Excerpts from “The Microcredit Revolution,” by Dorothy May Emerson, UU World, March/April 2005, pp. 33-38.
We hear a lot about the growing divide between rich and poor. We might get the idea that the situation is hopeless, that we are doomed to live in an increasingly divided world. But there is a significant countervailing force at work around the world to overcome poverty and transform local economies toward justice. From villages in India to urban centers in the United States, this movement is changing people’s lives step by step, bringing hope and renewal to families, communities, and ultimately, the world.
This effort goes by several names: microfinance, microlending, and microcredit. The people who benefit are called microentrepreneurs. Support comes from individuals, banks, religious organizations and other nonprofits, foundations, governments, and the World Bank. Donors, investors, and people who work in this field are motivated by a vision of a world where the devastating effects of poverty “no longer cripple the chances of individuals and families to sustain themselves, thrive, and contribute their talents to the world in which they live—where all people have a fair chance of success,” in the words of the grass-roots advocacy organization Results…
The Unitarian Universalist Association has a long history of support for community investing as one of the important practices of socially responsible investing…
The Rev. Meg Riley, the UUA's director of advocacy and witness, is a big fan of microfinance. "It allows Unitarian Universalists to take seriously how wealthy we are," she says. "Too much of our social justice work is predicated on a lie—that we are marginalized and underprivileged. In global terms we are outrageously wealthy, considering that nearly 1.2 billion people—that's one-fifth of the earth's population—live on less than $1 a day."
Joan Cudhea, chair of the UUA's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, is also enthusiastic about the new movement. "The field of microfinance is immense and growing, and we need to know more about it," she says. "This is such an opportune moment…. Besides, this is a topic both Republicans and Democrats can agree on."
By supporting the microfinance movement with investments, donations, and energy, Unitarian Universalists and others are putting their resources to work in a revolution against poverty.