This week, as we celebrate and encourage women entrepreneurs in honour of Women's Entrepreneurship Day last November 19, I have to stop and remind myself what it was like to have very little.
In 1988 I left home aged 17 with about $35.
I quickly learned if I didn’t manage my money I couldn’t eat, get transport or buy the textbooks I needed that would ultimately help me work my way out of my week-to-week existence.
Fast forward 25 years and I can reflect on how fortunate I was to have access to loans.
Access to a small amount of money can go a long way to changing the future of a woman’s life. For the women Opportunity International Australia assists it can be a matter of life or death for them and their families. A loan of $100 can help them create a more secure future for their children.
As a 17-year-old, I still had options. And in hindsight I was pretty fortunate – I was able to get paid well enough in my part-time jobs, access temporary student loans to make ends meet when it got ugly, and graduate earning enough (in time) to repay my uni fees. Which I did, promptly.
Where would I have been without those student loans? Arguably not where I am now – in a position to give back to younger women, or to causes such as microfinance.
A passionate believer in the idea of helping women work their way out of poverty.
People who struggle financially are more likely to be women. The United Nations Development Program evidence is compelling:
“Many of the world's poorest people are women who must, as the primary family caretakers and producers of food, shoulder the burden of tilling land, grinding grain, carrying water and cooking... Yet some 75 percent of the world's women cannot get bank loans because they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership… When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty.”
These comments are backed up by Opportunity’s track record. It shows women who are given microfinance loans go on to repay those loans then re-invest their earnings in ways that help break the inter-generational poverty cycle – educating their children, accessing healthcare and creating jobs for women and men.
BlueChip Communication, the business I own, donates about 2.5% of our billable time (and potential revenue) to help Opportunity International Australia.
We do this because, as a mostly-female business, and as business people in the finance sector, we can see what a game-changer just little amounts of money – hundreds of dollars – can be. Living and working in Sydney, it’s easy to forget what the rest of the world looks like. Our reality is so very different to that of Opportunity’s clients.
Australia’s top 1 per cent of earners take home around an average of just under $400,000 a year. For argument’s sake, let’s assume this average is representative and that ALL of the 180,000 top 1% in Australia earn $400,000 per annum. Let’s also assume everyone earning that much money in our country donated just 1% of their income. (For simplicity, we will say they don’t right now). The resulting pool of funds would be $720 million.
The income alone (if it was invested in fixed income say at 5.5%) would be $39.6 million a year. That’s a lot of small loans – around 396,000 of $100 loans a year!
In four years, Australia’s top 1% of income earners could help more than a million women borrow, work and earn their way out of poverty.
As a business owner, mother and Opportunity supporter it makes good commercial sense to me. This Women's Entrepreneurship Day, what could your 1% of time or money achieve?
This post was first published on the Opportunity International Australia website.