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Fighting Poverty At the Grassroots Level

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Casting about for an economic stimulus that doesn't cost a lot of money, the Clinton Administration has hit upon a solution from Bangladesh: micro-lending through programs that lend minimal amounts at low rates to promote grassroots small business growth. "It is a key project for Hillary Clinton, one that she will start promoting around the country next week," reports TIME's Ann Blackman. Speaking before a two-day ômicrocredit summitö designed to convince governments, banks and international organizations to provide $21.6 billion by the year 2005 to make low-interest loans to 100 million families worldwide, Mrs. Clinton announced the U.S. will spend $1 billion over the next five years on community development projects including micro-lending. "This is a big idea with vast potential," she said. "It's an invaluable tool in alleviating poverty, promoting self-sufficiency and stimulating the economy." Examples abound of loans as small as $25 to $50 which made successful enterprises possible, especially in Third World countries. The prime example of microcredit is the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, which started out in 1977 when founder Muhammad Yunus lent $27 to a woman who made furniture. Today, the bank has 2.1 million customers who use loans for small businesses in villages all over the country. The Administration hopes to bring the same success to economically depressed areas in the U.S. Right now, there are 400 such programs in the U.S., reaching more than 40,000 families a year. With repayment rates at 95 percent, Administration officials say the program is one reliable way to revitalize neighborhoods in desperate need of credit.