Friday, August 3, 2012

Passport Series: Microfinance helps Albanian entrepreneurs overcome isolation

Discussions about poverty in Albania quickly become discussions about isolation. The interplay between the two fuels a relentless cycle of struggle and deprivation. An insidious enemy that takes shape physically, economically and socially, isolation has disrupted development and progress in the country for years. 

With over half of Albania's population living in rural communities, physical isolation is a critical problem. Without access to infrastructure, markets and information, poverty is highly concentrated in these regions.

Social isolation often rears its head in the form of gender bias and discrimination against the Roma population, and economic isolation casts a wide net everywhere that individuals lack the resources and financial tools to empower themselves. 

Any type of isolation puts you at risk for the others -- like a cancer it quickly spreads and is hard to control.

The upside of these isolated communities is that they foster incredibly strong family bonds. The importance of family is a value that permeates all aspects ofAlbanian culture.

Kiva borrower, Halit (above) is a father of seven children. They all work together on the family farm raising animals and growing grains and vegetables.

"Farming brings only happiness to me and all of my family together. I get the chance to work along with them every day... I remember more good years than bad ones," Halit told our Field Partner VisionFund Albania.

As his children grew, Halit drained his savings sending them to school, paying for their marriages and building basic homes for those who were newly-married. It was a Kiva loan of $925 that helped Halit and his family build an irrigation system to ensure the health and prosperity of their farm for years to come.

With 71% of the Albanian population employed in the agriculture sector, providing resources to help strengthen this industry is pivotal to poverty reduction and building economic stability. Another principal issue facing Albania is gender inequality.

As Julie Vullnetari from Albania's Sussex Migration Research Centre put it, "The rural woman is the invisible pillar of Albanian Society." 

However, particularly in these isolated communities, women's participation in decision-making remains low. A European Union External Action Service report frankly stated, "Women face discrimination in a number of areas, which translates into higher unemployment, early school drop-out of girls, limited access to land and property, and lower levels of representation in high-level elected and appointed bodies." Closing the isolation gaps for Albanian women will help promote advancement and empowerment.

Inspired by the strength of the Albanian family and the hearty nature of its people, Kiva is proud to support the hardworking entrepreneurs and efforts of our partner as they work toward a brighter future.

This is the final 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.

Photos courtesy of net_efekt, IFDC photography.