A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

WORTH for Women- Marcia Odell Explains.

Marica Odell is firmly committed to the worth of women, so much so that she has devoted her recent years to setting up WORTH- A Global Initiative for Women’s Economic Empowerment, Africa division.

WORTH started out 8 years ago in Nepal. It is a programme which through literacy training, local savings schemes and micro enterprise development, helps women to develop themselves, their families and their communities.

In a pilot project in Nepal with 125,000 women, literacy rose from 39,000 to 121,000 in the space of just two years. What’s more, the women collectively saved over $1million and the money raised was used to start over 66,000 small businesses. And that was only the pilot.

Maria explained what is unique about initiative;
‘Worth is about helping women to discover how powerful they really are and the resources that have. There is no external money coming in, by a mirco finance institution. It is women being in charge of their own money’.

According to Marcia, when WORTH was starting out there was a lot of skepticism within the development community towards the model, as people believed external institutions were necessary in mirco-finance initiatives. The success of the model to date has proved otherwise.

It was a key lesson for Marcia. Understanding that inventions and innovations happen by not following standard models, she is now more comfortable with taking risk.

Life for Marcia has been a mixed bag of academia, motherhood, consultancy work, entrepreneurship and international development. While raising two children in the States, Marcia wanted a job that could fit around the school hours, and so designed one which suited her. She always had an interest in early childhood development (and has a Master’s degree to back it up), and so went about setting up a Toy Company which specialized in learning toys for kids. She has been able to apply the same business skills she learned then, to her current work.

Interestingly Marcia, who also has a PhD from Cornell University and an MBA, has had to ‘undo’ some of her academic training. Listening she admits is something she has had to learn, ‘it is much easier to talk than it is to listen’ she explains. ‘In a PhD programme, it is all about articulating ideas. I actually found that the training I received in my academic programme may not be the most productive way of engaging with people. Talking about successes and what we can learn from them, rather than analyzing and tearing them apart is’. But this, she explained, was is very recent learning for her.

WORTH has plans to roll out across Africa. Already it has programmes in Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. For Marcia, she knows that there is a huge amount more work to do, but knows to that this is where she wants to dedicate her time. An hour after our meeting she was heading off to Mali to see what could be done there…


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