Labour Party activist and international development and women’s rights campaigner Lee Webster describes an innovative new scheme from Care International supported by the Co-operative Group.

Clemence Akouavi Akpassonou is a 36-year-old hairdresser from Benin, in West Africa. She’s married with 3 three children, and for the past seven years she has been running her own hairdressing salon. With the modest living she makes, she looks after her family, and ensures that her children all attend school.

Clemence has made a success of her business, and wants to expand. By investing in new hairdressing accessories and products, she can build on her client base and increase her income.  To help her do that, I made a small loan through, an innovative scheme launched by CARE International UK and supported by the Co-operative. enables people in the UK to lend small amounts to entrepreneurs running their own business in poor communities.

My £15 loan is added to small loans made by others, until Clemence reaches her loan request target of £630.  She then invests in her business, and pays back the loan.  Every month I get an email telling me that Clemence has made another repayment instalment, and when my loan is fully paid back (and Clemence’s business has expanded), I can take my money back, or re-loan it to another entrepreneur who needs investment.

It’s a brilliant, practical way to make a difference to a family in a poor community, and builds on co-operative values of achieving more through working together.

Visitors to the website – – can view the profiles of entrepreneurs from Togo, Benin, Cambodia, the Philippines or Bosnia and choose which business they’d like to support. They can invest towards the total needed, lending from £15 up to the full amount, and will be able to follow the progress of the entrepreneur’s growing business, to see how their new source of income is helping to improve many aspects of their lives. The loan is repaid to the lender over an agreed repayment schedule (usually a period of six to twelve months).

In the run-up to the festive period, CARE and the Co-operative are encouraging people to give a loan as an ‘alternative’ gift.  You can give a lendwithcare gift voucher that your friend or loved one can choose to loan to one of the hundreds of entrepreneurs requesting support.  It’s a gift that really makes a difference, and is definitely at the top of my Christmas shopping list.

Lee Webster is on Twitter as @leepster