Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Microcredit campaigners unveil anti-poverty target

TINY BUSINESS LOANS Fresh pledges of cash were announced on Sunday to contribute to the growing movement to eradicate poverty through microfinance


Queen Sofia of Spain, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and hundreds of campaigners met for a summit here on Sunday where they announced their lofty goal of attempting to lift 175 million of the world's poorest people out of poverty by 2015.

Campaigners at the second Global Microcredit Summit, which is being held in this east coast Canadian city until Wednesday, said the use of tiny business loans known as microcredit had already helped lift tens of millions of people out of poverty and improve their livelihoods.

About 2,000 delegates, including UN officials and microcredit specialists, have traveled to Halifax from some 100 countries around the world to attend the summit.

Campaigners say microloans, which average US$100 and require no collateral, can help the critically poor expand a basic food-selling or handicraft-marketing business and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty.

"Today we are already 100 million, so it's not even double the size, so that way it's not the same challenge. We have created the momentum already," Yunus, of Bangladesh, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel prize last month for his decades-long work in advancing microcredit, was referring to a target set in Washington in 1997 to advance microloans to 100 million poverty-stricken people by the end of last year.

Campaigners concede they are not there yet, but say they are on track to reach that goal by the end of this year, and are now setting their sights wider.

The Nobel peace laureate said that he envisages a world where future generations would have to go to "poverty museums" if they want to know what poverty was.

"It's not the money that's the important thing, it's the will that's the important thing," Yunus, who is known as the "godfather" of microcredit, added.

Interest in microcredit, which is largely granted to people vying to survive on less than one dollar a day to start or expand small businesses, has mounted since Yunus won the peace prize last month.

Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to oversee tiny business loan lending and the bank has extended microloans to 6.6 million people since 1976.

Queen Sofia, who has long been an advocate for microcredit, attended the summit sporting a cloth wrap over her left shoulder that she had purchased from a group of women in Yunus's native Bangladesh for US$1.20.

Fresh pledges of cash were announced on Sunday to support the growing movement.

Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay announced to delegates that his government had approved more than US$40 million for different microfinance projects that would be targeted at projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

"Around the world, the power of microfinance is transforming lives," MacKay said.

"Canada's new government is a leader in microfinancing in Afghanistan, which is part of our efforts to foster self reliance," he added.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya announced that his government was appropriating some US$50 million to advance microcredit schemes in his country.

Although delegates were upbeat at the summit's opening ceremony, the enormity of the global challenge facing the microcredit community and Yunus is daunting.

Experts estimate there are between 1 billion and 1.2 billion people around the world, mainly in Asia, who live on less than US$1 a day.

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