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Small Entrepreneurs Flourish Beneath Himalayan Giants

Kathmandu, Nepal –

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Travel posters that invite tourists and trekkers to Nepal depict a country irresistible to the adventurer. The Himalayas are stupendous. They reveal a startling white world, the highest and mightiest on earth. Yet not many miles to the south, Nepal’s Chitwan jungle is a dominion of elephant and tiger.

The picture is not oversold. Among the faraway places on earth, Nepal appeals almost instantly and magnetically to the explorer and seeker.

But its poverty and tragedy reveal another Nepal that on the surface is one of the horrors of humanity. In Nepal millions of people live below subsistence levels, orphaned children by the thousands live on garbage piles or are enslaved; young women are forced into prostitution, transported to India and elsewhere. The misery seems endless. In the spring of 2001 the country’s future king went berserk in the royal palace and massacred his family before killing himself. Within a few months of that slaughter the seven-year-old Maoist insurgency had forced a suspension of parliamentary government, sowing political chaos in a country that could barely stay afloat even in orderly times, with so little to export.

But if you can take the time (and accept the risk) of traveling today in the remotest parts of one of the poorest and most politically inept countries in the world, you make some remarkable discoveries. One of them is the thousands of women who are liberating themselves and their families from the manacles of poverty and oblivion.

Microcredit works in the most improbable places on earth. You see that in Uganda and in the mountain country of South America and in the debris of civil war or political oppression or even threatened famine in the Far East. But Nepal is a little harder to imagine.

In some places in western Nepal, loan officers administering village banking groups sometimes have to walk days to reach a weekly or monthly meeting. In the hill country of western Nepal not long ago, members of a self-help banking group were meeting in a sparsely-furnished village hall when armed Maoists walked in and demanded to know what the meeting was all about.

The program officer stood at the bookkeeping table with a handful of small rupee notes and tried to explain what was happening. These women were meeting, he said, to vote on appeals for loans by members of the group. They needed to bring more money into their little businesses and their families. The Maoists wanted to know what kind of money they were talking about.

 “One or two thousand rupees,” he said. It translated into $13 to $25 if you converted rupees to American money. Nobody was converting anybody’s money in the presence of gun-wielding Maoists on that day, or doing much except looking at the barrels of those semi-automatic weapons.

One of the Maoists demanded a month’s pay from the edgy program officer, who stood too terrified to speak.

“How much money do you make?” the Maoist leader asked him.

He gave the figure and emptied his pockets.

The Maoist scowled and then grumbled. “I’m making more than you are,” he said. “Go on with your meeting.” The patrol walked out of the building and disappeared.

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The staying power of the microcredit idea and the commitment of its members and its sustaining staffs around the world sometimes surprise hardboiled money handlers and humanitarian experts alike. Maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.  The human spirit lifted by hope and spurred by incentive or desperation is not easily defeated.  Although Americans are long conditioned to the power of the enterprising spirit, they often overlook it when they’re confronted with the poverty of less advanced parts of the world.

Barefoot W

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In Their Words:

accion main logo

We are building the next generation of top-tier microfinance institutions (MFIs):
  • Using our 50 years of experience to help smaller MFIs achieve greater scale, sustainability and efficiency;
  • Helping MFIs expand their products and services to address their clients’ full range of needs; and
  • Focusing on un- and under-served regions, such as India, China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.

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We are pushing the frontiers of financial inclusion beyond MFIs:
  • Accelerating the development of new business models, technologies and channels; and
  • Providing seed funding and assistance for promising start-ups and adjacent technologies through impact investment initiatives.

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We are helping to build a strong financial inclusion industry with high standards and broad engagement:
  • Redoubling industry commitment to consumer protection through the Smart Campaign;
  • Providing platforms for industry collaboration, through the Microfinance CEO Working Group, the Red Accion, and the Financial Inclusion Equity Council; and
  • Promoting consumer protection, transparency, and social-performance measurement by working on initiatives such as the Social Performance Task Force, Microfinance Transparency, and others.

WHY THEY MATTER: Accion helps microfinance internationally, while still focusing on important elements of change such as governance and client education.

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Find out more at:



World Pulse has developed a digital platform that is sitting on the most valuable storehouse of intellectual properties in the world:  the networking of women's knowledge in communities across the globe.” - Hazel Henderson, World Renowned Futurist and Economic Evolutionist

WorldPulse logoR

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In Their Words: World Pulse is a powerful online community of women and allies worldwide who speak out and build solutions to today’s biggest challenges. We empower women leaders on the ground by advancing their digital skills and leadership to mobilize around the world and create real social transformation. Today, tens of thousands of women from 190 nations are using to start movements and pressure global leaders to take a stand on the issues affecting their lives, ranging from the allocation of economic resources to securing leadership at all levels of society.

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WHY THEY MATTER: World Pulse believes that when women are heard and connected, they transform the world for the better. We couldn’t agree more. Find out more at:


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Field:  women and girls, photography

Where:  multiple countries


A renewable source of light is a miracle for women whose productive hours have always been controlled by sunrise and sunset. With a bottle of light in hand she is safe, and able to fill her evenings with work, study and family. She is no longer in the dark.

In many developing countries, women are being trained as solar engineers. They are being taught to build solar lanterns, clean cookstoves, and a brighter world for themselves and their children.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.” -Martin Luther

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10 2014 1021 vital voices 1

The mission of Vital Voices is to empower, identify, and invest in the voices of extraordinary women all around the world. Their global partnership identifies, trains, and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, creating a better world for everyone.

Vital Voices works to combat issues that confront women each and every day on every corner of the earth. It enables women to become agents of change in their governments, advocates for social justice, and supporters of democracy and the rule of law.

Vital Voices staff is scattered throughout the world and works with a team of over 1,000 partners, pro bono experts, and leaders, all of whom have trained more than 14,000 emerging women leaders from over 144 countries.

Recently, Vital Voices has launched an initiative entitled “Commitment to Action” at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York to take a market-driven approach to advancing women-owned businesses in global supply chains.

Partners commit to track and measure at least $1.5 billion in money spent on women-owned businesses located outside of the United States from 2013 to 2018. 15,000 female entrepreneurs around the world will benefit from supplier readiness initiatives, including training, mentoring, networking, and leadership development. 

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9 2014 1014 calvert foundation 1

Calvert Foundation’s goal is to maximize the flow of capital to disadvantaged communities in order to create a more equitable and sustainable society. Through the creation of innovative financial products and services, we have made it possible for everyday people, not only institutions, to engage in financial projects that directly serve the communities.


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Today, Calvert Foundation has almost $200 million invested in 250 community organizations in over 100 countries. Missions cover a range of causes and innovations. Examples include affordable housing, microfinance, fair trade coffee, small business development, and the establishment of charter schools, day care centers, and rehabilitation facilities.

One of their initiatives, Women Investing in Women Initiative (WIN-WIN), enables supports to invest in women around the world through healthcare, microfinance, and education. WIN-WIN launched in March of 2012 and has very recently surpassed $20 million in lending to organizations that empower women.

As the first women-focused impact investment made ready to everyday investors, WIN-WIN is a milestone for impact investing. In 2014, WIN-WIN plans to launch a new initiative that centralizes around women and clean energy in the developing world. 

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8 2014 1007 advocates human rights 1

The Advocates for Human Rights is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. Through state-of-the-art research, advocacy, and education, the non-profit helps save lives, fights injustice, restores peace, and furthers the human rights movement not only in the United States but also around the world.

Violence against women is one of the most persistent and troublesome human rights violations and one that The Advocates really strives to focus on. In its efforts to combat such a serious human rights abuse, the Advocates for Human Rights Women’s Program uses international human rights standards to advocate for women’s rights in the United States and around the world as well.

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The Program works with partnering foundations in other countries and at home to end violence against women, documenting gaps in government response to violence against women and helping to make improvements in the justice system.

The Women’s Human Rights Program has over 20 years of experience in investigating, documenting, and reporting violence against women in Minnesota and overseas. The Program plans to host a House Party to Advance Women’s Human Rights on Sunday September 14th.


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6 2014 0923 finca 1Finca is a global microfinance organization with wholly owned subsidiaries on four continents. It specializes in financial services, centralizing its skills on the poorest of the working poor through sustainable programs that achieve the the highest success rates in terms of financial performance.

Few banks or other commercial entities are willing to invest in markets in rural areas or in countries in crisis and turmoil. However, these are the places that need help the most. Finca has built strong and successful programs in the world’s poorest countries, such as Haiti and Malawi.

Since the end of El Salvador’s Civil War in 1991, it has made great political, economic, and social gains. Established in 1990, Finca El Salvador operates 10 branches throughout the country offering Village Banking and individual loans, local currency loans, and money transfer services. 

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7 2014 0930 global giving 1

Global Giving connects individuals and and institutions who want to donate directly to social, economic, and environmental projects around the globe. It allows them to connect and communicate directly with project leaders who they wouldn’t be able to do so freely otherwise.

Its mission is to build an effective, open, thriving marketplace to connect people who want to change the world with their ideas and their innovations. It can begin with as little as one individual dedicated to changing his or her own community.

Recently, Global Giving has been a huge advocate for helping to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They have started the Ebola Epidemic Relief Fund to help supply medical supplies, protective and preventive treatment, and educational campaigns.

Thus far, the Campaign has raised nearly $51,000 and is continuously increasing. Global Giving holds the belief that organizations that have roots deeply within the locally affected communities possess the best opportunity to be a great source of help.

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5 2014 0916 asylum access 1Asylum Access works to make refugee rights a reality in countries of refuge. They use a unique combination of five integrated strategies providing grassroot assistance and changing the legal landscape for the refugees themselves as well as their hosting communities.

The first place refugees usually turn to is a country next to or very near to their own. Refugees find themselves in incredibly vulnerable states to their traumatizing experiences in their own countries. Therefore, they are also especially at risk to violations against their own legal human rights. Asylum Access was created to change this by putting power back into the deserving hands of refugees.

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Currently, organizations in Bangkok are combining efforts for refugee assistance. While Thailand’s most famous refugees are the Myanmar refugees that are living in camps, a virtually invisible and undocumented group of refugees are steadily growing and living in Bangkok. Asylum Access is working to give back the rights to these refugees and as cooperation continues, is hoping to even better cater to the needs of the Bangkok refugees. 



4 2014 0909 stove team 1

StoveTeam International helps local entrepreneurs start factories utilizing local materials and labor. Their goal is to produce safe, affordable, fuel-efficient cookstoves to replace dangerous open cooking fires.

Their innovative approach creates local employment while also improving health factors and reducing the pollution in the air. StoveTeam International believes one of the most dangerous things a woman is responsible for in the developing world is cooking for her family. Smoke from open cooking fires kills more than eight times as many people as malaria kills. The smoke that comes from the stoves on a daily basis is the equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.

StoveTeam works with foundations, non-profit organizations and Rotary Clubs to provide assistance to local entrepreneurs wishing to start or expand a stove factory. Stove Grants are a step by step process, but simple enough: Identifying the need, writing a stove grant, and setting up or expanding a stove factory. 

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3 2014 0902 basic needs


BasicNeeds is an international organization that was founded in 2000 by Chris Underhill. After witnessing the torture, caging, and neglect of the mentally ill in Africa, Underhill decided to become an advocate. Mental Health is a vastly undersourced and undervalued health issue. BasicNeeds works to bring about a lasting change of mentally ill people around the world.

3 2014 0902 basic needs 2The mission of BasicNeeds is to give those with mental illness or epilepsy the opportunity to live and work successfully in their communities through the combination of health, socio-economic, and community oriented solutions with changes in policy, practice, and resource allocation.

China’s sector of BasicNeeds has initiated a photography project called “My World” for people suffering from mental illness and epilepsy. The individuals participating in the project are encouraged to take photographs of their surroundings and use it as a medium to communicate. Most of the participants had never had any prior experience with a camera and the initiative has given them a new sense of freedom and creativity. Besides helping the participants improve their mental health, the project also aims at defying the stigma that has become associated with mental illness.


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A study in Kerala, India found that women who own land were 33 times less likely to experience psychological domestic violence and 8 times less likely to experience physical domestic violence.

Learn more land rights stats in Landesa's new interactive world map infographic:

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Our biggest goal is to connect women with organizations that make a global difference. One of these organizations, UNWomen came out with a fantastic mobile app, just in time for the World Cup. According to their website

Launched on 22 May, the government campaign emphasizes the public’s responsibility to end violence against women. It promotes a 24-hour women’s helpline (Central de Atendimento à Mulher – Ligue 180), where survivors of violence can access information about their rights, where and how to seek help, and report cases. The hotline has received over 3 million calls since its creation in 2005 – an impressive number that they hope to increase. Around 40 per cent of Brazilian women have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. [1]

 In 2012, 50,617 rapes were reported in Brazil [2] and more than 92,000 women were killed between 1980 and 2012 [3]. Building an app to promote the hotline was an imperative step for Brazil ranks 4th in the world in the number of smartphones – with some 70 million handsets in the country in 2013 [4]. More than 100 million Brazilians – which is around half of the total population of nearly 200 million – use the Internet [5].

We're proud of the hard work of this incredible organization and the new ways they are trying to make the world and this event, better.