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Teamwork Principles from the Fight Against Poverty

By John C. Maxwell | June 11, 2011
Teamwork Principles from the Fight Against Poverty

While attending a convention in Mexico City, Michaela Walsh was disturbed by the stark reality of economic disadvantage faced by women in many parts of the world. Globally, women worked just as much as men, but earned only 10% of worldwide income, and held less than 1% of the world’s property. Walsh realized that most of the women would continue to live in a cycle of poverty unless someone took initiative to team up with them to open opportunities for financial betterment.

Stirred into action, Walsh set about to create a development bank to offer basic financial services to low-income women. Recognizing she lacked the means to launch an institution of her own, Walsh instead focused on connecting women to the existing financial systems in their communities. A triumph of teamwork, Walsh’s vision became Women’s World Banking (WWB), a global network of organizations dedicated to giving a voice and opportunities to female entrepreneurs living in poverty.

Michaela Walsh exemplifies team leadership. She saw a problem bigger than her resources, envisioned an opportunity to do something about it, and realized her only hope for success was to form a team. Her influence in launching Women’s World Banking illustrates the responsibilities of a responsible team leader.

Responsibility #1 Leaders Seek Out and Remove Barriers to Make the Team’s Job Easier.

The whole premise of WWB involves removing the barriers that exclude women from economic opportunity. The primary obstacle for aspiring female entrepreneurs in poor nations is an absence of startup funds. They have no bank accounts, scarce collateral, and can find no one willing to make them a loan.

The main strategy of Women’s World Banking has been microfinance, an effort to counteract poverty by lending capital to the underprivileged. To date, WWB has made loans to 20 million clients totaling $4.3 billion. Currently, the organization is initiating partnerships with the world’s major banks to infuse even more capital to cash-strapped entrepreneurs in desperate need of funding to start small businesses.

Responsibility #2 Leaders Give People the Freedom to Learn, Grow, and Deliver.

The majority of people in poverty aren’t destitute because they lack talent. They simply never had a chance. They were born as slaves to indigence and given no opportunity to escape.

Through its microfinance initiatives, WWB frees hard-working, resourceful, and creative women to climb out of poverty. Small loans, sometimes as little as $50 or $60, allow a poor woman to purchase a sewing machine, tools, or livestock. Even these meager assets, when coupled with determination and a sense of purpose, can be enough to give a woman and her family a sound financial footing.

Responsibility #3 Leaders Set Crystal Clear Expectations

Every woman receiving WWB financing is clearly informed that by accepting the loan she is now expected to be a model for other woman in her community. Terms of the loan and its repayments are explicit. Expectations for return on investment are apparent to both the lender and the borrower.

Responsibility #4 Leaders Hold People Accountable for Performance.

Women’s World Banking facilitates the personal connection between borrower and lender to encourage accountability. While loan recipients may not feel an urgent need to repay money from an impersonal lender like the government, they feel terrible about failing to pay back a friend. The relational aspect facilitated within WWB’s financing leads to a tremendously low percentage of defaults.

Responsibility #5 Leaders Foster a Culture of Inclusion by Hiring People That Are Different Than They Are

By herself, Michaela Walsh would never be able to learn the language, customs, and local financial systems in order to help female entrepreneurs in Kenya, Bangladesh, or Mongolia. However, by operating with a spirit of partnership, she doesn’t have to be an expert on every nation. Her vision for Women’s World Banking has attracted grassroots organizations in these countries. By welcoming like-minded teammates with varying backgrounds and cultures, Walsh has expanded the influence of WWB into 28 countries.


Five Responsibilities of Good Team Leaders
1) Seek Out and Removes Barriers to Make the Team’s Job Easier
2) Give The Team Freedom to Grow, Learn, and Deliver
3) Set Crystal Clear Expectations
4) Hold People Accountable for Performance
5) Foster a Culture of Inclusion by Hiring People That Are Different Than They Are.

“About Us.” Women’s World Banking. Home Page. 2009. 10 Oct 2009.
Hargrave, Connie. “Women’s World Banking-A Value System of Self-Determination, Interview with Michaela Walsh.” Share International online. Feb 1994. 10 Oct 2009.


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