Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Natalie Portman: microcredit spokesperson

Actress Natalie Portman works as an Ambassador for FINCA International, a microcredit program. Portman's role as ambassador as taken her to poverty stricken nations where FINCA makes loans. She was also the star of a documentary produced by FINCA that shows some of the success stories of their loans.

From MSNBC, Elizabeth Chang asked Portman about her work for the microcredit cause.

Question: Can you tell me about FINCA International and the Village Banking Campaign?

Portman: FINCA International provides microloans, small loans, to primarily women in developing countries to start their own businesses. It has an incredible effect on all aspects of their lives, obviously economically, but it also improves their children’s education, nutrition and health care … their shelter, and their general sense of pride and agency in themselves. The campaign is seeking to reach more and more individuals and trying to go into more remote places where you can reach really the poorest of the poor.

Q: Please describe your role as the "Ambassador of Hope" for FINCA International and co-chair of the Village Banking Campaign.

Portman: My role is primarily one as a communicator. The people who are really doing the work are the ones on the ground and the women themselves who are working so hard to create their own businesses. My job really, within the organization, is to communicate it to the public and help fundraise, occasionally talk to politicians about helping finance our programs and also how to improve them.

Q: How did you learn about microfinancing and what attracted you to the idea?

Portman: I originally got into the whole world of microfinance because I was looking into things I could do that would affect the Middle East, because I am from Israel originally. When I was looking into it, I had the great opportunity to meet Queen Rania of Jordan who is also the most, probably, high-profile Palestinian woman in the world right now, and she was the one who guided me into microfinance. She said microfinance is a way to even out the hope gap, which is what exists between the poor and the rich; this is a way to improve the status of so many people who are suffering and that’s what leads them to … that kind of despair. So, if we want to create a sort of social equilibrium, we have to create an economic equilibrium first.

Q: How can microloaning improve the lives of women, who make up a large percentage of the world’s poor?

Portman: You are very correct in saying that women and children make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, and microfinance is an incredible way to give women the tools and the access themselves to change their own destinies. That is exactly the best thing you can do, because you’re empowering women at the same time you are helping them. They really feel that they’re in control of their own futures. They don’t have to wait for someone to help them; they can create their own business, and send their children to school as opposed to having to have them work at home. The kids get better health care, they eat better, and you just see sort of all the side effects of poverty really improved by this one sort of assistance.

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