What is poverty? The disturbing reasons for asking this question often look us straight in the eye when we venture into parts of the world notable for extreme wealth disparities. To Mohammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi father of microfinance and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, poverty is the lack of control over capital. His answer to poverty is to harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the poor through low-interest microloans, mostly to women.
Today, anyone can join the microfinance movement and offer capital to the poor through crowdfunding sites like the Geotourism Development Foundation or Kiva. Even more exciting for travellers is that we can now take our involvement on the road. Travellers can now connect with borrowers in person through innovative microfinance tours.
Here are some great ideas for firsthand adventures into the world of microcredit.
Bloom Microventures Microfinance Tours in Vietnam
Bloom Microventures combines tourism with microfinance in communities near Hanoi, Vietnam. In contrast to other microfinance institutions at work in the region, Bloom Microventures’ unique model cross-subsidises microfinance operations with income generated through tourism, thus enabling the organisation to have a far greater social impact.
Owing to the revenue earned from tourists, the organisation does not depend solely on interest repayments in order to finance operations. As a result, Bloom can charge much lower interest rates and can focus on the individuals and communities with the greatest needs, often those excluded from traditional microfinance activity.
Zikra Initiative in Jordan
The Zikra Initiative is an ongoing ‘exchange tourism’ scheme that involves visitors from a city immersing themselves in the uniqueness of a rural area by learning traditional skills through workshops conducted by the local community. In exchange, participants pay the local equivalent of approximately US$35 to help generate income that can then be channeled into a micro-loan or a university scholarship for a local family.
In Jordan, where the project was launched, the Zikra Initiative (zikra is Arabic for ‘memory’) began by reaching out to the estranged Ghor Al Mazra’a community through a traditional charity drive. However, believing that riches and poverty come in many forms, the founder decided to capitalise on the positive aspects of the local community, as well as those found in Amman. He looked at what people have, not what they lack.
Investours in Tanzania and Mexico
Investours connects socially conscious travellers visiting Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with local artisans who have applied for loans to help grow their small business ventures.
Each Investours tour visits a local artisan’s workshop, helping each visitor gain an intimate perspective on local culture, daily life and the challenges of operating a small business. Travellers also enjoy a traditional meal and several presentations about local foods and crafts. Most importantly, they leave knowing that their tour fees are part of an interest-free loan that will help to preserve long-established traditions by supporting the fabrication of local and handmade products.
Fundación En Vía in Mexico
En Vía, based in Oaxaca, Mexico, utilises socially responsible tourism to invest in communities through microfinance and education. The aim is to empower women, fight poverty and build connections between people that foster cultural exchange and understanding.
On an En Vía tour, 100 percent of visitors’ fees goes toward providing interest-free micro-loans to women with small income-generating businesses. As a plus, the tour affords travellers an opportunity to connect with the local people the program is benefiting.
OneSeed Expeditions in Nepal and Chile
For high-mountain adventure with a microfinance twist, check out OneSeed Expeditions. The goal at OneSeed Expeditions is to take an existing revenue stream – in this case, adventure travel – and channel that into projects that fund creativity and entrepreneurship. Having worked in microfinance and seen its impact in Nepal in particular, the founders of OneSeed knew there was both incredible need (for capital) and amazing potential (in the entrepreneurs themselves).
As founder Chris Baker explains, “We keep it pretty simple. We invest 10 cents of every incoming dollar directly into microfinance initiatives that provide capital to women entrepreneurs in Nepal. You take an amazing trip to Everest Base Camp; a local woman launches or expands her business.” Win-win.
* Visit the OneSeed Expeditions website.