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Feature LEANING IN - THE POWER OF WOMENOMICS - Microfinance Breaking the Cycle of Poverty MIKE KANERT A Above: Microfinance seminar in Cebu, Philippines Below: Kouichi Kanbashi, deputy executive director of PlaNet Finance Japan 10 | highlighting japan CCORDING to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), women account for an average of 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Yet women have less access than men to productive resources such as land and livestock, and also have less access to financial services, education and technology. In 1976, Professor Muhammad Yunus, then Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong in Bangladesh, initiated an action- research project offering micro- loans to the rural poor. Using his own money and demanding no collateral, his first loan – $27 – was given to a group of 42 villagers living near the university. A year later, Yunus’ concept was expanded into the Grameen Bank Project, which sought to extend banking facilities to poor rural women to create opportunities for self- employment. Yunus believed that since women traditionally eat last in Bangladeshi culture, and thus tend to feel scarcity most acutely, they are best prepared to be efficient resource managers in poor families. Providing microfinance services to women, he decided, would be the best method of helping entire households. While the program didn’t entirely exclude men, it focused on bringing women from the poorest households into an organized financial system they could manage for themselves, harnessing injections of credit to break the cycle of poverty. Since the Grameen Bank Project offered not charity,