Trickle Up in China

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Huang Jiafeng, a woman in the village of Wanjiaba in China's Yunnan Province, lives with her family to five who farm for a living. For years, they were very poor, and they were barely able to meet their food and clothing needs. However, in 1989 they received a small conditional grant from a nonprofit organization known as the Trickle Up Program. With this aid, Jiafeg started a business growing mushrooms. As a result, her family's income doubled over the next four years.

The women's conference in Beijing recently put a spotlight on women in China. Although in many laws women are considered equal to men, in actual practice a significant gap exists. Another problem in China, of course, is widespread poverty. The unique success of the Trickle Up program has afforded women like Huang Jiafeng, new status in their families and villages.

The organization, based in New York City, was started 17 years ago by Glen and Mildred Robbins Leet. Over the years, they developed a process where groups of three or more people receive $100 conditional grants to start or expand a business. To receive the first $50 check, recipients must complete a special form which helps them plan their business. They must also pledge to reinvest at least 20% of their profits in the enterprise and to work a minimum of 1000 hours meet over the next three months. If the group meets these conditions after the first three months, they then receive the second $50 check. Trickle Up has no over-seas staff; instead, it works through coordinating agencies, partner organizations who volunteer their time.

Trickle Up in China began in 1986, when the Chinese Ministry of Economic Cooperation was intrigued by the program's ability to stimulate household production through private enterprise. Since then, Trickle Up has helped 3,711 Chines - about half of which are women - to start or expand 786 businesses, mostly in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces.

Of special interest are the mushroom-growing businesses, twenty of which were started in 1989 with the help of the All-China Women's Federation in Wanjiaba Village in Chuxiong, Yunnan. Mushroom-growing is an ideal business for women because it can be easily managed at home, and the work involved can be done while watching children. all twenty of the mushroom-growing groups were headed by women, and they were all very successful. Their success inspired other families in the village to start mushroom production as well, and within five years 53 families were involved. The village works together cooperatively, and many families get together cooperatively, and many families get together to help each other in production. Families take turns going to Chuxiong City to sell the mushrooms so as not to compete with each other. Since 1994, mushroom-growing has become less lucrative because the selling price has gone down. However, many families have used the profits from their mushroom-growing to get involved in other businesses, such as peddling vegetables, livestock disease prevention, raising fish, and taxi service.

In 1994, Mr. Stephen Young Clark University conducted an evaluation of Tickle Up in China. He reported from conversations with local women that they had gained much self-confidence as a result of making decisions with their businesses. They were more active in the business affairs and social events in the village. Village meetings now consisted mainly of women, where before it was mostly men who had shown up. In fact, officials who visited the houses now often asked for the woman of the house, not the man.

Programs, exist in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R., in addition to a pilot initiative in the United States. Trickle Up has helped to start or expand over 53,000 business in 113 countries. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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