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Last Thursday, LEND (Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development) and NCDC (Northwestern Community Development Corps) welcomed Tom Coleman to speak about Bottom Billion Microfinance at Northwestern’s Harris Hall. Despite the blistering cold, more than 40 people crowded in to learn about poverty, microfinance and the Bottom Billion Fund.  I noticed a wide variety of people in the audience: young and old, students and non-students, people knowledgeable about microfinance and those just being introduced to what it’s all about.

Tom opened his talk with an overview of global poverty. Following a  video featuring Hans Rosling speaking about economic progress over the past 200 years, Tom expressed both optimism and concern regarding the state of poverty today. We learned that while aid organizations have done a tremendous job increasing health throughout the third world, there is still much work to be done in the fight against poverty. Tom drew on his extensive experience as a VP economist at the Chicago Board of Trade and also as a consultant to numerous Microfiance Institutions (MFIs) worldwide to help the audience understand the real world implications behind global poverty statistics, and the impact economic opportunity can have. He stressed that though microfinance cannot be considered a panacea in combating poverty, it has proven to be a very effective tool, having uplifted millions out of poverty.

We learned how many MFIs today are targeting the ‘rising poor’ and the global middle class: those earning between $1.25 and $25 a day. While this is good work, Tom pointed out, the extremely poor, or those earning less that $1.25 a day, are often neglected by most MFIs. He went on to explain how the new Bottom Billion Fund will maintain a rigorous focus on lending assistance to the poorest people in the world: the Bottom Billion.  He talked about Bottom Billion Fund’s mission, about the nonprofit Fund “not being in business for the profits, but for the poverty”, and about the organization’s vision for scaling an investment model that can help to bring many of the extremely poor out of extreme poverty.

The presentation created an informative dialogue amongst the audience as the crowd asked the critical questions being discussed in microfinance today. Some attendees wondered if microfinance is sustainable? How effective can it be? Are some people simply destined to be poor? The most memorable moment, for me, came when a girl who questioned why an MFI would ever make a loan to an area where there is no market or existing capital. Coleman responded that though this can be a risky prospect, sometimes a small loan is all that is needed to stimulate sustainable market activity. He supported his point by providing some inspiring success stories. Whether attendees walked out inspired by Coleman’s noble ambition or simply learned what microfinance is, everyone walked out knowing something that they did not know before.

On the whole, the night was a great success, as everyone really seemed to enjoy the talk. I know I did.

 

Joshua Zieve

Bottom Billion Fund 2011-2012 Fellow

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On Thursday, January 19th at 7PM, Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development (LEND) and the Northwestern Community Development Corps (NCDC) welcomes Tom Coleman, a former Chicago Board of Trade executive and the Co-Founder of the new microfinance investment fund, Bottom Billion Fund.  Coleman will be speaking in Harris Hall on national and international poverty and microfinance.

The Bottom Billion Fund brings microfinance tools and training to those who live on less than $1.25 per day—the billion extremely poor people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Bottom BIllion Fund’s approach is markedly different from most other microfinance investment organizations, which usually target the ‘rising poor’, or ‘global middle class’: those earning between $1.25 to $25 a day.

This speaker event marks LEND’s first co-sponsorship with the NCDC, the premier community engagement and service organization on campus. NCDC “promotes civic engagement through direct service, social awareness, and advocacy,” and is very active within the Evanston community. NCDC outreach and service teams have been valuable partners in efforts to find new contacts in the community, and this co-sponsorship represents the latest step forward in this relationship.

The event is free and open to the public. We look forward to seeing you there!

The Bottom Billion Fund Team

Happy New Year from Bottom Billion Fund!

As we look ahead to our work to be done in 2012, we’d like to take a moment to thank you, our supporters, for helping us to achieve the strong momentum we’ve built these past two months, during which time we’ve:

  • Launched our first website
  • Started our Bottom Billion Fund blog
  • Engaged 127 new supporters & fans of microfinance and extreme poverty solutions on facebook and twitter
  • Welcomed our first Friends of Bottom Billion Fund Photographers (like Jonathan Kalan at The BoP Project ; check out his and other photographers’ amazing work on our webpage)
  • Spoke with thought leaders and pioneers working on extreme poverty solutions as part of our first global teleconference with the Food For All Summit
  • Partnered with Global Room for Women & Buying2Give to help online shoppers support extreme poverty solutions when they shop at Amazon
  • Received $2,000 in pledges in our first crowdfunding effort!

What a fantastic couple of months!

We look forward to achieving continued progress in 2012 as we continue to build advocacy, funding and outreach for Bottom Billion Microfinance. Thank you for backing us from the start. We wouldn’t have come this far without you.

And now… onto 2012! We will keep you updated on our progress as we work to place our first investment.  To donate or learn other ways to get involved in our work this New Year, click here.

A billion thanks for your continued support as we work together to build the Bottom Billion Fund,

Tom & the Bottom Billion Fund Team