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Credit for the Poor

March 21, 2012 · 

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Credit for the Poor

Fr Seán and Mrs. Chavez at the latter's welding business.

Fr Seán Connaughton has done more than most missionaries to help Filipinos break out of poverty and become successful entrepreneurs.

Fr Seán Connaughton SSC, or Fr Seán as he is fondly called by the KAZAMA Grameen Inc. (KGI) family, is a Columban priest from Ireland. He was assigned to the Philippines in 1962 to help build God’s Kingdom. He undertook that task with passion and conviction.

KGI was created as a result of Seán’s work with cooperatives. At one stage he was involved in training programmes with 28 different cooperatives, in an attempt to give individuals and groups power over their own lives. The cooperatives did well for a time, but then most of them died, either because the people did not have the collateral, or the money to pay the fixed deposit. Around 1988 he came across the Grameen Bank which operates on a trust basis – no collateral, no fixed deposit.

Seán started with 18 members. Education was essential. Prospective members had to attend a seven-night seminar ending with an examination. The rules of Grameen were demanding: if one person failed the exam, the whole group had to re-do it a month later! This initial process eliminated people who had no discipline. When the selection of candidates for loans was made, generally those who were poorest were selected, but also those who showed that they were capable of honouring their commitments. The organization grew rapidly and now more than 20 years later, KGI has 27, 786 active members, and the total of members served over the years is 54,879. KGI can boast an overall repayment rate of 98% of the loans issued. It employs a staff of 183 persons. Its efforts are paying off in the thousands of growing businesses earning supplementary income so that the poor can put food on the table, repair their homes, start a small business, and even send their children to college.

Ruben Rianzares, the present chief officer of KGI, writes, “Fr Seán is a champion of the poor. When we were starting out, I remember asking him why we had to give priority to lending to the poor when they did not have the capacity to pay. He explained that this lack of financial capacity requires us not to be complacent or to accept the status quo; rather it should drive us to action.” Seán, now helps as an assistant in Kilmainham Wood Parish, Co. Meath, but he continues to monitor and support the Filipino-led KGI from afar.

This article originally appeared in “Mag-KAZAMA”, a publication of KAZAMA Grameen, Inc. Philippines.

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