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A Little Goes A Long Way by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial  ISBN/ITEM#: EL200611
Date: November 2006 / Show Official Info /

In Sherri Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country, much like in Larry Niven's Ringworld, there's a plot to breed aggression out of the population. In Tepper's world, it's linked to males, and in Niven's it's alien tiger-rats, but it pretty much comes down to the same thing. I liked Niven's methodology better than Tepper's though. In her book women maintain a balance of power through superior weaponry and technology. Written in 1988, it's understandable that she'd think that a heavily armed and well organized force could control a fanatical insurgency...but to me it always came across as wishful thinking. The battlefield you want to engage men on isn't physical warfare. It's economic.

Many years the Nobel Peace prize seems to be offered as an incentive to actually do something to be worth it. This year though, it went to someone who's actually been working hard on a radical program to help people defeat poverty, and the program is both practical and scalable. I was particularly happy because it's a model that my gal and I have been giving to for several years now. It's about giving micro-loans to the poor so that they can start small businesses, and the prize went to Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, which he created. After returning to India from the United States to teach at Chittagong University, Yunus had been dismayed by the un-ending cycle of poverty maintained in part by the economic institutions of the country. Since the poor had no way to obtain start up capital for businesses, loan sharking being hardly a feasible way to get off the ground, the poor would always remain poor.

He went to banks and offered to underwrite loans for beggars, but unable to find anyone who would work with him, he created the Grameen ("Village") bank. Although Yunus didn't explicitly make the loans available to women, he did set up conditions that led to almost all of its borrowers being women. The bank requires borrowers to organize themselves in groups of five, and if anyone defaults, the entire group's credit is cut off. They pay their loans in weekly meetings where they also "pledge to boil their water, keep their families small and carry out other good health practices." The loans are usually small, at least to start, sometimes only a few dollars for a cell phone to start a village communications co-op.

None of that sounds like the sort of thing that men would find attractive. We'd much rather go with the myth of the loner, for some very good but not socially supportable reasons. Maybe it's time for us to leave the forest behind and join civilization.

Ernest Lilley
Sr. Editor, SFRevu

More information on the Grameen Bank: Grameen Foundation

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