The Turkey branch of Grameen Bank, a microcredit or microfinance organization conceived by Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, has reached out to thousands of women since 2003 and currently supplies loans to 33,000 female entrepreneurs.
Aziz Akgül, head of the Turkish Foundation for Waste Reduction (TİSVA), which oversees the program in Turkey, said they have provided about TL 800 million ($149 million) to female entrepreneurs since 2003 and aim to reach more people next year.
Grameen is focused on helping poor, disadvantaged communities around the world and the program's Turkey branch concentrates on women from low-income families. In the 15 years since it started in the country, it has reached out to more than 180,000 women.
Women's participation in the workforce and a stable employment market are key to sustainable development and the elimination of poverty, the main purpose of Grameen, which was launched in Bangladesh in 1983.
Striving to break male domination in the country's workforce, Turkey has managed to significantly boost its female employment rate to 34.7 percent, a substantial increase compared to figures from more than a decade ago. The Turkish government offers loans up to TL 50,000 to female entrepreneurs seeking to set up their own business.
Grameen operates with 93 branches in 63 provinces of Turkey and the indirect beneficiaries of loans - the immediate families of women who received loans - reached about 700,000 in 15 years. The loans are mostly used by women to set up handicraft businesses since these types of businesses tend to take up less time, allowing them to spend more time with their families. TİSVA says that after handicrafts and similar businesses, women receive loans mostly for setting up shops in various fields of commerce. Some 6.1 percent of the loans were given to entrepreneurs engaged in livestock breeding.
"We handed out TL 150 million in loans last year and it will likely reach TL 200 million by the end of this month. We plan to help more than 3 million impoverished women benefit from microfinance," Akgül said.
Grameen offers unconditional loans to women based on mutual trust. Women can access up to TL 1,000 per year once they sign up for the program and this amount can increase to up to TL 5,000 in subsequent years. Though the loans may be regarded as low, Grameen allows women to create groups of five, with each individual receiving up to TL 1,000, to help them pool their resources and maintain solidarity.