Thursday, July 26, 2012

Passport Series: Building a brighter future for families with VisionFund Albania

Emblazoned on the red Albanian national flag is a double-headed eagle, a symbol derived from an ancient Albanian folklore, The Tale of the Eagle. The eagle, a symbol of bravery and strength, has helped guide Albanians on a difficult path to independence. But, as the country looks to the future, the path to economic and social development isn't any smoother.

Albania struggles to bridge resources, access to markets and opportunity between its urban and suburban populations and its large rural population. But establishing a seamless market flow will help strengthen and stabilize both segments. 


While the overall poverty rate in Albania is 12.5%, that number is concentrated in the rural communities where 4 out of 5 people are considered poor. These stats are largely the result of isolation from larger markets, education, healthcare, financial resources, information and social programs. And the vulnerability of the poor is made even more acute by the growing number of Roma people -- one of the most socially marginalized groups.

Albania's national government recently invested over $2 billion to improve infrastructure like roads and electrical systems, yet many communities are still excluded.

Our Field Partner in the country, VisionFund Albania, has developed "integration loans" designed specifically to close the gap between these households and value chain resources. By extending opportunity to these vulnerable groups, Kiva is combating the cycle of discrimination and isolation that leads to poverty.

Poverty and lack of opportunity have forced many to look beyond Albanian borders for jobs. In 2008, over 35% of the Albanian workforce was estimated to be working abroad, with remittances accounting for 22% of GDP. Since males are three times more likely to seek work abroad, there is an increasing number of single-parent households led by women in communities with limited opportunities.

This trend has a very negative ripple effect, from an increase in school dropout rates to human trafficking. With only half of children completing elementary school and more women being trafficked than anywhere else in southeastern Europe, Albania is facing critical stakes.

To turn the tide, VisionFund and Kiva pay special attention to women and children by empowering families like Petrit's.

Petrit left his wife and children in hopes of finding work in Greece. His wife, in spite of lingering gender-biased customs, began single-handedly building a dairy farm business. Smiling, she tells our partner that she took care of everything from the business to the children. 

"In the beginning it was very difficult," she recalls. Nevertheless, over time she was able to build up a steady clientele. 

When Petrit returned to Albania, he found his Romani family included and thriving in the local economy. And this is just one of many families who have been transformed by financial inclusion and VisionFund's literacy programs and vocational training. As a subsidiary of the child hunger nonprofit World Vision, VisionFund maintains a key focus on improving child welfare, which starts with secure, sustainable family lives.

By focusing on the future generation, Kiva hopes to play a role in creating a more inclusive, equitable and brighter tomorrow. 

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This is the second post of a three-part series taking a deep-dive look at Albania, its history with microfinance, Kiva's role in expanding opportunities for Albanians, and what it's like to participate in the country's economy as a borrower, lender and field worker.