Thursday, October 18, 2012

A good return for blessings granted

I have written a lot here in the past 6 months about how I am finding life as I juggle a substantial amount of paid work with my family and other commitments. (In fact, I'm planning a short blog series, with interviews and so forth, on that very topic ... In November. When life is less intense).

I've accentuated the positive sometimes, highlighting the personal satisfaction that working brings me. I've also moaned about my time-poor existence, I've angsted about my ability to keep all the balls in the air, and, quel surprise, I've done a lot of kvetching about the messiness of my house.

One thing I haven't done nearly enough - and I want to do it now - is expressed my gratitude for having the opportunities I have, the choices available to me to decide to work and be well paid for what I do. Because I am well educated, reasonably intelligent, able-bodied, and live in a country where sexism is subtle enough to not preclude me from learning, working and speaking, I have the chance to make my own path, to "wash my own face", as some economic commentators like to put it. It's up to me to make the most of the chances, of course, but what if I hadn't had them at all?

This week is Anti-Poverty Week globally, and a week ago today was the first-ever International Day of the Girl Child. One of the central themes in combating women's and children's poverty is consistently shown to be the educational opportunities provided to girls.

Women who have access to education are able to contribute to family incomes at a much higher level, support themselves and their children, and make different decisions about their life paths. Just one extra year of primary schooling boosts eventual income levels by 10-20% (World Bank figures, 2002), while an extra year of secondary schooling will increase earnings by 15-25%.

Women who have access to education show a greater tendency to plan family sizes at a level where they can ensure an optimal outcome for their children. (Girls who receive 7 or more years of education, for instance, marry an average of 4 years later, and have 2.2 fewer children, according to the UN Population Fund, 1990).

With this in mind, what to make of the fact that a quarter of all girls in developing countries are never schooled at all?

I've written here before about Good Return, an Australian micro-finance charity that is doing stellar work in supporting business and individual development around the world. For Anti-Poverty Week, Good Return's focus is on women’s education, and the role it plays in leveraging women and their families out of poverty. Just $100 pays for a woman to take a financial literacy course, which helps her navigate the challenges of running a small business and building her income to better support her family. Good Return is challenging Australians to fund 200 women’s education and business development with whatever they can afford to contribute.

Good Return finances women who are trying to build futures for themselves. Education is a key part of this, including education in financial literacy. The story of Mary Ann is a great example of what can be achieved for a really modest investment:

Mary Ann is from the Philippines and lives with her husband, two children, and bedridden mother-in-law. She once had four different loans and was deep in debt, struggling to make repayments.

But even while they were struggling, Mary Ann believed they could live a better life. "I really wanted to do something to help improve our situation," she said.
So she attended a budgeting workshop provided by Good Return, helping her learn how to manage her income and expenses.

She now has just one microfinance loan from our partner, SECDEP, which she uses only for business purposes. Mary Ann also took the initiative to become a financial literacy trainer in her own village, and now enjoys coaching other women too.

What does she feel her biggest accomplishment is? "Paying for the fees of my college daughter," she told us. Her oldest child is attending university in Manila – the first one in their family to get a tertiary education. Her son is attending high school too.

For Anti-Poverty Week, I'm paying forward some of my good fortune, some of my choices. I've decided to fund some loans to half the amount of one of my contracting paycheques. That's still only about 5% of what I've been able to make this year because I am blessed with the education and opportunities I've had - not much, in the scheme of things. It feels like a little bit of financial justice, that I, who have so much, can share the chance to have a chance with someone else.

Good Return's Anti-Poverty Week campaign is running right now. It's full of great stories, if stories are your thing; and full of hopefulness, and let's face it, that's everybody's thing.

You can follow Good Return on Twitter (@GoodReturnOrg), on Facebook (, LinkedIn (, and on Pinterest (

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