News: Micro finance center opens, brings opportunity for economic growth to south Baghdad
Story by Sgt. George Welcome
by Spc. George Welcome
2nd BCT PAO, 101st Abn. Div.
RADWANIYAH, Iraq – Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers and facility staff celebrated the grand opening of the Al Bashair Center for Micro Finance at the Radwaniyah Civil Military Operations Sept. 2.
The center's opening was the culmination of an 11-month project under the combined efforts of the center's staff and the Soldiers from 413th Civil Affairs Battalion and 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The center will provide small loans to local residents to help them start their own businesses.
"If we determine that there is a need in the community, we look for Iraqi people that know this country to help us develop the programs," said Maj. Paul Schmidt, civil affairs officer, 2nd BCT, who also serves as an advisor for the Al Bashair micro finance center.
The finance center is the first of its kind in Iraq.
"This project began with a vision almost a year ago," said Col. Todd Ebel, commander, 2nd BCT. "It was my observation upon arrival in October that many of the resources that were being committed by the Coalition Forces and the government of Iraq were focused on the large cities. There are many citizens, who make up the majority of southern Baghdad, who are farmers and small business owners. We saw an opportunity to enable those farmers and small business owners to invest in their future."
Workers at the center said they are optimistic about the possibilities it will bring to citizens.
"It's a new opportunity and another project in this area," said Ali Fahid Modec, a loan officer at the micro finance center. "Micro finance is a new kind of program. Our best goal is to help the people become productive so they can have more progress in their lives."
The intent of the program is designed to teach Iraqis how to start small businesses and how to run a successful business so the Radwaniyah community can enjoy economic prosperity.
"We try to help people understand how to use the money we give them and what they need to open their shops or markets because it is a small loan and they have to use every penny," said Modec. "It's not only taking the money and that's it. They will have to pay for it, so they need to know how to run a business."
Loans ranging from $200 to $3,000 are provided. The money is enough for the entrepreneurs to get started but not so much that they will be crushed under the weight of the debt.
The center is funded by the United States Agency for International Development. The center was provided an initial endowment of $250,000 by the non-governmental organization, which invests in developing countries throughout the world.
"We explain to them what they need to do to get a loan," said Modec. "We gather the information and documents that we need. We fill out an application form for them; and after that, we wait two or three days for approval."
Just in opening, the center has overcome enormous odds – but there are still challenges that the staff and potential borrowers face. Security is a major issue that will affect the success of the center as well as the staff's ability to sell the center's merits.
"Some people say that they cannot take the loans because they think it is against Islam," said Tamather Al Janabi, the executive director of the center. "We do not take profits. The money we take is for the service; it goes back to the people. Some of the money goes to pay the loan officer's salaries and our business expenses."
The ability for the center to thrive in its infancy depends greatly on whether the local leaders and citizens will support it.
"It's important to have the support of the local people and the local leaders," said Schmidt.
It is hoped that the center will help to bring peaceful change to the Radwaniyah area.
"I really do believe that if this works, it will help provide opportunities for the average Iraqi citizen and will help contribute to reducing violence in the rural communities of south Baghdad," said Ebel.
This work, Micro finance center opens, brings opportunity for economic growth to south Baghdad, by SGT George Welcome, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.