22 July 2008

The Power of Local Women's Organizations

Today will be my maiden post about organizations that are part of the growing women's empowerment movement that are working towards helping the world's poor. I want this blog to become a knowledge center for audiences to learn more about how they can take action and make a difference in their hometown. It is amazing to me how many organizations are out there working to create positive change. Now this blog can connect all these groups and direct people to how to get involved.

The first organization I am featuring is called Women's Empowerment International based in San Diego. Founders Win Cox and Leigh Fenly started their organization in December 2003 to provide microcredit loans to women in Sonora, Mexico, just south of their hometown. They began the group with the core values of maintaining communication with the women they assisted and keep the lowest absolute overhead as possible. As they embarked on creating this organization, many people felt they could not stay true to these values. As of today, they have proudly succeeded in not spending any donated money on overhead while never losing contact with someone they have helped start a business.

The started the group with 35 close friends and in five years have a total membership of 550 people. To start a business in Sonora, they need $96 and all of that money goes directly to the individual since WEI is a an all volunteer organization. Win Cox said, "We quickly learned that empowerment was a two-way street. When I started, I felt we would be empowering women in Mexico, but when you visit these women there is a feeling of community and pride you receive in return." This really struck me as a powerful comment in our conversation. It described the exact emotion I hoped the film would achieve for viewers. I wanted audiences to not only experience the power of these women, but to actually take away power from watching them fight throughout the film for their communities.

Women's Empowerment International has expanded recently to helping women in Honduras and Benin. Leigh explained that they choose these countries after an exhaustive search of over 3000 countries. They hope to help the indigenous people of Honduras fight malnutrition and high mortality rates. In Benin, they are working to set-up banks to fund hunger projects that are the epicenters of local villages.

Additionally, WEI has been helping out in San Diego. Two years ago they started the WE Center for STAR (Support, Training, and Assistance to Refugees) and have help 57 women start local businesses. This is obviously a tremendous success and I was very impressed. I asked how they did it and Leigh said it best, "A little money can do big things. Many people believe only rich people are philanthropists, but if you don’t buy that pair of shoes one week then you can provide a loan for someone to change their lives."

In the future, they hope to expand the countries they reach and support. Much like we discuss in the film, they felt it was important to stress how women make sure their financial success directly benefits their children's health, education, and overall well-being. They see communities benefiting from these loans as they create an unbreakable bond and strength amongst the women in the area. When asked why empowering women has such benefits in turning around people's lives, they felt women in these areas are far less damaged due to the effects of poverty, and at the end of the day, they have the moxie to build and grow their families and community.

If you are in the San Diego area contact them at (858) 486-6466 and become part of the solution.