Written by Jimi Izrael
January - February 2002
Jazz singer Billy Holiday didn'tsay it first, but she may have said it best: "God bless the child who has his [/her]own." Self-sufficiency and independence are rare and coveted commodities by anyone's standard, including people in war-torn and economically-depressed countries.
Oikocredit, a coalition of 461 religious organizations, community-based enterprises and support associations, is helping by providing loans of every size to help communities build businesses, initiate projects and obtain a sense of economic independence.
Can your church get involved?
"Oikocredit is an opportunity for individuals, businesses and faith communities around the world to invest in persons in the developing world to become self-sufficient," says Susan Sanders of Wider Church Ministries. "It's a chance to use some of the capital we have been blessed with to enable others to become independent."
Oikocredit founders began their mission in 1968, searching for a better way to direct church funds to those in need.
After seven years, Oikocredit emerged to provide churches and other religious entities with a means of assisting those people abroad who are less fortunate by investing directly into poor communities.
$90 million for loans
Officially sanctioned in 1975, Oikocredit began with $1.5 million. Since then, through grass-roots support and donations from members and partners, Oikocredit has brought in almost $90 million for re- lending to poor and struggling communities. Among the most ardent supporters of this ministry early on was Wider Church Ministries (then the United Church Board for World Ministries), acting through the World Council of Churches. Wider Church Ministries continues to be a supporter of Oikocredit. Annually through the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, it gives $15,000 for development projects and $5,000 to support the agency's infrastructure.
The opportunity for individuals and churches to become Global Community Partners just started in the spring of 2001. Local churches can study about Oikocredit, then decide about becoming a global community partner. After that, they make a direct contribution to Oikocredit USA with the understanding that this will be a pledge they will keep in subsequent years.
"It does such important work on so many levels," says the Rev. Theron Provance, a UCC minister and executive director of Oikocredit. "People do get grants, but grants are finite: when it's drained, there are people still in need of resources. With a loan that people pay back and then draw from, there is constant replenishment. This helps to foster growing businesses and communities."
While lending to the poor may seem a risky proposition, borrowers from Oikocredit take their commitment seriously.
"If success is judged by how often the loans are paid back," says Sanders, "then there is a very high success rate." Most repay the loans with interest: only 15 percent of all loans have ever been written off.
"It's a simple model, really" Sanders continues. "Individuals, businesses and faith organizations are invited to make donations of cash. In turn, those resources are lent to persons and communities around the world to enable them to start their own businesses."
Many loans are used to start flourishing businesses that benefit whole communities. The variety of the businesses are vast and typically regional. Among them, for instance, are a woman's cooperative in South Africa that makes fabric for traditional clothing, a coffee production house in Nicaragua and a group of peanut farmers in Zimbabwe.
Often loans are made to cooperatives, groups of peoples which come together to have an impact on the marketplace. With a loan from Oikocredit, whole communities are revitalized with a new found economic independence. And churches feel good about extending their outreach ministry and being an active part of the solution.
"We are so glad to help people acquire ownership—that's such a blessing," says the Rev. David Wygmans of Newaygo (Mich.) UCC. "It's so exciting to see God's work growing and flourishing, reaching out to all parts of the world. We're helping an entire community sustain itself and it's so nice—when you have your own."
Visit the Oikocredit website at www.oikocredit.org, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 212-870-2725.