Girls, Cows and the Way the World Should Be
*This blog by Evelyn Stark of CGAP and Jamie Zimmerman originally posted on 7-10-08 at CGAP's new Microfinance Blog site: http://www.cgap.org/p/site/c/template.rc/1.11.1909*
Just released last week and swiftly making its way through the fast lanes of the internet, Nike Foundation's new video for its GirlEffect campaign is stunning and provocative. It resonates with the socially-minded, big hearted idealist in all of us. The video explains how global poverty eradication will come from empowering a girl through micro-credit: the loan enables her to purchase a productive, money making asset (a cow), which quickly snowballs into further financial and social opportunities, more assets, greater social, economic and political empowerment, and into economic development of entire nations and opportunities for all women around the world. You get the picture (but if not - you can watch it here: http://www.girleffect.org/).
At the heart of this new campaign - started by the Nike and NoVo Foundations, with the support of the UN Foundation, Population Council, ICRW, Center for Global Development and Plan International - lies a core and founding ethos in the microfinance movement: empowerment through small loans to women. The powerful message and imagery in this video will likely resonate loudly and emotionally with a large, global audience. But it's also a bit too simplistic in its portrayal of human, social and economic development.
Microcredit may be a catalyst for empowerment, but it will not solve disenfranchisement of girls and women without other mechanisms also working in their favor. These girls need legal empowerment and effective institutions to guarantee such rights. They need access to effective social services such as education and health to fully develop their human capital. They need institutions and systems (at the local and national level) that encourage their empowerment and advancement.
Of course we want and need to support girls to stand up for their rights to be cowherds, MPs, bankers, petty traders or even advertising executives! How we get there from the finance side might just be a microloan for a cow... or, maybe a savings club operating in a safe environment, with a trained mentor such as Population Council and K-Rep found in Kenya; or, a maybe it's a Child Savings Account that matures just in time for secondary school that's needed (see: Xac Bank, Hatton Bank and an experiment in Uganda); or a free goat that might lead to college in the US as it did for Beatrice Birra.
The reality is that the presence of a cow, food cart or other productive asset a microloan can facilitate will not automatically improve a girl's life. Between the microloan to a girl and a world free of poverty, there is a chasm filled with other problems that need to be solved.
The video will be an effective starting point to raise awareness of the potential power of microfinance. But it's also a challenge: what can we do to make it a reality?