Over the past decade, Karon Wright, a former community college teacher and executive coach, has helped thousands of families in Uganda emerge from poverty one small loan at a time.
Her endeavor began after she read the book “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs that describes the devastating effects that widespread poverty has on people’s lives and steps that can be taken to change that.
About 20,000 people, many of them children under 5, die each day of preventable causes related to scarcity, said Wright, a Thousand Oaks resident who co-founded a microlending organization, the Greater Contribution, in 2006 with local residents Diany Klein, Kathy Tamashiro and Elise O’Keefe.
Wright said $50 to $150 can allow women to become self-sufficient, and the money can transform the lives of entire families. She travels to Uganda twice a year to meet with and monitor the progress of borrowers.
“It’s so important to understand the culture, the custom and the way that people work. That is why we are focusing on Uganda, where we already have an established network,” she said.
Wright was recently nominated for the 2017 CNN Hero awards, which recognize the work of 10 philanthropists each year.
Through her microloan program, Wright helps vulnerable women to build careers so they can stand on their own.
“She’s turning them into businesswomen,” said Steve Keleman of Woodland Hills, who submitted Wright’s name for the CNN awards and has seen firsthand how people live in Kenya and Uganda.
“As poor as the people are in the U.S., it doesn’t even come close to how poor the people are there,” he said.
Wright said her goal is not to just be a bank but to give women a step up. Her organization offers business and literacy training to show borrowers how they can make the most of what they earn.
In addition to improving the standard of living for the loan recipients so they can pay school fees for their children and improve their homes, the funding provides opportunities to build communities. Many beneficiaries become mentors for other borrowers in their village.
About 98 percent of the borrowers fulfill their repayment obligation, said Wright, whose program is headquartered in Gulu, a town in northern Uganda that had been ravaged by years of civil war.
The average daily income there is $1.30 to support a family of seven, two adults and five children. Many families only eat one meal a day, if that.
“Before I got the . . . loan, I was weak and voiceless in my own home because I could not contribute a penny to help my husband with household necessities,” borrower Nighty, 34, wrote in a statement.
After receiving a $65 loan last fall, Nighty started a small restaurant, which she said has allowed her to feel stronger and valued for the first time.
The Greater Contribution organization is managed by an advisory board comprising six residents and 35 volunteers who assist with outreach programs.
It works with a Ugandan nonprofit and funds the salary of one on-site program manager in Gulu, who earns $3,800 a year.
Former President of Tanzania, the late, great Julius Nyerere in 1998 exposes the horrors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).— Facts About Africa (@OnlyAfricaFacts) March 14, 2017
The nonprofit raised $83,000 last year, and of that $62,700 went to the microloan program, $3,300 to administration and $2,800 to fundraising, campaigns—with a remaining $14,000 on hand for future loans,and to run existing programs.
On average, 93 percent of the money raised over the past five years went to microloans, said Wright, who paid her own travel expenses until recently, when she began to accept repayment for one of the twice-a-year, $3,500 trips she takes to Uganda.
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