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Egyptian Club Discovers The Power Of Microlending

By Vanessa N. Glavinskas 
Rotary International News - 5 October 2011

If your Rotary club is stuck in a rut when it comes to vocational service, it's not alone.

Sometimes dubbed the "forgotten Avenue of Service," vocational service can be difficult for clubs to understand and implement.

Rotarians Adel el Nokali, Heba Kabel, and Magdy Samaha visit with a beneficiary of a microcredit program run by the Rotary Club of Alexandria Sporting, Egypt. The woman used her small loan to build a kiosk where she sells biscuits and cakes. Photo courtesy of Rotary Club of Alexandria SportingNijad K. Al Atassi, past governor of District 2450 (parts of Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Georgia) felt strongly enough about vocational service to make it a districtwide priority.

"Vocational service is important because it enhances values and faith in ethics," says Al Atassi, a member of the Rotary Club of Adliya, Bahrain.

The Rotary Club of Alexandria Sporting, Egypt, rose to the challenge by focusing on microcredit loans, literacy classes, and a sewing workshop to meet the needs of low-income community members, helping women in particular to start businesses and learn useful work skills.

Microcredit loans

"We gave loans to deprived women supporting large families," says past club president Heba Kabel. Club members made loans of about US$85 to 20 entrepreneurs to launch small food or cleaning businesses. The loans were paid back in installments over the course of a year, and the money was then loaned out again - turning the club's initial investment of about $1,700 into a sustainable microcredit program.

The club also financed literacy classes, helping 75 women learn to read and write, and a sewing lab, which drew 45 women to sewing lessons every month.

Kabel notes that the club put a priority on efforts that would help community members increase their chances of finding a job.

"We made a big bazaar at the end of the year and sold their products," Kabel says, explaining that the proceeds went to the women.

Kabel, a Barclays Bank employee, also tapped into her own vocational skills by offering free lessons in financial literacy to several women whom club members had met through the vocational service initiatives. The financial advice helped the women make informed decisions about their new incomes, teaching them to allocate some for savings and giving them a better chance of sustaining their small businesses.

Model projects

Each October, Rotarians are encouraged to focus on the Avenue of Vocational Service. For this year's celebration, Rotary International collected model vocational service project submissions from 2010-11 district governors. In addition to the Rotary Club of Alexandria Sporting's microcredit program, other model projects include:

  • The Rotary Club of Mt. Vernon, Missouri, USA, conducted a job skills workshop for unemployed residents, giving participants tools for interviews and job searches. Each participant left with a résumé and a list of employment opportunities.
  • Members of the Rotary Club of Jalalabad, Bangladesh, India, provided artificial limbs to 20 people with disabilities through a local rehabilitation center and worked with community businesses to help the recipients find work. 

The Rotary Club of Cheltenham Sunrise, Gloucestershire, England, invited more than 280 secondary school students and teachers to attend a two-day educational forum on environmentally conscious careers. Leaders of government, nongovernmental organizations, and industries shared tips on how they've implemented green innovations to improve business.

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