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April 8, 2016

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HOPE ON THE AGENDA Manchester alumna Beverly Ott works to fight poverty in Togo, Africa. Photo courtesy of MU Facebook.

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Caitlin Doyle

Manchester alumna Bev Ott, together with Olivier Hauville knows that there is hope for those that live in poverty. And that was the message of their Beulah Book lecture sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages on March 30.

Ott and Hauville combat poverty through the Exchange Organization for the Promotion of Petite Entrepreneurs (ECHOPPE). The acronym is also French for a “small shop” or “store,” which is symbolic of the work that the organization does. It helps many women start their own businesses and develop skills to better their lives. ECHOPPE has helped thousands of women since it was started 26 years ago. The organization is currently working in Togo, Africa, where it has been giving small loans and social services for the real-needs poverty. The organization’s employees look at the entire situation of poverty from the farmers to the poor in urban areas. The link between farmers and urban people is forged as an outlet to increase the livelihoods of both. “Poverty does not have to exist,” Ott said. “Hope is on the agenda.”

During Ott’s talk, she told a story about a hummingbird. She noted how it is such a small creature in the world and when compared to an elephant or even a dog, it seems like the hummingbird is not capable of much. But one day, in this story, the forest that all these creatures live in is engulfed on flames. As all the other creatures are running away and trying to escape, the hummingbird does not. Instead, the hummingbird scoops up a mouthful of water and takes it back to try and douse the flames. The other animals are confused, saying that it will not make a difference, but the hummingbird replies, “At least I will have done my part.”

These words express ESHOPPE’s perspective: it may not be globally renowned or a huge unit of change but it is working toward bettering the world. For ESHOPPE, poverty is a reality that can be overcome, and its employees bring that message to thousands every year.

When ECHOPPE was founded it gave out 10 loans (worth $2,000) and now it lends more than $2 million in loans to approximately 60,000 women annually. These figures show only one side of how beneficial the organization has been to those in poverty. The other side is the effect it is having on their culture. “The success needs to be measured, and it should be measured, more in looking at the lives of the people and the power that those women are able to have amongst themselves today,” Ott said. They are now becoming self-supporting and knowledgeable of their rights with help from ECHOPPE.

In the future, the organization hopes to be a model to others for a new concept of economic action--“a paradigm mix of society and economy,” as Hauville phrased it. Since the organization works to treat the base causes of poverty at all levels, it has taught leadership skills to the individuals that they have helped in order to support their lifestyle shift. It is more than just giving people money to start a business; these individuals are being taught how to be successful entrepreneurs. 

If students would like to help or get involved with Ott and Hauvillle, then they can email Ott at echoppe@wanadoo.fr and seek more information at echoppe.org.