Microcharity pioneerMildred Leet

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In 1979, Leet and her husband Glen read about the massive foreign aid that the U.S. gave to other countries, and the hope that the money would “trickle down” to the poorest people in those countries. The Leets had a different idea: identify the poorest people up front, and then work to help them break out of poverty in a sustainable way. With $1,000 of their own money, they founded “Trickle Up”. After identifying 10 recipients of their aid, they helped those people create a business plan, mentored them as they started their businesses, and gave them a small grant — just $50. If the business succeeded, six months later a second $50 grant would be given to help them expand. “A lot of people thought we were kidding ourselves,” she said later. “They said we’d be giving away money and we’d never see a return on our investment.” But the Leets’ early experiment with “microgrants” and “microlending” (now common today) was a success: some of those first 10 businesses still operate, and Trickle Up has helped the poor start 200,000 businesses in dozens of countries — including the U.S. Trickle Up currently works in five countries (India, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, and Nicaragua), and grant amounts remain small: $100-225. That’s still an effective amount: the organization still helps create more than 10,000 businesses a year. Leet died May 3 after a fall. She was 88.

From This is True for 8 May 2011