Unitarian Universalists have been involved with microfinance initiatives for many years, recognizing that faithful stewardship includes sharing our abundance generously and constructively.
The Unitarian Universalist Association recognizes that microfinance is complex work. Along with the praise and acclaim that microfinance enterprises have received from many quarters, there are also significant critiques to be considered. And, the UUA recommends that congregations understand these complexities before embarking on a program.
One entry-way for considering these complexities is to understand the story of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). SEWA is a 25-year partner of the UUA Holdeen India Program. SEWA’s founder, Ela Bhatt, is one of the world’s most profoundly respected voices for social change and human rights. In the mid-1970’s SEWA realized that microfinance was part of the answer to the terrible oppression that Indian women were facing. But, as the organization describes on its website, it was only a piece of the puzzle:
“SEWA has learned through long experience that poor women’s growth, development and employment can be achieved and sustained only when work, income and food security have also been assured. SEWA pursues an integrated approach to poverty reduction through Capital Formation, Capacity Building, Social Security and Organizing. All of these components are required simultaneously and in a combination that is viable and manageable by the workers themselves. One without the other does not yield results. This process in itself becomes an empowering process which equips and enables the women to fight poverty.
The integrated approach used by SEWA addresses simultaneously the numerous interactive limitations that a poor woman faces. Financial assistance alone will not succeed in moving a woman away from structural poverty when what also must be addressed is her sense of self, her expectations from the world around her, and the opportunity for learning from literacy to vocational skills.”
With an integrated approach, and through long-term commitments, microfinance can be a transformative part of supporting authentic social change and justice—and alleviating poverty.
The UUA recommends that congregations consider the philosophy and approach of microfinance organizations before deciding on a direction to pursue. And, that microfinance initiatives be considered in the broader category of Socially Responsible Investing. Some microfinance initiatives, for example, may be eligible for the UUA’s Community Development Match Program.
Two organizations that UU congregations have partnered with are:
- The Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA)
- Main Line UU Church in Devon, PA: International Engagement
- All Souls Unitarian Church, Tulsa, OK: Village Banking
In different ways, these organizations make it possible for UUs to contribute financially to microfinance enterprises. And, in some cases, build relationships with individuals and communities that are benefiting from microfinance initiatives.
Microfinance as Ministry Workshop
This workshop is designed for congregations to explore specific topics and issues in microfinance. It can be led by a local facilitator who has experience in the field of microfinance, or the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) can arrange for a faciltator. The workshop helps participants gain a clear understanding of how microfinance works and provides an opportunity to discuss issues in faith-based microfinance and microfinance in general. After discussing these issues, participants will have the opportunity to explore ways to become involved, both on a personal and a congregational level. Participants will also have the opportunity to create a task force that can help the rest of the congregation understand microfinance and how they can become involved from an institutional perspective.
Design a microfinance initiative using a congregational workshop (PDF, 12 pages). If your congregation would like to schedule a microfinance workshop, contact the UUA’s International Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microfinance Starter Kit
The Microfinance Working Group at First Unitarian Society (Madison, WI) has published an online Microfinance Starter Kit. This free online resource supports and encourages organizations, and especially UU churches, to create microfinance funds.