Ok, so many of you know a little bit about what I'm doing, but I figure it's probably best to provide some background. Last summer I interned with Kiva (www.kiva.org--they're awesome!) and traveled through East Africa working with different Microfinance Institutions that provide small loans to people who are too poor to receive an ordinary bank loan. While I was in Kampala, Uganda, I met a community in what's called the Acholi Quarters, which is essentially a slum/Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp. The Acholi people have been displaced from their homes in northern Uganda because of 20 years of violence involving a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and at times the Ugandan government's army, the UPDF.
Members of the community told me that they didn't have access to loans, but that they desperately needed capital to be able to start their own businesses and have some income. Most of them work in the quarry beside the quarters, making about 50 cents a day. I have grant money through the Lang Opportunity Scholarship at Swarthmore to initiate a social justice project. So I decided to return to the Acholi Quarter this summer and start the loan program they were requesting.
I'm working with what is in the process of becoming an officially registered Community Based Organization, called Project Have Hope (www.projecthavehope.org.) Karen Sparacio, a photographer from Massachusetts, started the organization along with members of the community, and it now has 100 members. Karen sells the paper bead jewelry that they make in the Acholi Quarter (that I was also selling to raise money for the loan program) and sends the funds back to Project Have Hope, where they provide many services, including vocational training for the members and school fees payments for their children. I will be offering loans to members of Project Have Hope, as well as other residents of the Acholi Quarter. Project Have Hope is sharing their building and some of their organizational infrastructure with me, and they will continue the loan program after I return to the U.S. in August.
There is also a research component to what I'm doing. I'm going to give some loans under group liability, such that a group of 5 women agrees to be jointly liable for each group member's loan. I will give other loans under individual liability, such that the borrower is only responsible for repaying her own loan. I am going to compare repayment rates and other outcomes between the two types, and this will be the basis for my Public Policy thesis. It is an important question within the microfinance field right now whether group liability, which is one of the hallmarks of microfinance, actually improves repayment rates. I am also interested in the question of how the group liability structure enhances, changes, or worsens relationships and community.
So tomorrow I'm going to attend Project Have Hope's weekly meeting and explain the loan terms. I'm hoping I can start collecting applications next week! I'm posting the only picture I've taken so far--it's Project Have Hope's building, which is almost finished being constructed. Ok, actually I'm not...it's not letting me. Sorry! I'll try harder when I have a more exciting picture.