Since 1976, when Muhammad Yunus made that first $27 loan to 42 women in Bangladesh, microfinance has been championed as a major tool for tackling poverty. Small loans have a rare ability: they give people the resources they need to lift themselves out of poverty. And what’s more, these people almost always repay, no matter how poor they start out.
It’s key that this first group of microfinance borrowers were women. Not much has changed. Today, when people think of microfinance, most think of Kiva—the world’s first website that made it possible for people to make small loans to the poor online. It’s no coincidence that 80 percent of these loans go to women. Microfinance has been thoroughly feminized.
On one hand, this is a very good thing. In most countries, women are still marginalized, enjoying much less economic opportunity than their male counterparts. Not to mention, millions face discrimination, violence and cultural restrictions that limit their potential. Microloans help them leap many of these hurdles. But to truly address any of these issues, and the many more that plague the world’s poor, men are a vital part of the equation.
Why are men so often overlooked by microfinance?
Well, a lot of it has to do with women being so financially excluded. When people want to make an impact, they’re more likely to help a woman, for all the reasons above.
But men also come with a bundle of negative associations. It’s commonly accepted that men who receive small loans tend to spend them or the income they make on gambling, alcohol, or personal purchases. Compare this to the stat that women invest 80 percent of the money they make in their children’s health and education.
In the nonprofit world, men are often cast as the aggressors: the domestic abusers, the drinkers, the abandoners, leaving orphaned children and single mothers in their wake. No matter their financial status, they don’t appear to need help. They’re more employable, they make more money at the same jobs, and they tend to control their families’ finances.
Why should anyone make loans to men, if this is the case?
The simple answer here, is that it’s often not the case. Beyond that, so many of the social problems we’ve just touched on—everything from gender inquality to child malnutrition— could be solved faster if microfinance brought more men into the fold.
Despite all that’s said, and all the stats thrown out here and there, men matter. The data also says that employed fathers have healthier, more educated children. And these children are more likely to have higher self esteem, get married later, have fewer children, and make more money. On top of that, men with stable incomes are less likely to leave home to find work, and more likely to split household work with their partners, which not only helps them out, but models gender equality for their sons and daughters as they grow up and start their own families. This is how change is made.
Eladio is a prime example. At age 54, he’s been a cacao farmer all his life in rural Belize. He’s also the father of 15 children (grandfather to 13). Together, he and his wife Virginia—with the help of microloans—have built a strong business. Now he’s teaching his 8 sons and 7 daughters how to run thriving cacao farms of their own (although the youngest, at 5, may have a ways to go).
Watching Eladio talk about his farm and his family, it’s clear that everyone has something to gain from empowering extraordinary men and fathers like him. To date, Kiva has provided loans to over 1 million borrowers—including 200,000 men, many of whom, just like Eladio, are so grateful for the ability loans gave them to dream big and build bright futures for the people they love.