Coronado Man Finds Satisfaction In Helping Others - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: News

Coronado Man Finds Satisfaction In Helping Others

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Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2003 12:00 am

Marshall Saunders, a long time Coronadan, retired as an active practicing real estate broker in 1991 and since then he says he's been "having the time of my life!"

Like many retirees, Saunders took up a new pastime, but unlike some his interest was not a new hobby or recreation. No, he decided to help save the "poorest of the poor" around the world.

Prior to retirement, Saunders had been a broker since 1968 in the San Diego area. Previously, he had been a zone manager for Shell Oil Co.

"That's where I found out I was a good salesman," he said. He first came to San Diego while in the Navy.

He met a girl, Pam Spence in Coronado, and they were wed. Pretty soon they had two children, son Britton and daughter Lucy, and a mortgage, Saunders said.

In the late '80s, a friend gave him a newsletter on international microfinance and told him he thought it might be of interest to him.

"I put it in my briefcase and carried it around. A month or two later, I was cleaning it out and thought, 'well, I'll read this before I throw it away. Holy socks, I thought. This was the best idea I'd ever heard of'."

What appealed to him most about the concept was that it was "building community, giving people dignity and standing in the process."

"I began to give my life to it little by little."

About the same time, 1988, he attended a "Landmark Forum" seminar.

"It was like I woke up," he recalled. "I wanted to make as much of a difference and contribute as much in my life as I possibly could."

Saunders was soon on the board of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, where he served for 4 years. During that time, he raised $750,000 for the organization, a network of microcredit lenders in 16 countries with 250,000 borrowers.

"I took a special interest in Honduras, Nicaragua and Ecuador," Saunders said.

As a college student at the University of Texas, where he graduated in 1961, he studied the economic development of Latin America.

"It's finally paying off," Saunders noted.

He raised funds primarily through contacts with service clubs for the first 3 years.

"I talked to a lot of clubs in a lot of different places," Saunders said. Especially the Rotary clubs in the San Diego area have been "very generous.'

"This club here [Coronado] has funded nine village banks," he said, which amounts to about 300 loans, mostly in Honduras.

"They're a really generous group of guys and gals," he said of the Rotarians.

Microbanks lend money solely to women based upon their lack of capital but willingness to work for themselves. The loans are made to women primarily because, "they pay the money back," Saunders said. "And the money flows to the children."

Criteria for getting a loan are "the opposite of commercial bank," Saunders said.

"If they have an asset they get a minus 10 points. If they have a leaky roof, it's a plus 5 points."

During a recent monthly visit to the Grameen Bank de la Frontera, in Mexico, Saunders, who is a co-founder with Ed Law, called on one woman who wished to become a borrower. Saunders stuck his head into the open window of the family house (there was no glass) and noted he could see right through the roof; it was only tarpaper.

"Most people when they get a little money will put a proper roof over their heads," Saunders noted. Needless to say, the woman got the loan.

Women who borrow the money use it for small self-sufficient businesses. For example in Mexico, a woman my buy rice and bens and divide it into smaller bags to resell from her home.

"If she can only afford $5 or $10, she must spend a day and a half going back and forth for the product," Saunders said. "She's spending too much time traveling."

"If she has a $100 loan, she doesn't have to go back for a week."

"That first loan pays back big dividends for her," Saunders said. "That first capital is the most valuable."

Other women may bake bread or tortillas, sell cooking oil, sell clothing or shoes door to door, make sausages or raise goats.

Gloria Rabago, the woman with the tarpaper roof, used her first $100 to fix a broken sewing machine. With the money she not only fixed the machine, but she also bought cloth, thread, buttons and other items she needed to make dresses. She paid off her first loan in 6 months. With her second loan of $200 she bought a new treadle machine (even though the area has electricity it is less than dependable). Then she got sick and couldn't make the payments for awhile, but her husband helped her after all.

Saunders asked her if she would share her story at the next meeting.

" 'I can talk to the whole world now,' she told me," Saunders said. She also told him the prior to the bank, people around her were distant. She told him that now there was more 'living togther' and when someone is sick "we worry for her and do things her." Saunders then asked if he could tell other people about her. " 'I'm already famous, people know I can make dresses'," Saunder said she replied.

The way a village bank is established is that one woman in a community will be identified and asked if she has four friends who she thinks will pay back the loan and work. New clients are trained for an hour per day for one week. Six groups of five women make up a banking center and 70 centers comprise a branch, or about 2,100 women borrowers. Currently the Grameen de la Frontera has 1,300 women and hopes to have 2,207 at the end of December 2004. The bank began with 864 borrowers this past January, Saunders said.

"They're really thrilled with the opportunity for self sufficiency," he noted. This past month, the bank practically met its operating expenses by 97 percent. So far, year to date, the rate is 53.4 percent, Saunders said. The more the bank expands, the more it increases its portfolio.

"On the operations side, we're getting close to self-sufficiency," Saunders said. "By next year we should be covering all the operating costs with interest."

Once misunderstanding by many is the amount of interest charged for borrowing, 20 percent. Saunders explained that for a woman in India who borrows $30 and repays it in a year that represents $6 in interest collected. But each loan is serviced indivdually, an bank offiicer may travel by bus over 45 minutes at least 25 times to collect that $6 in interest per year, he said.

"The reaction I get is always 'Wow'," Saunders said, because "Most people relate that to what they pay in interest on a huge mortagage."

"This is a completely different animal," he said.

Currently Grameen de la Frontera has 10 employees including two accountants, and the branch manager of the bank and six area managers who go out every day visiting their clientele. There are 51 centers where they regularly make loan collections. All the borrowers meet together every 2 weeks. They sit with their groups. Group leaders keep all the payments and pay books. Each clients is also required to save 12 pesos every 2 weeks. They can borrow against their savings in times of emergency.

The bank is more than just a financial institution though, Saunders said. It has a nurse who gives instruction at the biweekly meetings about subjects such as nutrition, tetanus and water sanitation among others.

Even those who become successful are never turned out of the system.

"We have one lady who has borrowed up to $700," Saunders said.

This is one bank that doesn't need to advetise, word of mouth is enough. Soon women from another community down the road asked to participate.

Saunders also serves on the Grameen Foundation USA's development committee. Again, his main focus is on raising and providing funds for 50 other Grameen banks in South America.

At a recent Inernational Microcredit Summit Campaign, it was reported there are 2,572 microcredit institutions with 67 million borowers around the world of which 41.6 milion are the "poorest of the poor," Saunders said. The goal is to reach 100,000 million clients by 2005.

"And we're on target," Saunders said. "It's such great news."

Saunders also served on the board of Cash Poor, a group that supported the Grameen banks of Southeast Asia by putting down chunks of $25,000 to $50,000 after which the Indian National Bank would then lend up to 10 times the amount for small businesses. Saunders raise and put up about $250,000 to finance this effort.

In 1994, one of his fellow FINCA board members suggested they attend a Results, International board meeting. Saunders said he was not keen on the idea initially. His reluctance was instantly dissipated.

"There were about 300 Results partners [volunteer lobbiests] and seated on the podium were four men in dark suits and ties," Saunders recalled. "Three of them were World Bank managers and the founder of Results, Sam Daly Harris."

What impressed him most was the demeanor of the Results partners.

"They were extremely polite and appreciative of who these men were yet they seemed to disagree with everything the World Bank was doing," Saunders recalled. "And they were well informed."

When it was over and the World Bank managers got up to go, all 300 stood up together and gave them a standing ovation.

"I'd never heard that before," Saunders said. "I knew right then I wanted to be one of them."

Results is a non-partisan grassroots lobby that lobbies government, the US congress, the World Bank and the media for the expenditure of foreign aid for the "poorest of the poor." Results believes it is technically possible to end world hunger, what is lacking is the political will.

Now the San Diego County Group leader, Saunders said the work takes persistance. He said recently he approached the editor of a large city daily several times with a request for coverage on a bill for financing world AIDS programs. Eventually, an editorial was written in support and lobbing by the 500 plus Results partners, along with others resulted in the amount for AIDS expenditures set by congress to $550 million, more than the $220 proposed by the President.

"We conservatively give ourselves 10 percent of the credit," Saunders quipped.

Saunders says there is no difference between his avocation and his recreation.

"I'm having the time of my life and loving it," he reiterated.

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