Microfinance in Israel – SAWA Way
As already mentioned in my previous blog, Kiva newest partner in Israel is Koret Israel Economic Development Funds (KIEDF), a non-profit organization that was established in 1994 by the Koret Foundation to support the development of small business in Israel. Since inception KIEDF has extended more than $230 million in financing to over 8,500 small and micro businesses in Israel!
KIEDF launched its Microfinance Initiative back in 2006 and Kiva loans will be supporting one of its micro-enterprise programs called SAWA, which means “together” in Arabic.
SAWA was started with the goal of helping the most challenged populations in the country. The program first focused on the Bedouin women of the Negev in the first three years of operations, but is now trying to extend its model and services to additional populations including the unemployed Jewish and orthodox Jewish women, Ethiopian immigrants, and additional Arab Israeli women. SAWA’s newest office in Carmiel is part of the expansion efforts and I recently got to visit the branch and participated in a Kiva training session with its all female staff.
To this date, SAWA remains the only non-bank microfinance program in Israel and the only one implementing the solidarity group lending method pioneered by the Grameen Bank. It extends loans of $500-2,500 to women for the development of a variety of businesses – small commerce, grocery stores, cattle purchases, sewing, daycare centers, etc. There is a great video that everyone should check out that gives a sense of SAWA’s work:
One of the most amazing things about SAWA is that it gives a real economic opportunity to women living in poverty, off welfare or in villages with little job prospects. According to an outside evaluation of the program in 2009, 91% of the clients decided to open a business solely due to the existence of SAWA loans and ongoing business training! Furthermore, 88% of the survey participants defined their business successful and 80% reported an increase of 20% in average family income. Considering that SAWA has distributed since its inception close to 1,700 loans totaling over $2,000,000 (with loan losses of only 2.9%), I feel the program is laying down much needed foundation for further economic development of Israel’s impoverished areas.