Working at Zene za Zene International
When I told anyone I was going to Bosnia this summer, the basic reaction I got was confusion. Everyone was supportive & excited, but definitely surprised. I was pretty surprised too. When you sign up for experiences like this, you never know where you will end up. In this case I’ve had the good fortune of ending up at Women for Women International, and wanted to take time to shed light on the both the organization & the people who do pretty amazing work here & around the world.
The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina actually led directly to the inception of Women for Women International, after the founders came here in the early 90s to volunteer with the aid process. While they quickly realized that women would be the most marginalized group in post-war Bosnia, no grass roots efforts were in place to help them recover. In 1993 Women for Women International officially launched, and has since expanded to bring direct aid to over 153,000 women survivors in warn torn countries around the world, serving today in Iraq, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, just to name a few.
Zene za Zene is one of two sites (along with Women for Women Afghanistan) to focus on microcredit services, along with the educational & job skills training programs they run to prepare disadvantaged women for the workforce. Around 60% of their clients on Kiva work in agriculture & raise livestock in the country’s small villages—in a stagnant economy it’s the only option many people have. Poverty is an issue that affects women of all ages & backgrounds. Even those who own land can have pretty meager incomes, and most lack real access to capital except through microfinance. In a little over a decade, Zene za Zene has lent over $32 million to women entrepreneurs throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In my time here I work mainly with our Kiva Coordinator, who collects information from credit officers and keeps up with posting & journaling requirements. Credit officers spend most of their time finding & interviewing new borrowers, as well as visiting current clients to ensure their success. In these first 6 months of 2008, Zene za Zene has around 4,900 active clients; that number is likely to double by year’s end. As simple as it is to lend on Kiva, the mechanisms to ensure due diligence, social impact, and sustainability keep many people here very busy.
It’s funny how when you travel, there is so much anxiety about everything that will be different, you can be put at ease by the smallest things. I was immediately comforted by the familiarity of working in office again, the regular schedule, the abundance of snacks and coffee offered at all times. Working here has kept me from getting too lost—in more ways than one. It’s just reassuring to be around some of the millions of people in the world today who work diligently and patiently to help others help themselves. And it’s good to know you can find such things in places you’d never knew you’d be.
I wanted to share something about Sarajevo itself, but to keep from making this too long, I have included some pictures below of the old town near where I live, and will hopefully have more to go around in some later updates. Cheers…