The West African nation of Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. By one measure, average annual income in Mali is just $392 ― as opposed to $41,890 in the United States (GDP per capita, UNDP’s 2007/2008 Human Development Report). In other words, most of the people live below the international poverty line.
In recent decades, national and international agencies have supported microenterprise development as a way out of the trap of poverty. As a result, many well-managed local credit facilities have arisen in southern Mali. In northern Mali — where villages are widely dispersed, where desert-like conditions prevail, where poverty is even more severe — they have not.
A notable exception is the “Association Dourey-Timbuktu” (DOT). Licensed by the government as a microfinance institution in 2003, the DOT arose from a dynamic partnership between the people of rural Timbuktu and Africare. In 1997, with villagers in more than 30 communities outside the city of Timbuktu, Africare began credit-and-management training, capitalized a revolving credit fund — and eventually made loans. Since then, more than 5,000 people have borrowed funds; their repayment rate has exceeded 92 percent; and with those funds, they have established some 500 greatly needed businesses. Finally, the program enabled the DOT to coalesce into a competent, independent organization: a local credit resource for local people in need.
Said Africare’s representative to Mali during the project years:
“This is the most successful microcredit activity in northern Mali. It has received strong support from government officials and the private sector. The principal reason for this success is the regular participation of community leaders.”