In honor of International Women's Day, a look at the women making a difference in rural China.
You can read the stories of their hardscrabble lives in their faces, which are ruddy and wrinkled from the years they’ve spent working outdoors. Many of these women have stayed behind in their rural villages while their husbands seek work building the skyscrapers and subways of China’s fast-developing cities. All of them share the dream of lifting themselves and their families from poverty and have started their own businesses in the hopes of making that dream a reality.
Their projects are simple — growing mushrooms or vegetables for sale, raising one or two sheep — but just a small profit can make a difference and improve their living conditions. The biggest obstacle these entrepreneurs face is obtaining the start-up capital to purchase livestock, feed, fertilizer and the like. Banks are thin on the ground in rural areas and most are unwilling to lend small amounts to those with only their sweat equity to pledge as collateral.
Enter the Yi Nong Dai program introduced in 2009 by Chinese microcredit enterprise CreditEase. The program utilizes the Internet to connect these rural women entrepreneurs with urban residents across China who are interested in loaning them either all or a portion of the capital they need for their businesses. Individuals can loan as little as RMB 100 for a term ranging from nine to 12 months, at an interest rate of 3%. When the loans are repaid, 2% of the interest goes to the loaner and 1% goes to the platform to cover administrative costs.
As of the end of January, the platform has so far facilitated RMB 7.3 million in loans to 2,343 rural women, according to CreditEase, with the average individual receiving RMB 4,187.35 in loan money. The average loan contribution is RMB 261.38. The program has been awarded the “Innovative Action Award for Alleviating Poverty” given by the China Merchants Bureau.
The women apply for their loans through a variety of established microfinance institutions, which then evaluate their business plans and their credit worthiness through home visits and interviews with others in their villages. The microfinance institutions in turn recommend them to the Yi Nong Dai program, which aggregates the approved loan requests on their website yinongdai.com. Individuals can visit the website to choose who they want to loan money to; the website posts photos of the women, along with a brief biography, the total amount of loan money they need, and a statement about how they will utilize the money for their business.
“As an innovative model of ‘sustainable poverty alleviation’ Yi Nong Dai breaks through the original donation-based ‘blood-transfusion’ poverty alleviation model by using the ‘blood-making’ borrowing model. It achieves not only the double harvest of spiritual poverty alleviation and material poverty alleviation, but is also the perfect combination of public welfare and commercial interests,” says Tang Ning, CEO of CreditEase.
With the assistance of microcredit programs such as Yi Nong Dai, hopefully it won’t be long before these rural entrepreneurs join their urban sisters on the “power” lists compiled annually by business publications in China.