Outside of Wales few people know of Karen Davies but in South Wales, she does what Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank do in Bangladesh. Through her not-for-profit microfinance social enterprise, “Purple Shoots”, which she established in 2013, Karen provides small loans to help people set up businesses in the disadvantaged communities of South Wales.
At one time, the South Wales Coalfield was the largest coalfield in the UK and one of the largest in the world. At its peak, in 1913, it produced 57 million tons of mainly steam coal and employed 232,000 miners. By 1984, however, the mining of coal in the UK was no longer profitable and the National Coal Board had started its mass pits closure programme. While this meant no more deaths from mining accidents, pneumoconiosis or tragic mining disasters, such as the 1966 Aberfan catastrophe, when 144 people were killed including 116 children, it also meant chronic unemployment and poverty, particularly in the valleys of South Wales. Although the inward investment strategies of the now-defunct Welsh Development Agency did much to strengthen the economy of South Wales, they did little to ameliorate the conditions in the former mining communities. Hence, when Karen and her husband moved to South Wales in 1989, she saw the deprivation in the Welsh Valleys and could not believe the inequality she found.
As a Christian, her “passion and drive was to do something about the disadvantaged and social injustice” she saw around her. So, eventually, she decided she had to do something bold that would allow people to take ownership/responsibility and sort out their problems their way. Accordingly, she established “Purple Shoots” as a charity in St Catherine’s Church in the South Wales town of Pontypridd. It aims to help people work their way out of poverty by awarding small, low-interest loans, that just cover costs, to the most disadvantaged people who want to start their own business – the unemployed, those who have been unwell, and those unable to secure funding elsewhere. The loans, usually of no more than £3000, have to be repaid over a period of 12-36 months and are only granted once “Purple Shoots” has satisfied itself that the business will be feasible and will provide the applicant with sufficient income to be able to repay the loan and live. To date 500 businesses have been started with loans totaling £1.5 million, giving the borrowers a pathway out of poverty and contributing, for every £1 loaned, an average of £3-4 net gain in tax to HM Treasury, as well as impacting the local economy by 10 times the amount loaned (i.e £15 million).
Apart from providing micro-finance loans, the charity encourages the creation of self-reliant groups of 4-10 people from similar backgrounds. The groups, which choose their own focus, meet regularly, save together and try out new ideas for generating income, giving their members’ network support, confidence, and skills. While the groups manage themselves, “Purple Shoots” offers advice and support when needed and has partnered with similar organisations in Leeds, Manchester, and Scotland, the intention being to create an extensive support network that gives its members the power not just to change their lives but to transform their communities.
Although “Purple Shoots” does not break even and relies on benefactions and donations, the micro-enterprises it helps generate employment and income not just for their founders but those they employ. By believing in people and helping build their capacity, independence, and confidence, some 700 new jobs have been created by people who, in the main, had previously relied upon state support for their survival. In so doing, “Purple Shoots” is committed to sustainability and the UN’s 17 SDGs, particularly SDGs 1 (No poverty), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).
Additionally, it passes the Harmonious Entrepreneurship PROSPER test of being Professionally based, Spiritually and ethically inspired, Physically/materially concerned, Emotionally rooted, and Rationally and intellectually based.
Not only is Purple Shoots a Social Enterprise transforming impoverished communities, but it is a Humane Enterprise empowering the most disadvantaged people in society and it is an economic enterprise creating both wealth and jobs. It empowers people to solve problems locally but has the ability to be scaled up, as do those micro-finance projects traditionally found in the developing economies and envisaged originally by Professor Yunus.
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