Each month we showcase truly inspirational social entrepreneurs and social enterprises that are making a difference in the world. This month we speak to Good Return
'Imagine a world without poverty’ is your strapline. Tell us a bit more about Good Return and what you do.
I am Shane Nichols and I am the CEO of Good Return. We are a social enterprise that supports other social enterprises around the Asia pacific region. Those social enterprises are micro finance institutions.
So could you explain a bit more about micro lending?
Good Return supports other micro finance institutions and social enterprises to work with their clients, who are people living in poverty. There are 1.4 billion people living in the Asia region living in poverty and what they do is work with them in a few areas. One is helping them to manage their money better, and another one is access to responsible and inclusive financial services and through that people are able to build their assets and work their way out of poverty.
Sounds great. How did you get started?
Good Return was started by Guy Winship, and Guy had the vision of setting up an Australian organisation and supporting the people in Asia pacific with micro finance. I came on shortly after the organisation was founded. That was in 2003 and since then we have grown every year, we have got a great supporter base in Australia of individuals and all sorts of corporate partners and we have received some support from the government which is fantastic.
What countries do you loan money to?
We work in quite a number of countries across Asian pacific. We are in Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga. In some of those countries we actually have an online lending program where people in Australia can choose to lend funds to people in those countries families living in poverty. In other countries, we are working with our partners behind the scenes to strengthen their training capacity and their organisational capacity to be able to offer inclusive financial services.
Really amazing work guys. So how does the lending process work? How do you match the donor and lender?
Visitors to the Good Return website can see a profile of people living in poverty in developing countries. You can see a person's name, a little bit of a bio on them and what they are requesting money for. And behind the scenes what’s happening is that our partner organisations are out there in the villages collecting these stories and uploading to our portal. Somebody in Australia or else someone who wants to support browse those profiles can select one person that you’d like to support and lend them any amount you like, in multiples of $25.
You could lend $50 and that money will be sent to our partner who disburses the loans to the clients in the villages. The typical loan cycle is about one year, people will repay those loans and come back to us and we send them back to you and ask the lender you can choose what you do with those repayments. You could withdraw it, you could donate it towards our training programs and capacity building programs with our partners or you could re-lend it to another person so the money actually gets used multiple times.
One of the great things is that when money is donated we actually get help from the Australian government, the money is leveraged in multiple ways.
One of the problems some social enterprises have is finding partners. How do you find the receivers in these countries?
We work with partners that have a strong poverty alleviation focus and a social mission. Their mandate is to work with people living in poverty. When we select a partner, we make sure they have good robust processes for identifying new clients and in fact one of the things that we offer to partners is training in an effective way of identifying and tracking poverty levels over time so there is a standard tool that we use and promote, its called the progress out of poverty index and it enables our partners to assess people’s poverty levels and entry and also to track that over time.
Have you got a story of success from Good Return?
One example would be a woman that we worked with in Nepal. Her name was Pabatha. She came from the lowest caste in Nepal and she lived in her village all of her life and she said that when she came together in the micro finance group with the other people in her village this was actually the first time she had ever shared a cup of tea with people from the other cast in her village. The first thing it did was bring together people socially. That social bond enabled her to build on her capacities which until up then really hadn’t been manifest in any sort of enterprise.
She went out after our training program and researched small business opportunities in her village and she identified that a tea shop had good potential. She did a feasibility study and she got her husband to help her out with that. She took a loan from the group so up until then she had been saving each week, a small amount each week and demonstrated her ability to manage money and her credibility. She was able to take a loan and once she took a loan she invested in that tea shop.
When I spoke to her she actually said that she has got that additional income from the tea business which is going really well. People come to her tea shop and it is one of the most popular in the area but she said that the really big thing that it done for her was given her the confidence to be able to do things that she hadn't done before. Now she talks to the local government about things that they need in her village.
She has a young daughter and she was serving as an amazing role model for her daughter and she actually brought her daughter to the district capital and I met her. So the daughter could see the wider world and come and meet with government representatives and even meet with people like me from other countries. This lady was a really great model not only for her daughter but other people in the village and that is the power of microfinance. This is in fact all her work and journey was her own effort. It wasn’t a donation and it wasn't charity, it was her own enterprise.
It was a really powerful experience. Actually just meeting her was powerful because she was a dynamic person. You wouldn't believe that she had no formal education.
Amazing story, thanks for sharing.
Check out Good Return https://goodreturn.org.au/ for more on what they do.