An effective vehicle for reducing poverty

Guyana Chronicle
March 29, 2003

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ADDRESSING a seminar earlier this month on project designing for the sustainable development of micro-enterprises, Finance Minister Mr Saisnarine Kowlessar re-stated the Administration’s commitment to this process as a mechanism for reducing poverty in Guyana. Mr Kowlessar, who promised that further initiatives to stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty would be articulated in this year’s National Budget (which was presented yesterday), told the gathering at the opening of the workshop that it was imperative that new ways should be charted by Government, the Private Sector and other stakeholders for the execution of programmes to reduce poverty.

That seminar, which was conducted at Cara Inn, was organised by the European Delegation here to glean inputs from stakeholders in the designing and formulation of a project to develop micro-enterprises as part of the strategy to reduce poverty. It was disclosed that under the terms of the Cotonou Agreement entered by the 77-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, the European Union (EU) had allocated $600M for micro-enterprise development in Guyana. Mr Vincent De Visscher, Head of the European Delegation to Guyana, had explained at that forum that the multi-pronged project included financing of micro-realisation, creating employment, reducing poverty, educating the beneficiaries, and helping NGOs to formulate projects, prepare budgets and monitor projects.

We applaud this development for we are convinced that micro-enterprises can prove to be one of the best vehicles for transforming the lives of poor and marginalised persons in the Third World. One has only to speak to clients of the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) to learn of the successes of this particular agency. One of the country’s leading commercial banks also helped pioneer the micro-enterprise process in the 1990s, when scores of pavement and municipal market vendors took advantage of the credit scheme, which was influenced by the Grameen Bank model of Bangladesh. Under this plan, potential borrowers would band themselves into little groups in order to obtain small loans with the proviso that they would cross-guarantee one another. As group members proved themselves successful small entrepreneurs, their individual credit rating would be boosted, and they would progress to bigger loans and larger enterprises.

In the early 1990s, the Women’s Affairs Bureau (WAB) of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security established a revolving fund with the assistance of a United Nations agency. It was a very rewarding scheme and one that transformed female heads of households into successful small businesswomen. First, the women were encouraged to gain skills in food processing through a short, residential course conducted at the Guyana School of Agriculture. They were then given instructions in small business techniques. After these processes they were given the requested loans to launch their business careers.

The results would have pleased the heart of any expert in the field of ‘women and development’. On International Women’s Day in March 1991, the businesswomen, many of whom were grandmothers, participated in an exhibition outside Guyana Stores to show the world the fruits of their labour. One woman, who said she had begun selling salted meats to hinterland miners, explained that she became so swamped with orders that she had been forced to team up with another woman to meet the demand. Another woman said that at last she had found something to do with all the glut of gooseberries and golden apples in her yard. She was doing a brisk business selling them as attractively preserved items. All this was made possible because some decision-makers made micro-credit available to ‘grassroots’ members of society.

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