SEATTLE — Credit access in Egypt is vital for impoverished entrepreneurs and households alike to stimulate the once stagnant market. With the unemployment rate falling below 12 percent, the lowest it has been in years, Egypt’s economy is showing signs of life again and the nation’s new currency (Egyptian Pound/£E) needs to be used. In the middle of this quickly emerging economy, there is a specific non-governmental organization that has operated since the 1980s and receives little to no global appreciation for its aid.
Formed in 1987, the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) is the first feminist organization, and first organization ever, to serve the most impoverished areas with credit access in Egypt. Based in Mansheiet Nasse, a poor neighborhood in Cairo, the organization works with female household heads and their families to establish microloans to help mothers make ends meet or for business purposes. Started in one room with only 10 employees, the ADEW has served 10,000 women beneficiaries and their families with financial programs designed to lift them out of poverty.
Iman Bibars, the co-founder and chair of the ADEW, designed the organization to aid poverty via microloans and credit access in Egypt by any means necessary, specifically for women. In addition to the ADEW, she also created the Women’s Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship, helping young women become social entrepreneurs via intensive training and mentorship throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Independence has always been the ADEW’s main mission. Their Micro-Credit Program is based on peer lending instead of traditional collateral, meaning, groups of five women guarantee each other’s loans, effectively “freeing women from the need for a guarantee or a male guarantor.” With each group, the ADEW assigns free training based on feasibility, project management, and other business vocations that keep beneficiaries accountable. The program is a tremendous success, achieving an astounding 99 percent repayment rate among Egypt’s poor.
The program’s success is mostly due to the organization’s peripheral care to the person taking out the loan. The shared communal accountability and financial education that comes with each loan is not designed to create debt but actually lift people out of monetary turmoil. With initial loans ranging from £E100 to £E6,000 (about $5 to $338 USD), the organization is for the enfranchisement of small start-up projects and households, emphasizing people over profits and repayment windows varying from six to 18 months depending on the plan.
This organization does more than offer credit access in Egypt’s poorest regions; it offers revolutionary steps toward a life free from poverty, violence and abuse. The ADEW even offers a platform for women to be heard on their site: stories of Egyptian women learning to be less violent with their children, standing up to bad politics, demanding changes in their community and uplifting themselves with literacy and commerce.
The story of M.M. is there too: an anonymous woman’s struggle with the death of her husband, left with three children to support and only £E500 ($28 USD) in savings.
She went to the ADEW with a few friends to utilize the Micro-Credit Program and they each left with £E300 and financial training. With the education given, she saw an opportunity and started reselling clothes, which helped her repay the loan on time. She then took out another loan for £E500, not to buy more clothes but to expand her clothing business.
After repaying that too, she qualified for an even bigger one that allowed her to expand her business to “many other products such as sheets, imported soap, toothpaste, spools of thread and more.” She explains, “[Now] the people of my district know me and I can afford the expenses of my daughters’ marriages.”
The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women currently employs over 100 qualified men and women trained in social work. Having reached more than 375,000 women and their families with a variety of resources and programs, the ADEW continues to provide micro-credit access in Egypt’s most deprived areas and create safe havens for women and children in need.
– Toni Paz