For Kellogg School alum Beth Houle '95, the
yardstick for measuring success isn't just giving someone
a hand up and out of poverty, but enabling that person to
lift someone else up with them.
"When a really poor person is in a position
to offer charity or hope to someone else, that is one of the
greatest signs of our success," says Houle, director
of the Women's Opportunity Fund, and vice president, marketing
strategy, for Opportunity International, its parent organization.
The nonprofit organization makes microloans, primarily to
women, in 25 developing countries including Uganda, Colombia,
Russia and the Philippines.
Take, for example, Catherine Kamuli of Kampala,
Uganda, one of Houle's favorite success stories. Kamuli used
a microloan to build a poultry business from 150 chickens
to more than 2,000.
Kamuli sells the chickens and their eggs and
even markets the chicken manure as a fertilizer, all of which
has resulted in a growing savings account.
But most importantly, says Houle, Kamuli has
encouraged more than 20 other women to start their own businesses,
has been able to feed her children well and to send them to
school, and is now caring for four children who were orphaned
after their parents died of AIDS.
"Our work offers people a way out —
not a handout —
based on lending and strong financial services,"
Houle says. "In the process, women become leaders, they
become self-sufficient and they make systemic changes in their
Aspiring female entrepreneurs in the United
States sometimes battle discrimination, a lack of access to
capital and other barriers to success. Houle says roadblocks
are even more numerous for women in developing countries,
who often are prohibited from owning property and therefore
have no collateral.
Opportunity International grants small loans
of between $25 and $100 to women who organize in groups of
15 to 40 entrepreneurs, co-guaranteeing each other's loans.
Women use the loans to establish informal businesses such
as food preparation, sewing or weaving, repaying the money
to the Trust Bank group, where it is then used to make loans
to other women entrepreneurs.
The organization boasts a 98 percent repayment
a number most commercial banks can't even begin
Houle, who began her career at Salomon Brothers
after completing her undergraduate studies, soon felt pulled
toward a career that would combine solid business principles
with social good. In the early 1990s, she searched for an
MBA program where she could learn the fundamentals of accounting,
marketing and finance while focusing on the nonprofit sector.
The Kellogg School was her answer.
"At the time, not many people were talking
about things like nonprofit entrepreneurship or applying venture
capitalism to social programs," she says, adding that
the Kellogg School was one of a few obvious exceptions. "Now
you see so much more melding of the private and not-for-profit
sectors. You see many more applications of business principles
to social programs. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
there weren't many examples of this and it wasn't articulated
Her five years with the organization has marked
her longest period of employment with any single organization,
a testament to the fact that she's landed in a dynamic field,
she says. Her current role is leading the organization's Women's
Fund, developing and focusing its brand, and identifying key
marketing opportunities in the United States.
The past few years have been a time of record
growth for the organization, which served 400,000 clients
in 2002, but is predicting the need to serve 2 million by
Key private supporters tend to be entrepreneurs
or others with strong finance backgrounds, who understand
the impact a loan can have.
Says Houle, "They realize that for a
poor person, a $100 loan and some training might be the one
thing that gives them a chance."
On the Internet: Women's
— Kari Richardson