living with a disability are encouraged to consider the program.
Members design and operate their own microenterprise which may include small businesses like crafts, personal services and retail.
We’re excited to see Grameen Australia bring their internationally successful program to Australia, to help women who are not currently employed to re-enter the workforce and lift their income,” says Minister for Families and Social Services and Women’s Safety, Anne Ruston.
Participants will be invited to join small peer support groups and offered mentoring, training and access to loans and savings programs, to support them as they establish their own small business,” Minister Ruston adds.
Minister for Women’s Economic Security, Jane Hume, says this initiative will create new self-employment opportunities, while boosting financial literacy and workforce skills.
“The best way to improve women's economic security is to increase women’s participation in the workforce,” Minister Hume says.
“Grameen Australia will help to facilitate this, especially through microenterprise development, designed to fit in with people’s lives and commitments.”
Grameen began in the late 70s as a radical experiment to lend US$27 to a group of 42 basket weavers in Bangladesh on the strength of their character alone. The women not only repaid the loan, but they also made a small profit.
“To date, around 300 million people have benefited from Grameen’s microfinance models – mostly women, the ‘poorest of the poor’, who would otherwise be financially excluded, but who have been able to access small loans from Grameen to start or grow microenterprises,” Professor Yunus says.
“Following several visits to Australia, I believe that we can reach the vast entrepreneurial potential of many women on low incomes.
“Creating meaningful livelihoods not only gives income, economic independence and resilience, but also hope, belonging and a sense of purpose towards a full life.
“I thank the Australian Government for this important investment in women and for their trust in Grameen. We look forward to working together.”
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