“Selling the free-enterprise system brought down the Berlin Wall,” said Mr. Carter, speaking to Results lobbyists who visited his office last week. “It brought down communism. It turned especially Eastern European countries in the right direction. And we can do the same thing for underdeveloped countries with these microcredit programs.”
Mr. Coats, who grew up in Thailand as the son of missionaries, has done social and political advocacy most of his life. Although he used to volunteer on political campaigns and at rallies aimed at stopping conflict in the developing world, he had a revelation when he joined Results in 1994.
“What I learned is, the biggest … thing I could be working on is hunger,” he said. “And in spite of what you might see on TV about a famine or a war, poverty is the root cause of extreme hunger.”
Mr. Carter did not always push global poverty initiatives, said Mr. Coats, who first met Mr. Carter in 2002 before he won his seat in Congress representing Texas’ 31st district. During that meeting, Mr. Coats explained microfinance to Mr. Carter and described what Congress could do to promote the practice globally. They since have met several times to discuss different programs and USAID budget increases.
“It’s incredible,” Mr. Coats said as he and his two partners, Daniel Rush and Jeff Platzer, left the congressman’s office Tuesday. “This guy’s come so far.”
Nearly every member of Congress likes the concept of microfinance, regardless of how much they know about it or actively support it, said Susy Cheston, the senior vice president for policy with the U.S.-based Opportunity International. “The problem is that it’s not a burning constituent issue, in that it’s not going to make the difference in a member of Congress staying in office or getting elected to office.”
Foreign funding for microfinance programs has the bipartisan appeal of promoting economic development while making a positive social impact on destitute populations, all with an end in sight. “You can create fully sustainable banks throughout the world that will carry on for generations without further investment from the U.S. taxpayer,” said Ms. Cheston, who also heads the Micro Enterprise Coalition, a loose collection of organizations that lobbies Congress on development issues.
She pointed as an example to the Opportunity Bank of Montenegro, a micro- to medium-scale bank that received $11.4 million from USAID over five years before it started turning a profit two years ago. Today, it receives nothing from USAID or other donors.