In Fon, Alidé means “a path always exists (for the very poor).”  This is a touching sentiment matched by the equally strong social mission of the Kiva field partner that bears its name.  During my time as the Kiva Fellow placed with Alidé, I’ve been impressed with the institution’s passion and perseverance.  When I meet borrowers, I consistently see illiterate women who are able to send their children to school and praise Alidé for their success.  It’s easy to start thinking, “wow, there’s really something to this!”

But then there are also the times when I step back and realize that most of the women are selling the same items.  They almost always do what their mothers did before them and most of the time it’s retail: be it selling food, toiletries, fabric, or something else.  Now I don’t have any problem with retail in general – I mean, we need these goods – but in a country with a high rate of unemployment, which drives fierce competition, it’s hard to add value to these products, which are almost always imported and therefore identical woman-to-woman.  With the amount of people desperate to sell their wares, the prices of these objects are extremely low and their ROI is pennies at best.

Sure Alidé’s loans allow these women to maintain their businesses, and sometimes even grow them, enabling them some financial security, but I have to wonder how long will this last?  If these women are selling the same thing as their mothers and their mothers’ mothers, what will their kids do?  Is it really possible that a toothpaste selling business can continue to grow with each generation?

It makes me question if perhaps you need an entrepreneurial class to move out of poverty — a group of people that invents things, creates things that can have a value beyond their importation costs, and ensures enough of an economic flow to sustainably create more infrastructure?  I wonder if that’s something that can come through the education of the current or even next generation?  Or do you just need a Gap to come in and open up a factory and give more of the population employment?  How do you get more people generating income and enable and empower their families, their communities, and their country to develop?  I’m not sure.  What do you, Kiva Fellow’s blog readers, think?

Marie Leznicki is a Kiva Fellow serving her placement with Alidé in Benin.

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