Joy to the World: Microloans Empower Women in Ghana

medie-group.jpgLandmark Education graduate Kathleen Gibbs has founded, a non-profit microlending organization designed to empower women in Africa. Founded less than a year ago, Joy2theWorld has gone from being an idea to a reality that is already making a difference in the lives of thousands of villagers in Ghana.

When Kathleen Gibbs did the Landmark Advanced Course, she realized that she was a leader. She wasn’t entirely sure how her leadership would effect the world. Early last year, a friend asked Gibbs what she wanted to do when she retired. Gibbs, who has a business background, indicated she wanted to help people in need setting up their businesses.

“Well?” Her friend said. “What are you waiting for?”

Soon after she attended a finance conference, she was impressed by a speaker who spoke about microcredit (very small loans to help impoverished people start personal businesses) in Africa. Through the speaker she got connected to WomensTrust, Inc., a group that implemented microcredit programs to women in rural Ghana. She went to Ghana with the program last August and what she saw opened her eyes. The village of Pokuase, which had been crushed by poverty a few years earlier, had a vibrant and thriving economy–There were 1,000 microcredit clients in that one village. She got to help nurses with some basic healthcare, and she got to see local council meetings to see how things worked.  Gibbs sat in on math and English classes for the women.

The day before she was to return to the United States, she was sent to the nearby village of Medie. She thought she was just going there to assess the situation, but when she arrived, there were 50 woman waiting for loans! Gibbs determined to make it happen. She promised to return in January.

She returned to the U.S. committed to transforming Medie and the surrounding villages the same way WomensTrust had transformed Pokuase. She was starting the Team Management Leadership Program, and the training in team building was critical to Gibbs as she put together her own team and formed Joy2theWorld as an affiliate of WomensTrust. Her key partner became Kay Farjadi, who also is in the TMLP, who contributed mightily to their fundraising efforts and everything else they might need. She also enrolled a nurse who came along to help provide some basic preventative medical care for the village as well.

medie-success.jpgWhen they went back to Ghana in January, the woman from the villages surrounding Medie were waiting for her. She had been told to expect 50 microloan requests; she came to Ghana with the money for 100 of them. There were actually 300 women there requesting loans! While they were there, Gibbs also looked at what else besides microloans would help the villages achieve stability. In a place where 1 out 5 babies die in childbirth, she saw that even more basic, preventative health care would make a huge difference. One of the villages completely lacked electricity. This is a big problem in a hot climate, as food preservation is impossible, which makes hunger a big risk.

She met with government officials, including the head of the Food and Drug Board of Ghana, who promised her whatever medical supplies she needed, and the head of the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, who upon hearing Gibbs’ idea to bring solar panels to the villagers for electricity was so enthusiastic about her work that he gave her paperwork for her to be able to move around the country freely to get whatever she needed to make it happen.

Currently 32 of the loans have been completed and many more are in process. Gibbs, Fajadi and her team are putting together a complete medical team, and they’ve gotten John Wade (TMLP) to head up an environmental team to take on the electricity problem. Their plan is to raise $1,000,000 this year. While it took WomensTrust about five years to revitalize Pokuase, Gibbs plans to have the Medie area thriving within three years. She is also looking to replicate the blueprint of economic recovery, from microcredit to include education, healthcare and the environment, to be able to replicate it in other parts of the world.

For more information or to get involved, check out Joy2theworld’s website or contact Kathleen Gibbs directly at [email protected].

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