“Go see con otros ojos.” That’s what the small, Spanglish voice inside our good friend Maggie Miller’s head told her to do; go see with other eyes. In 2004, Maggie heeded the small voice’s advice, paying off all of her bills and giving away her possessions so she could escape the boundaries of the United States and see herself from a different perspective. Maggie’s new life brought her to Cajamarca, Peru where the seeds for her non-profit, DiscoverHope, were sown. DiscoverHope now provides microcredit and development education to impoverished woman so that they can take charge of their own lives and break the cycle of poverty. By providing microloans of around $150 to these woman and educating them based on their specific needs, DiscoverHope has provided over 1200 loans with a 100% payback success rate. Impressed? Trust us, you should be! We sat down with Maggie for a little Q&A, so prepare to be inspired by the amazing story of her pursuit for change!
Consuela: So how did you first become interested in the concept of Microcredit?
Maggie Miller: Well, what I did when I first got to Peru was play off my own strengths which turned out to be connecting with people. So, I would just talk with the woman and more importantly, listen. I would ask the question, “What do you want? What do you need?” They all had the same answer: opportunity. They wanted to initiate opportunity so that they could meet the basic needs of their families and then if they had enough after that, they wanted to have their kids educated. I began studying concepts of microcredit and took a fellowship in Guatemala with a large-scale Microfinance organization to see how to best answer these women’s questions. I took best practice principles from what I was learning and applied those towards building the foundation for our program.
MM: I would say 100% repayment rate is pretty rare, but very high repayment rate globally is not rare with Microfinance. I believe the repayment rate globally is about 96% and where that comes from is the notion of village banking. Women borrow together as groups and democratize the group based on their own rules and form their own leadership structure. In these developing countries, community is everything so that creates accountability amongst everyone involved and is a huge reason for such a high success rate. For DiscoverHope specifically, we do a lot of training and even have a training center, the Hope House (or Casa de Esperanza). The togetherness that we see at the Hope House and in these communities is what makes people really apt to repay successfully.
C: With such success, do you see Discover Hope expanding to other regions outside of just Peru?
M: I think what I’ve learned throughout this whole process is that the greatest gift that we can give would be to see this program through to fruition and be able write up the model for how to successfully do international development from the roots up by considering the strengths and resourcefulness of the people being helped. That way, we can really actualize that model and give it back to the larger community of Microfinance and the world.
C: Throughout the growth of such a successful program, is there any one success story that has really stuck out to you?
MM: You know, it’s not just one success story in particular. It’s really the versatility and courage-based decision making that I see in all of these woman that’s so amazing. It takes a lot of strength to say, “I make $1 a day but I’m going to take $100 and a chance that I have the courage and the know how and the power to build a business for myself and my kids.” I’m blown away by what they teach me.
C: Absolutely. So what is something you’ve learned in particular from these women?
MM: I remember this one time, I was sitting around a fire with this community of woman where they were cooking for one another and talking about what it means to be strong women and mothers. They asked me to tell them about the American dream, which was something that they wanted to achieve. There was this continuum of emotions that came with that question between sadness and total gratitude. There is this part of me that is so grateful to have all the opportunities I have and then the part of me that gets sad when I think that we (Americans) work so much to get things that we don’t even have time to use because we’re working so hard to buy the things that we don’t have time to use. So I just looked at them all and told them the true dream that I really saw was in them; their sense of community, their sense of family, and their willingness to stop and be totally and completely present for one another at anytime. I thought that was unbelievably profound of them.
C: That’s consistent with the notion Consuela promotes about the balance between enjoying what you have and giving back what you can. We certainly know how much you give back to others, but what is something you like to do just for yourself?
M: Well I’m a huge Consuela collector. I have like 30 bags! No, but what I honestly love doing is giving back and helping people find how much they can move between living and giving. The circle of abundance is such that I live with complete and utter joy as a result of what I do for a living and in turn, I get to give that back out to others. I have a notion I call “Givmob,” so whenever I feel like I’m starting a new circle of abundance, I like to go out and start giving things like blankets, food, leftovers, and supplies to people, particularly those in hardship. I inevitably get back from that in ways I could never imagine! But I’m also a huge traveler and I love red wine and chocolate. Red wine, chocolate, giving, travel and family, those are my favorite things!
C: That’s a pretty fantastic list! So what would you say to someone out there that feels similarly compelled to enact some sort of change for good but doesn’t know where to start?
MM: I would say to believe in what you’re doing. Changing the world is possible, for all of us. It’s like the Ghandi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you wake up and decide that you without a doubt are going to give your greatest strengths to the world today, and start sharing that goal with others, people are magnetically drawn to the joy and happiness they see from your passion and will want to see your goal succeed. There’s this chain reaction around people to take an idea, and make it a possibility. With the power of people, no dream is too big. Live your idea and make it happen!
Inspiring right!? If you would like to meet the magnificent Maggie in person, then RSVP and come out to our in-store Happy Hour Wednesday, Nov. 6th from 5-7pm. 30% of all sales at the event will go towards DiscoverHope. To read more about the awesome work DiscoverHope is doing, you can visit their website here!