MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Access and Marginalization: An Overview of Lessons Learned from the YouthSave Webinar

Access and Marginalization: An Overview of Lessons Learned from the YouthSave Webinar

On October 9th, 2015 USAID’s Microlinks platform, in association with The MasterCard Foundation and Save the Children, hosted a discussion and webinar titled, “Pathways to Development: Evidence from YouthSave.” The purpose of the event was to bring together researchers and practitioners to share their experiences and insight gained on youth savings, spurred by the completion of the 5-year YouthSave project.

YouthSave, "A Report of the YouthSave Consortium: YouthSave 2010-2015," (Oct 2015): pg 8.

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Keyhole Gardens and Marital Harmony in Northern Ghana

Keyhole GardensHow might vegetables and marital harmony be connected? In the spring of 2014 the staff in MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team may have shrugged and said nothing. By the spring of 2015 they had a different perspective. A study based on a MEDA pilot project in northern Ghana around Key Hole Gardens found that 58% of participants reported increased marital harmony as a result of the gardens. Although surprising at first, the study found that women’s increased access to vegetables allowed them to both cook more diverse food at home, a fact their husbands enjoy, and obtain some financial income which is also viewed positively within the household.

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Scaling in Practice

Scaling in Practice

A few weeks ago I attended the annual Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit in Washington DC, hosted by Making Cents International. This event is always a great convening place for the who’s who in youth in development, including: funders, implementers, policy makers, youth leaders, companies, educators, and researchers. This year, the event brought together over 450 stakeholders from 50 countries to exchange knowledge, effect practice and improve the performance of youth economic opportunity programming worldwide.

MEDA’s Senior Project Manager of Youth and Financial Services, Nicki Post, with Rani Deshpandi of Save the Children and Ata Cisse of UNCDF, – panelists at the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit, 2015

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Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution: Unpaid Care Work and Greater Economic Inclusion for Women

Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution:
Unpaid Care Work and Greater Economic Inclusion for Women
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From Sept 30-Oct 1, the SEEP Network hosted its 2015 Annual Conference in Arlington, VA. For those that are not familiar, the SEEP network is “a global network of international practitioner organizations dedicated to combating poverty through promoting inclusive markets and financial systems.” This year’s technical topics followed four tracks: Financial Services and Technology to Promote Resilience, Private Sector Partnership Models, Small-scale Producers in Resilient Agricultural Systems, and Women's Economic Empowerment.

Among the many great discussions and presentations was a plenary session on Thursday, Oct. 1 entitled Beyond Access: Catalyzing Women’s Economic Empowerment in Market Systems, which had as one of its panelist Caren Grown, World Bank Group Senior Director for Gender. Caren brilliantly opened the session with a great introduction to women’s empowerment and why it should be a focus for development. In her remarks, she cited a recent McKinsey report estimating that if women could participate in the economy in the exact same way that men do (i.e., complete economic parity), it would add up to $28 trillion to the annual global GDP. In other words, this would add to the global economy roughly the economies of the US and China combined. (1)

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The Role of Parents and Families in Youth Financial Inclusion

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.
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Should we be working in Myanmar?

Burma Blog AI started working in Myanmar almost two years ago. At that time, in order to have access to a phone I rented a sim card for over 200$; ATMs were non-existent and Yangon was still relatively traffic-free. My first assignment for a large INGO was to study three separate markets in the country’s central dry zone. I looked at goats, groundnuts and plums. The latter, seemingly banal as a crop, turned out to be the more exciting of the three. A plum farmer could channel the components of her plums to five separate markets, from dried fertilizer to juice, to fire fuel and Chinese medicine.
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Opportunities for ICT Innovations in Myanmar

Opportunities for ICT Innovations in Myanmar
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As Myanmar slowly opens its doors to the world, can it also leapfrog some of the biggest failures in development?

One of MEDA’s newest projects to launch in Asia is in Myanmar, also referred to as Burma.  A country in the midst of transition and change is slowly reducing barriers to foreign trade and influence, and opening its once closed borders to global firms. Myanmar now finds itself in the crossroads at the 21st century’s technology boom, with global powerhouse neighbours such as India and China, the country has a unique opportunity to learn and apply lessons learned in the entry to a globalized economy and marketplace. Managing the economic boom that will result with the influx of capital and infrastructure to ensure equitable distribution and equal access to new opportunities is no small challenge. And many international donors, such as the Canadian Government are seeking to provide support by facilitating economic growth in less developed areas, such as the country's ethnic states.

MEDA’s project, funded by Global Affairs Canada, focuses on reaching 25,000 women farmers and entrepreneurs in two of these states – Southern Shan and Kayin. MEDA plans to increase access to these new opportunities in rural areas of the country, targeting women in select value chains with high growth potential. And as the enabling environment gradually improves to foster private sector development, the potential for new economic opportunities for rural women and men also grows rapidly. Activities will focus on achieving women’s economic empowerment with the proven benefits to the larger household and community. As in other countries, women farmers in Myanmar have less access to land ownership but are able to access inputs, seeds, and extension services. However, gender differences in access to land and credit affect the relative ability of female farmers and entrepreneurs to invest, operate to scale, and benefit from growing market opportunities in their respective communities.

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Incentives, Subsidies, and Complementary Services to Promote Youth Financial Inclusion

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blogg, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in the world’s least developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access a range of economic opportunities over the course of their lives. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Usage and Dormancy of Youth Accounts

This blog originally appeared on The SEEP Network Blog, co-authored by Jennifer Denomy and Rebecca Hession.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24, with 89 percent of them residing in less-developed countries (2014). With appropriate knowledge and tools, youth can be financially empowered to access economic opportunities in a sustainable manner. Although they represent a large potential market, the integration of youth into the formal financial system is still a relatively new concept in many countries. In order to address these operational issues and explore innovations in this area, the SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group commissioned and wrote four Promising Practices Briefs. The topics of the briefs were selected during a series of consultations held with Working Group members in January 2015.

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Red Roads Over Green Hills: Contemplating Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Red Roads Over Green Hills: Contemplating Gender Equality in Ethiopia

The state of the roads in Ethiopia’s Oromia region (a western region bordering South Sudan) are not for the faint of heart – nor week of spine. Worse yet was the speed with which our driver dodged crater-sized potholes and slip-slided through meters of slick red mud. This drive might have been a teeth-clenching test of endurance had it not been for the verdant green pastoral landscape that stretched out from the road on all sides. Having traveled in numerous countries in western and eastern Africa, I was more accustomed to views of dense, tropical jungles or semi-arid savannah, not to a landscape that more closely resembled Ireland with its greener-than-green fields dotted by grazing animals. The only striking difference being the dirt road that blazed like a red ribbon lain haphazardly over green velvet.

As our ancient Range Rover moved with alacrity through this landscape, my mind drifted back to the conversation I had had with my colleague on the airplane from Addis Ababa to Assosa. She had asked, innocently enough, about my other work at MEDA and I launched into a discussion about my projects and MEDA’s approach to women’s economic empowerment. This somehow took a turn to discussing the state of women in Pakistan (site of a MEDA value chain project focusing on women’s entrepreneurship), and as I discussed honor killings, acid attacks, and the Islamic custom of purdah (limiting women’s mobile outside the home), my colleague’s face became one of astonishment. I was surprised, however, that my colleague used this information as further evidence against Islam and not as a discussion point for women’s equality more broadly. Ethiopia, she informed me, did have this “problem.” While it may be true that Ethiopia doesn’t have the same kind of violence towards women witnessed in some parts of Pakistan, Ethiopia is not a shining example for the equitable treatment of women, despite being predominantly Christian (Muslims make up approximately 33%). While Christianity may not have as overt cultural practices segregating women, are not the subtle messages of submission and subservience on the part of women found throughout Christian teachings indicative of a pervasive, and deeply-rooted prejudice toward women?

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Assessing Youth Financial Needs in Cross River State

Assessing Youth Financial Needs in Cross River State
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MEDA is partnering with Cuso International to improve financial inclusion for youth in Nigeria. The project titled Youth Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Access and Development (YouLead) works with young women and men in Cross River State, Nigeria.Following MEDA's detailed institutional assessment of financial sector in Cross River State, five financial inclusion partners were selected for capacity building support. Subsequently, an assessment of Youth Financial Needs was undertaken in May-June 2015. This blog documents the key findings of this assessment.

Why was the assessment needed?

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Engaging Women in the Economy in Latin America

I was recently asked to join a panel discussion at the Inter-American Development Bank on better engaging women in the agricultural sector in Latin America. A conversation that needs to be had more often.Having lived in Central America, I know all too well the realities of gender inequality that exists in the region. Typically, in the household, a woman cooks and cleans; doesn't work and therefore, doesn't have any control over the financial or operational decisions within the home. This goes as far as to say that some women were not even privy to the prices of milk or eggs. "Machismo" as they call it, is the mindset that the man is better than the women. I saw many homes where this wasn't the case; however, for the majority of women, living in the shadows is a reality.Recently I performed and managed a short consultancy that worked with 4 agribusinesses in Peru to promote gender equality in the workplace and homes of the farmers working downstream in their supply chains. A "Gender Coordinator" led the efforts at each business and also hosted "Gender Workshops" for both men and women in the community from which they sourced. The Gender Coordinators educated the men and women about gender equality (a phrase some had never heard of before) and conducted activities, such as learning to cook nutritious foods together, as a couple. The consultancy lasted only 8 months. The goal was to determine the financial and operational implications of gender dynamics on the household and business. 8 months was rather short to be measuring these things; however, even within that time, a difference could be seen. Woman began to engage in agriculture, which for these communities, is the primary source of income. Two of the companies even had enough supply that they began to market a new product - coffee specifically grown by women. Maybe it is the next "fair trade"? One company found a niche market in Germany and demand is over the roof.The most prominent change; however, could be seen in the women themselves. The increase in confidence was astonishing and the community had never been stronger.Check out the recording of the panel discussion on the IADB website here. The CEO of Women's World Banking and Project Manager from Cafe Femenino join me and provide interesting takes on their experiences working in the area, as well.Enjoy! And keep the conversation going!
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Looking Back At YouthInvest: Lowering Barriers and Increasing Uptake

Looking Back At YouthInvest: Lowering Barriers and Increasing Uptake
 Lowering Barriers and Increasing Uptake 

In the past few blogs, we have taken you through the journey that we took when developing youth-friendly financial products and services in Morocco, looking at the importance of supporting frontline MFI staff and making the business case for MFIs to offer youth financial products. But have we really accomplished anything? Are more youth accessing financial services?

Let’s begin this final blog entry on our YouthInvest Praxis Series by looking at the strategies that were deployed to facilitate access to and improve usage of our partners’ financial products and services. It was YouthInvest’s philosophy that access to financial services should never be a solitary offering, but should be paired with the appropriate training. This was one of the cornerstones of our approach, where we worked to ensure that clients were not only able to access products appropriate to their needs, but also understood the products and services they were availing.

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Fostering Employment Opportunities for Libyan Women

Fostering Employment Opportunities for Libyan Women
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“I want to provide more employment opportunities for struggling women and unemployed youth” stated forty-nine year old Faiza Al –Shgair who until June last year (2014) was a single mother struggling to raise her daughters in Tripoli.

Faiza is a graduate of the USAID Libya Women Economic Empowerment (LWEE) project and the winner of one of the matching grants awards. She won USD $13,000 to work on getting her catering business, ‘Almawasm’, running.

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Culture of cycling

Culture of cycling
We are currently in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, 100km away from Quebec City. We are camping and I’m lying outside on my towel trying to digest all the food I just ate (Now I can eat almost anything, at any time). There is a married couple at the campground in front of ours. They cycled here too. There are in their 80s. The cycling culture is huge in Quebec. Yesterday we did 150km and people were cycling beside us screaming enthusiastically in French. There are pathways that seem like highways throughout Quebec. They are called the Green Route. It has been so incredibly beautiful. We took the Route 5 into Montreal a few days ago. A group of MEDA members were nice enough to come meet us 80km out and cycle with us into the city. They definitely exposed us to some amazing routes. We took a ferry and crossed over to Oka where we rode on a bike path the whole way into Montreal. In Montreal there are many cyclists, and for the first time, with our day off, we cycled around the city. There are bike paths everywhere and everyone cycles to commute or to work out. It truly was a wonderful experience. Here’s why: Usually we cycle on the road because they are paved; however, Google maps tries to take us on bike routes, which end up being sand and/or gravel. It doesn’t sound like a bad route, and it’s not, but if you have 28inch tires then you end up doing 20km in two hours. This is not advantageous, because we can usually get up to 35km an hour. So based on previous experiences, we avoided any type of trail. Now that we are in Quebec, we are spoiled rotten. Not only has the route been nice, but the architecture is so different here. I really enjoy going through small towns and seeing the churches and colorful tin rooftops. Did I happen to mention that since we’ve entered Quebec we have been cycling along le Fleuve, the St. Lawrence River. Today we stopped to enjoy the beautiful little islands and to look at the mountains on the North shore. Tomorrow we arrive at Riviere-du-Loup (Wolf River). National Geographic describes it as having the second most beautiful sunset in the world.
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Effective Integration of Financial Services into Economic Opportunities Programming for Youth

Effective Integration of Financial Services into Economic Opportunities Programming for Youth
How can financial services be effectively integrated into economic opportunities programming for youth?

The SEEP Network’s Youth and Financial Services Working Group, facilitated by MEDA, recently completed a series of learning documents which highlight promising practices in youth financial services, illustrated by examples from multiple projects and stakeholders. In a series of member consultations, four topics were identified as areas of particular interest:

Integrating youth financial services into economic opportunities programmingUnderstanding usage and dormancy of youth savings accountsUsing incentives, subsidies and complementary services to promote youth financial inclusionUnderstanding the role of parents and families in youth financial inclusion

A learning document was created to explore each topic, with full publications available here: http://www.meda.org/publications/seep-youth-and-financial-services-working-group We will profile each in a blog entry over the coming weeks, starting with today’s topic: integrating financial services for youth into economic opportunities programming.

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Empowering Women – Changing Lives

Empowering Women – Changing Lives
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MEDA’s Women’s Economic Opportunities team knows how money in the hands of a woman can change lives. This blog has been created to share the learnings, ideas and the insights from our projects that excite and energize us in our work.Our team has close to a decade of experience working alongside women producers and entrepreneurs to grow their incomes and businesses. We support them in strengthening their business and leadership skills and help to build social, business and financial networks. To date, we have worked with over 100,000 women and have learned much along the way.We designed and piloted new methodologies for empowering and connecting women entrepreneurs to markets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent years, we have adapted and expanded our women’s economic empowerment programming into Ghana, Libya, Haiti and Burma (Myanmar). New projects will be starting soon in Jordan and Ethiopia that will challenge us to work at different levels in the market system. We continue to work at innovating new information communication technology (ICT) and appropriate technology solutions for women, and on building our private sector and university partnerships.

Share and contribute

MEDA values the learning that we gain from working with others. Beyond helping us to understand gender relations and socio-cultural dynamics in different country contexts, our work with local and private sector organisations helps to build their capacity in value chain analysis and market based approaches. Strong partnerships ensure that our women’s economic empowerment programming is scalable, replicable and sustainable, and that the learning continues even beyond the life of our projects. I invite you to check in for our monthly posts. We look forward to sharing and learning with you.

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Praxis Series - Entry 4: Designing youth friendly products and services: An approach

Praxis Series - Entry 4: Designing youth friendly products and services: An approach
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In our last blog, we looked at making the business case to MFIs to integrate financial (and non-financial) services for young people into their portfolios. One of the drivers we looked at was the need for said products to be low cost. “The cost of youth clients (and youth-friendly products) are comparable to the cost of adult clients. Loan Officers are able to integrate youth into their client portfolios without additional costs.” So how do you do that?

We developed an approach that takes 12 steps or 4 phases to build MFI capacity to offer a new youth-friendly product. In the product development (PD) cycle, we begin with phase 1 – the identify phase – to support partner MFIs in identifying the needs of their new target client. This is accomplished through targeted information gathering, analysis and conducting interviews with current clients and non-client to discern their needs and wants from a new product.

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Picton Golf Club & Grill

Here’s a shout out to the most amazing community I could ever ask for. Today was the Picton event, in my hometown. I am blessed to have people in my life that are so generous and loving. Before this bike trip, my old boss called me to confirm an event at the golf course. On top of this, she also told me that her and her husband were donating the whole buffet breakfast, which included a speech and slideshow. All donations were to go to Bike to Grow. I was pretty nervous to host the event because I never know how many people are going to attend. Before today, only 7 people had actually bought tickets. The lack of attendance made me nervous. At the beginning of the event only four tables were present and we began with an introduction and a Q&A. I was nervous and felt awkward. However, my mood changed as people kept strolling in and we ended up with a full house! I saw people I hadn’t seen since high school and people I didn’t necessarily expect to come. Today we raised $1,300 by family and friends who came out to support Mary and myself. Mary’s parents and a MEDA staff member, Helen, were able to join us and added to our stories throughout the event. The event was supposed to end at 10 and we ended up staying there until noon. My dad and a friend cycled out with us on County Road 49 to wish us off. It started raining, but by the time we put on our rain jackets the rained stopped. As we rode into Desert Lake Campground, 70km from Picton, there were clear skies. To top off the day, an exciting thing happened as we approached the registration desk to pay for our campsite. The owners saw us stroll in with our bikes and gear and after we told them the GROW story, they offered us a complimentary hotel room. To come back after a one week holiday, I couldn’t be happier to start riding again. Family, friends, and strangers continue to support us in our every day adventures.
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MEDA: Modelling mission and stewardship for the 21st century

Wally Kroeker, MEDA's director of publications, wrote the following to present last week in Harrisburg, PA, at a Mennonite World Conference seminar. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it, so we share it with you here today.    For more than 60 years MEDA has been a mechanism for Mennonite businessfolk and others to share their skills and resources with the less fortunate. We have sometimes been described as a “mission arm” of the Mennonite business community. Perhaps it is bold to say so, but I believe we have redefined the nature of ministry and whole-life stewardship as we’ve helped people in poverty to build livelihoods that last.    If you look through our early archives you’ll see photos of white-faced (maybe sunburned) Mennonite men riding around on the backs of pickups, trudging through jungles, and sitting under trees eating watermelon with indigenous Paraguayans. Back home in California and Ohio these men ran large companies and employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Ed Peters, our first president, was described by Life magazine as a “shirtsleeve millionaire.”     We began in 1953, a time when Mennonite refugees from Russia and Europe had been dislocated following the Second World War and had ended up in Paraguay. MCC had generously provided them with food and shelter. But those who had left trades behind could not get the working capital to build businesses to provide goods and services in the Mennonite colonies. The local banks wanted exorbitant interest rates because they had no collateral or credit history.    Orie Miller, the head of MCC, knew all about business and the need for working capital. He worked for a successful shoe business back in Pennsylvania. He knew how important it was to have productive enterprises to provide an economic foundation for a community. He decided to recruit other Mennonite businessfolk from North America. He organized trips for several of them to visit Paraguay and see for themselves what could be done. These visitors immediately saw the need, and just as quickly saw a way for them to fit in.     They formed a new organization – called MEDA – that would provide not only capital funds but also personal engagement to develop enterprises.     Loans and investments were made. Members were assigned to sponsor certain projects and to visit their partners to provide ongoing encouragement. As the loans were repaid, other projects were proposed and new loans were made.     The first project was the Sarona Dairy in Paraguay’s Fernheim Colony. Native Paraguayan bush cattle produced only a couple of quarts of milk per day. MEDA formed a partnership with local farmers to clear some bushland and import a high-grade bull for cross-breeding. Before long, milk production was boosted to several gallons a day. If you go to Paraguay today, and eat breakfast at a four-star hotel in Asuncion, you may be served yogurt or chocolate milk from one of the numerous Mennonite-owned dairies. Today, two-thirds of Paraguay’s dairy production comes from the Mennonite colonies.     The next project was to help a small undercapitalized tannery make leather from cattle hides. Erie Sauder recalled that before the tannery was built the people used to stretch out cattle hides to dry in the sun, but wild animals would come at night and chew them up.    A cattle operation and a tannery led quite logically to MEDA’s third project, a shoe factory to make shoes, boots, saddles and motorcycle seats from the leather from the tannery. You can see they had a few ideas about vertical integration. By the late 1970s the factory was producing more than 600 pairs of shoes a month.     And so it went.

     The need for MEDA’s brand of help was immense, and invitations came from all over the globe. Soon MEDA found itself working in Africa. Eventually there would be more than 100 projects in places like Tanzania, Zaire, Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, working with the poorest of the economically active.     Along with its success, MEDA learned important lessons.     One painful discovery was that loans were often made by local committees on the basis of family ties, or friendship, or even to augment authority. We learned that if you give a village pastor the combination to the safe you are combining spiritual power with economic power. When this combination is abused, it is a very potent brew. MEDA learned to practice sound lending based on business criteria.     The Africa years also taught important lessons about dependency – lessons that not enough well-meaning agencies have learned. Some borrowers thought North American money was a magic currency that did not have to be repaid. Debts were seen as an imposition rather than as an obligation. Sometimes tough love was needed – “If you don’t repay, we can’t lend to your neighbors.” MEDA had to convey what some of us learned as children – there is no Santa Claus.     Today we are known worldwide for, among other things, micro-enterprise development, having been a pioneer of this movement. We helped prove that the poor are bankable.     One of my favorite client stories is of Vincenta Pacheco of Bolivia. I met her twice – first in 1990, and then 10 years later. She had been injured in a kitchen fire and needed money to pay her medical bills. A small loan from MEDA enabled her to buy sewing equipment so she could set up shop as a tailor. The additional income covered her medical costs and eventually enabled her to create some jobs for her neighbors.     A decade later I went back to Bolivia on an evaluation mission. I asked the local staff if Vincenta was still around. Yes, she was. I went to visit her. Her little shop had expanded and she had created more jobs. I asked if she still needed microfinance loans. “Oh no,” she said, proudly. “Now when I need to upgrade equipment or buy fabric, I use my savings.”    That is music to our ears. We like to work ourselves out of a client.

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