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Calgary Microcredit Conference attracts like-minded people
Category: Microcredit | By CMC-2011, 8-Nov-2012 | Viewed 4808  Comments 0
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Maureen McManus
The 5th annual Microcredit Conference was held at the Danish-Canadian Club in Calgary on Oct. 13. This was attended by 160 people.

The first speaker was Sarah Arthurs talking about the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. 

"Co-operative enterprises build a better world," Arthurs said.

She explained the democratic co-operative principles and gave examples of co-ops in Alberta, including housing co-operatives, Calgary Co-op grocery stores, Servus Credit Union and United Farmers of Alberta.

John Hatch gave the keynote presentation. He established the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA) in 1984. 

"Mothers are the greatest philanthropists in the world. Their wealth is in their children for their survival and education," Hatch said. "The poor know if they make mistakes, they die. Assisting mothers helps whole families."

According to Hatch, 22 per cent of humanity has benefited from international micro-financing projects.

The conference participants then had the choice of attending presentations on the international or domestic microfinance stream. This writer attended some of each.

Rotarian Fabio Carbello gave an overview of a Rotary-funded microfinance project in Costa Rica. He had volunteered to go to the 1998 project fair in Honduras, where he learned about microcredit. Carballo spoke about the evolution of a microcredit project with funds raised by Rotary clubs being matched with grants from various organizations.

"To make a better world, go where dreams hurt. You can change lives of whole communities," Carbello said. "Microcredit has changed many lives, bringing joy and hugs."

Such a life was changed when an elderly, infirm woman was given a wheelchair. This gave her independence.

"Angels are waiting," Carballo said.

Alberta Rotarian Rick Grass spoke about collaboration and leveraging donations for microfinance projects. He highlighted fundraising efforts for a Rotary-Opportunity International project in Honduras.

"Microfinance allows entrepreneurs to pre-purchase supplies for their business to generate more goods and sales," Grass said.

He then explained the partnerships Rotary clubs can forge with local, national and international groups and governments to leverage funds. For example, the Rotary Club of High River, Alta. raised $25,000 for the Honduras microcredit project, then applied to the Government of Alberta for a $25,000 matching grant. By involving other Alberta Rotary clubs, more funds could be raised and matched by  Rotary District 5360, the Rotary Foundation, and the governments of Canada and Honduras to a total value of more than one-million dollars.

On the domestic scene, Steve Pedersen spoke about the start-up and launch of the Southwest Alberta Community Loan (SWACL) fund that will offer loans and microfinance to low-income entrepreneurs in rural Alberta. Initially, the communities are in the region from Waterton to Nanton, including Lethbridge, Fort Macleod and Cardston.

Selim Fahmy is based in New York City with Grameen North America.The original Grameen microfinancing bank was established in Bangladesh by the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus. Fahmy gave an overview of the business model used in North America by Grameen and how it differs from microfinance in other countries. 

"The highest percentage of clients are American immigrants, and the majority are Latinos," Fahmy said.

He is having discussions with the Rotary Action Group for Microcredit about the possibility of Grameen being established in Montreal or Toronto, but the initial capital is needed.

Later in the day, Holly Mosher showed clips from the film she directed, titled "Bonsai People." This film is about Yunus and the Grameen Foundation. Since starting the Grameen Bank and giving microcredit loans to millions of women, Yunus has pioneered a whole new movement -- social business to unleash human potential. 

Yunus has said, "Poor people are bonsai people, there is nothing wrong with their seed -- society never allowed them the space to grow."

Other speakers had similarly heart-warming stories to tell before the conference wound up with a panel discussion.

Submitted by Maureen McManus
Rotary Club of High River
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