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Microcredit conferences in Calgary and Toronto inspire, educate
by Susie Ma
Rotary Canada 2013
Rotarians and microcredit are a natural fit. That's the philosophy of Gordon Crann, president and chair of the Rotarian Action Group for Microcredit and a member of the Rotary Club of Toronto-Earlscourt, Ont.
"Rotarians want a way to help people lift themselves out of poverty and to avoid the dependency that traditional ways of giving aid can develop," Crann says. "It's a hand up, not a hand out."
The idea of microcredit small loans issued to low-income people to help them start their own businesses caught the attention of Rotarians in Alberta and Saskatchewan about five years ago. A lack of local information on the topic inspired them to organize the first Calgary Microcredit Conference in 2008, cosponsored by the action group. The next year, Rotarians in Toronto held a similar conference, the Toronto International Microfinance Summit. Both became annual events to educate and encourage Rotarians working on microcredit projects.
The fifth Calgary Microcredit Conference was held on 13 October, and the fourth Toronto summit took place a few days later. The events drew a combined 400 Rotarians, students, and community members, who learned about new microcredit strategies from local, national, and international industry experts. The Calgary conference expanded its focus to include domestic as well as international microcredit. Microfinance is making inroads in North America among immigrant populations and with organizations that serve the poor.
Wally Gardiner, chair of the District 5360 Microcredit Task Force and president of the Rotary Club of High River, Alta., attended the event in Calgary and gave it high marks: "The conference generated a lot of enthusiasm for our project something that at times is needed to make it through the endless filling in of forms to get the job done."
Rotarians in District 5360, which covers parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, are not ?newcomers to microcredit. ?Club members have sponsored microfinance efforts in the Philippines, Haiti, Liberia, and Ghana, and they are now working with a microcredit bank in the Santa Cruz de Yojoa region of Honduras to meet the increasing demand for loans in the community.
They hope to raise US$150,000 from local clubs and obtain a grant from the government of Alberta to fund the project. Borrowers initially will be eligible for loans of between $50 and $200 to help them start small businesses. The investment will benefit 400 people directly, and will indirectly help an additional 2,000 families and community members.