African Microenterprise AIDS Initiative

Disadvantaged African women require both economic empowerment and HIV/AIDS education to significantly reduce their susceptibility to the HIV virus.  Their lack of resources and understanding constrains them to high-risk sexual behavior.

Opportunity International and its seven African Partners are prepared to launch the African Microenterprise AIDS Initiative, which will provide women and their families with the resources and skills necessary to combat the spread of the virus.  The project will directly benefit one and a half million people in its first five years, five million over the next ten years, and millions into the future.  The initiative’s innovative and sustainable model will address the myriad complexities of the AIDS problem in Africa and provide a blueprint for other groups fighting to eliminate the disease from the continent.         

The African Microenterprise AIDS Initiative will give women the choice to say no or negotiate safer sex.  “Trust Banks”, a group lending program, combined with peer education will increase income, widen personal choice, and provide HIV/AIDS education within targeted African communities. This African initiative will not only reduce the rate of infections among formerly impoverished women and provide economic support to AIDS widows and orphans, but will also impede the spiraling economic consequences of the AIDS pandemic.

The foundation for this new program will be “Trust Banks”, which were pioneered by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh almost 15 years ago. This appropriate lending technology works by organizing small groups of 25-40 women into informal business networks – or Trust Banks – which cross-guarantee small loans made to each of the bank members.  These loans are then utilized by each individual to strengthen her personal microentrepreneurial efforts.  Loan interest covers the low amount of overhead, making the program sustainable.  The corpus of the loan fund itself gets recycled and reused, perpetuating the program indefinitely. 

The focus is loans plus education.  Within peer groups, women will be taught essential AIDS knowledge and wrestle with difficult issues, which will lead them to make positive decisions.  To facilitate this, Opportunity will partner with expert AIDS organizations based in Africa.  

Opportunity International will take this combined intervention model, which was pioneered by others, to a new level.  Phase One, which is ready to commence in 1999, will develop and test a sustainable intervention model that combines peer education, economic empowerment, and personal choice through pilot programs in Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Uganda.  Phase Two, which will begin at the end of year two, involves the expansion of the pilot programs into 50 new areas of high HIV-prevalence. At this stage, the initiative will broaden to involve several countries and will attract the attention of the global community, leveraging additional funding.

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