On 22 December 1992, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 47/196, declaring 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Since then, “Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere” became the first Sustainable Development Goal of the 2030 UN Agenda.
“As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said in 2002, “poverty is a denial of human rights” for every individual. Indeed, poverty is utterly appalling. Not only does it lead to a life of daily deprivation, hunger and suffering, but it also prevents the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, which every human being should be able to enjoy without hindrance.” – Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General
In honour of this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we’re introducing you to Lakshwin Murugamoorthy, one of our 2021 Kofi Annan Changemakers. As Chief Operating Officer of Women Of Will (WOW), Lakshwin empowers women with low incomes in Malaysia, working to develop their entrepreneurship skills so they can become leaders in their communities.
Helping single mothers become entrepreneurs
Having spent the past seven years working on community development in urban and rural communities in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Malaysia, Lakshwin now leads Women of Will (WOW), a non-governmental organisation that aims to transform the lives of disadvantaged women in Malaysia, their families and their communities. WOW works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on one in particular: Eradicating poverty (SDG1).
Through a micro-credit financing model combined with an Entrepreneurial Development Programme, Women Of Will aims to equip disadvantaged women in Malaysia with the skills and knowledge to develop and run sustainable businesses. Disadvantaged women are classified as single mothers, widows, abandoned or abused women, and women with incapacitated husbands living in poverty and uncertainty.
WOW provides support for women entrepreneurs who have a low monthly income (USD$600 or less), prioritising the most economically vulnerable: single mothers. WOW chose to focus on single mothers as they have to support both themselves and their families. Single mothers in Malaysia often lack access to resources, preventing them from developing their businesses and reaching their full potential. They also lack support from within their communities (poor infrastructure, no childcare etc.), a situation that the pandemic and multiple lockdowns have exacerbated.
Training women leaders
Through three key elements, training, coaching and providing business capital, WOW’s programme helps women to set up and sustainably grow their businesses. With the support of partners, including the Malaysian Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, the Australian High Commission and other local foundations and corporate organisations, WOW has supported the livelihoods of more than 2000 women in 25 communities.
Women participating in the Women of Will programme are empowered to start their businesses, become financially independent and care for themselves and their families. Their business ventures have been developed to ensure that they continuously grow and remain sustainable and profitable in the long term.
Some women are then trained further to become leaders who can help improve their communities. To do this, WOW identifies the needs in their communities and implements projects addressing them.
“Seeing a person who looked at themselves as a beneficiary now seeing themselves as a leader – this is one of the goals we aim for.” – Lakshwin Murugamoorthy
Scaling up: Transforming communities in Malaysia
By helping women become financially independent and resilient, these women can play a role in their community, contributing to its development. Lakshwin wants to create a framework for sustainable community development that can be replicated across Malaysia.
Through a seed grant provided as part of the Kofi Annan Changemakers initiative, the Kofi Annan Foundation is helping Lakshwin diversify the WOW programme audience to include youth. The lack of youth leadership in low-income communities makes it hard to address young people’s needs. The development and presence of youth leaders will ensure they have a way to communicate their needs and challenges and can seek the necessary support to address them, ensuring that any programmes implemented will be effective and impactful.
It is only through transforming the lives of disadvantaged people that we’ll collectively eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development across all regions for all people.
Find out more and support Lakshwin and Women of Will: https://www.womenofwill.org.my/