Sunday, March 22, 2009

Open for business

Microfinance has become all the rage in recent years.

Some very well managed programs have sprouted in developing countries and have been so tremendously successful that even private businesses and investors have jumped on the bandwagon to lend money to very poor people. Some investors are turning over a healthy profit from this kind of enterprise.

Blue Dragon has been a bit slower to get involved. We don't have the expertise to run a microfinance program - it's much more than just giving out cash and hoping to get it back later. And there's also the fact that we work with children, rather than adults.

Despite this, we've now helped a few young people to start their own businesses, and the results are fairly good so far.

I've written before about the Gold Dragon Shoe Shop in Hoi An which was started by a former street kid named Nam. Even though Hoi An is struggling with the drop in tourist numbers now, Nam's shop is doing OK and he's continuing to use some of his profits to support the Hoi An Children's Home.

More recently, we've helped two older teens establish mobile phone sales and repair shops. One boy, named Doan, was shining shoes in Hanoi when we first met him. He's had a pretty tough life and has long dreamt of 'making something' of himself. Late last year, he set his mind to opening his own business, and with some backing from Blue Dragon he's done it - and going well.

Another young guy with a business idea was a teenager named Thanh, who lives in the countryside with his three brothers. Their parents died a few years back, leaving them in massive debt and without many choices for the future. With some help from donors around the world, Blue Dragon paid off their debts and Thanh has just opened his own mobile phone stand near a university in Hung Yen province.

For both Doan and Thanh, we have helped out with a small grant, as well as a loan that they need to repay over the coming year. And to make sure they can do it, each boy has to come and meet with our accountant Tra once a month to make sure their record keeping is all in order and everything is under control.

From some very small steps, we've had a huge impact on the lives of these teenagers and their entire families. I don't think we'll ever extend our program to help thousands of kids open their own shops, but it's great to see how effective we can be with just a bit of money and guidance.


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