Monday, May 9, 2011

Obit du jour: Mildred Robbins Leet

I haven't done many obits recently, tending to lump them in on Fridays. But I wanted to highlight this one of Mildred Robbins Leet who founded Trickle Up, a microfinance organization before the term was known or the concept popular.

Mrs. Leet and her husband, Glen, founded Trickle Up in 1979 with $1,000 of their own money because they thought the conventional model for foreign aid at the time — large-scale programs with benefits that would theoretically trickle down to the poor — was ineffective.

Trickle Up used local aid organizations to find the neediest people, more than 80 percent of them women, and helped them create a basic business plan. If the business plan was deemed feasible, the program granted petitioners a first installment of $50, basic business instruction and financial advice. The second installment was paid in six months if the participant and the enterprise were meeting their goals.

The charity has helped start more than 200,000 businesses, like making dolls or cooking plantain chips, in dozens of countries, including the United States, said William M. Abrams, Trickle Up’s current president. Today it operates in five: Mali, Burkina Faso, India, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Grants now range from $100 to $225.

I had no idea about this American-born microfinance program. I'm going to learn more about it.

Over at the website put up by Trickle Up to honor her, I learned that

Mrs. Leet dedicated her enormous energy and unwavering optimism to a wide range of organizations that she helped found or lead, including the US Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Cerebral Palsy, Metropolitan College of New York, and InterAction, the association for US humanitarian and development organizations. Active in Democratic politics and civil rights, she was proud to have stood on the speaker’s platform for Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in 1963.

She sounds like a remarkable woman. May her good work continue. And may we all learn to keep our eyes open for effective ways to help others.

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