contrast of worlds between the Arizona Sonora region and Eastern Africa!
I've never experienced nor seen such extreme poverty. Equally devastating was to meet with
women and hear their stories of sexual and physical violence in these civil war torn countries.
I've been traveling for a week on a CARE learning tour with Congresswoman Sinema and staff
of other members of Congress. CARE is a humanitarian organization that studies and helps to
prevent maternal deaths, food insecurity and sexual violence.
Many of the women survivors have reestablished their lives and become economically self
sufficient by starting small businesses such as growing vegetables and trading for other items.
An important program for many communities in Africa is the Village Savings and Loan program
which provides a structure where women can pay into a fund weekly to be borrowed against to
grow a business. There are similar programs in India (Grameen Bank) and in Mexico.
I've continuously made comparisons between Eastern Africa and the Arizona- Sonora region.
Obviously, the challenges faced in Africa related to poverty, malnutrition and violence are in
extreme proportions in comparison to Arizona and Sonora. However, in countries where people
face survival challenges, there are several programs we can learn from. Top of mind for me was
the ongoing challenge to small business lending we face in America - especially for those
operating along the Mexican border.
During my trip with CARE, I had the opportunity to meet with the former Minister of Trade and
Finance who currently is the Deputy Director of the Rwanda National Bank (like our Federal
Reserve). Their economy is fueled by key stable industries, such as coffee but is also
experiencing an incredible 7% growth similar to China. She spoke to me about the opportunity
that micro lending has created and the growth of entrepreneurs. Just imagine what a strong
micro and small business lending platform could do for our region of the world!
As the President of the Hispanic Chamber, I continue to advocate for small business lending
options and support for such programs to our elected officials. Our chamber is working to
identify alternative lenders when the national and community banks and credit unions are not an
option. In addition, we have employed a Business Lending specialist on our chamber staff to
work directly with our business community.
A key takeaway from my trip to Africa is that with the incredible assets in America - a solution to
battling poverty and improving our economic situation in Arizona is obtainable and that we
should look to the best practices in other countries.
Many are aware that the fastest growing business sector in the U.S. are Latina-owned
businesses. I’ve also heard there is renewed interest in women entrepreneurs in Sonora. In
Africa, we spoke of the less than second class citizenship of most women and the challenges they are facing. This experience has encouraged me to focus on our own Latina women
empowerment programs to grow our self confidence and our self sustainability. Our upcoming
Head over Heels: Women's Business Conference on March 18th would be unfathomable in
Africa where most women are illiterate and not educated. However, we have the opportunity to
provide business education to scale up and grow our businesses.
We spoke often during the trip about women as the pillar of the family and society. For this
reason, agencies like CARE have focused on enabling education for women in the villages.
Ultimately, the lives of these women and the villages they live in have dramatically improved
due to the development of micro businesses. It's time for the Arizona Sonora region to do the
To view Lea’s photo from Africa, visit www.facebook.com/leamarquezpeterson. To learn more
about the THCC, visit www.TucsonHispanicChamber.org or CARE at www.care.org.