A Life-changing Experience / William Mellgren

A Life-changing Experience / William Mellgren

I started working for ILO as a Consultant, and later CTA, in !981. Initially, I led a Small Enterprise Development Project in Cameroon, one of the most varied and beautiful countries I have known. After project finding missions to Central African Republic and Haiti, I came to Dhaka in Bangladesh, as Employment Promotion Advisor for a Project led by AMAH Siddiqui, an inspiring leader for all of us.

It was soon clear, that employment-creation in large numbers could only be achieved in the informal sector, especially in the rural areas where 70 % of the population lived. BMET, our counterpart, had started a microcredit scheme based on the promising experiences of Grameen Bank, BRAC and other NGOs. When visiting the borrowers, I was very impressed by what it had achieved: for instance a man who had purchased a young cow with the loan, had now two cows, milk for the family and for sale, had replaced his hut with a real house! But what he most stressed was that he was recognized by the villagers and gained a dignity…

We started working with local banks and the BMET officers went out to the villages to organize and select the borrowers, distribute the loans after compulsory savings by the candidates, etc.

A second and larger Project was launched in 1988 until 1992, based on the experiences of the first. I was able to lead a new Project on similar lines in Pakistan, until my retirement in 1999.

As an enthusiast of microfinance, I launched a mini-NGO, Community Uplifting Foundation, when I met Martial Salamolard in 2005, who had started opening schools in Bihar and Calcutta for the vast numbers of Indian young children without schools, or Govt. schools with absentee teachers. Martial was soon convinced that Swiss funding for Ecoles de la Terre in India was not sustainable and specially breeds dependency among the beneficiaries!

With the aid of an Indian specialist, Dr. Pradip Har, we launched a microcredit scheme among the mothers of our school children in 2009 and other mothers in those villages. In early 2018, we have more than 35,000 outstanding loans and keep 100% loan recovery, thanks to careful selection and training of the candidates and close weekly supervision! Also, nearly one fourth of the costs of the schools are funded with the interest collected from the borrowers.

Only women are accepted as candidates, to ensure their earnings benefit the whole family and lifts the status of the mother within the family and the local community, which is traditionally quite low…

Much more can be told about this very satisfying experience of helping the needy women and children in India, and it will be a pleasure for me to provide further information on all this!

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