Five Talents Conference.
October 12th 2012.
I am delighted to be here at this Conference and declare my support for Five Talents.
Our church on Sunday had its annual Harvest Service. It was a joyful and bustling occasion with children handing almost from the rafters there were so many there. We joined in a prayer in which the following words appeared: ‘We belong to a people who are full and satisfied, but ignore the cry of the hungry’.
On the same day, Katherine Marshall, former counselor to the President of the World Bank, sent me this thought.
“Imagine a public monument to the victims of poverty. Imagine that it resembles the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and it includes the names of everyone who has died of poverty since the end of the cold war twenty years ago. There would be more than 300 million names, mostly children. To make room for so many names the monument would have to be 480 miles long, roughly the distance from Detroit to New York. To keep up with the tally of deaths that continues daily, the length of the wall would have to be extended by half a mile per week.”
We belong to a world in which there are shocking inequalities: 40% of the world, that includes you and me, have access to 94% of the world’s resources, and 60% of the world’s population have access to only 6% of the world’s income. Put differently and more popularly, one million human beings live on under one dollar a day.
This is the context in which Five Talents operates and is a stark reminder that we are not complacent.
Like many things, Five Talents started in a very small way. It began its life at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 when Martin Mimms came to tell me about Five Talents. I was immediately smitten by the idea and made a donation towards. It has gone on to become a firmly established NGO in both the USA and UK with professional staff and committed supporters. And I do want to say how much I admire the leadership of Tom Sanderson whose vision and drive is behind the success of Five Talents.
The organisation has grown quickly raising several millions (c.£5m) in its lifetime to help support 15 Microfinance programmes around the world. I recall the setting up of the Mama Bahati project some years ago which an organization led by Brian Griffiths raised several thousands of pounds including donations from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. This was taken over by Five Talents and it is thrilling to read from Five Talents on the Web that it is now serving 3,139 women in Tanzania.
But what is micro finance? The term ‘micro-finance’ means providing very poor families with very small loans to help them engage in productive activities, or small businesses, to help them out of poverty. It is of no surprise to those of us who have visited Africa and India that it is women who have gained so much from this initiative. The former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described it as ’a critical anti-poverty tool for the poorest, especially women’. Indeed, women have emerged as credit worthy clients, offering reliable and conscientious commitment and, in turn, micro-finance initiatives have strengthened social and human capacity of women in the family and community. I read recently that the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh offers loans to 7,000 people, 97% of whom are women. Women are transforming their own life chances and are emerging from poverty as a result.
Five Talents is uniquely focussed on supporting microfinance programmes in developing countries in places where commercial microfinance is not viable (too remote; economic conditions too poor).
The charity has remained committed to the mission of “fighting poverty, creating jobs, transforming lives” and has done so very effectively.
The Church has been a promoter, delivery partner, beneficiary and initiator of Five Talents: a vital stakeholder in every respect. And there is a special reason why this is an important factor is because the churches are a very, very powerful social force in the developing world. Harnessing the strength and energy of this social reality is an important challenge and Five Talents is ideally positioned to reap the benefit of such a partnership because it is respected and understood.
So, what is currently going on?
There are currently Five Talents’ supported programmes in 11 developing countries noted in the Brochure (2011 Impact Report).
Over the years, FT has also worked in Nigeria, Dominican Republic, Ghana; Malawi, Tanzania, Myanmar and there are many current requests for support and expertise.
Five Talents has built an expertise in adapting the various microfinance models to fit local circumstances the savings-led model; credit-led; group-based; individual loans; etc.
The current programmes are now serving (today) over 40,000 active members.
Each person involved either by saving or borrowing represents a whole family, and sometimes a number of employees too so the number of people being impacted today is nearer 200,000.
When considering the accumulated number of previous members as well Five Talents has probably helped in the region of a million people.
That is a great start.
But MF is not a magic bullet. Some MF enterprises have failed, sometimes because weather conditions have beaten the best intentioned projects, sometimes it is because the enterprises started out with much enthusiasm and great publicity and died because preparation was sparse and knowledge was almost zero.
Indeed, bad practices by some commercial providers have actually made some poor people poorer. High interest rates; over-indebtedness; lack of transparency all these have given micro finance projects a bad name.
But the good news is that Five Talents has distinguished itself as a Christian provider of the highest standards.
Hence winning awards at the city of London “Sustainable City” Awards (2010/11); Financial World Award 2011; short-listed in the Financial Times Sustainable Banking Awards 2011 etc.
A Challenge is to grow (and keep growing) in order to satisfy the un-met needs of people around the world.
There are current requests from DR Congo for support.
The work in all of the 11 current programmes are seeking to expand to cover their entire nations.
In all this, there is a special challenge to combine heart and head. The weakness of some Christian work is to be heart led only with the result that our compassion is not undergirded with hard facts and demanding programmes. Tom has described to me that his staff are expected to have the “heart of a pastor and the mind of a banker” although the latter description could be misunderstood these days! So, the bottom line is that the organization must be built on wisdom, proper procedures, a good reporting chain as well as compassion and, of course, some debt forgiveness in order for the struggling client to avoid falling into further poverty. This is a very tough call but we are here today because it is a story of success and we can build on that success.
And this takes me into today’s report and challenge.
We can do more and we can be even more effective. We need more support and we need more finance to maximize the vision, knowledge and experience that Five Talents has now acquired.
The present economic crisis is making fundraising very hard but we ought to remember that the whole point about Christian micro-finance is that the impact is magnified by the way our money is multiplied by the investment in people trained and supported by Five Talents.
But, why Five Talents? You will know the bible story in Matthew 25. Where the master gives five talents to one person, two to another and one to a third. The first two doubled the master’s investment, but the third person simply buried the talent in the ground and merely gave it back. The moral of the story at one level is simply that the third chap did nothing. It is worth noting that Matthew 25 is particularly slanted in one direction- compassion for the most needy. In the final parable the master, who is revealed as Lord and Judge, says to all: ‘Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it as to me’. It is a sobering thought that whatever we do is directed in one form or another to the One we Christians claim to be the Lord.
© George Carey 2012