View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 30, 1997
                       REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY 

The East Room

MRS. CLINTON: Thank you. Please be seated, and welcome to the White House. I am delighted to have all of you here today for a wonderful occasion -- the inaugural presentation of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Microenterprise Development. Each of our awardees represents the promise of microlending and microenterprise and human empowerment and economic opportunity in our country.

All of you are distinguished guests, but I want to thank, especially, Senator Kennedy and Congressman Davis for being here with us. I want to thank Administrator Brian Atwood of USAID, Small Business Administrator Phil Lader; and from the Treasury Department, Kirsten Moy, the Director of the CDFI, the Community Development Fund. We are delighted that this day has come.

Around the world and here at home, many of us have seen firsthand the power of microcredit to transform the lives of individual loan recipients, their families and their communities. I have seen how very modest loans are enabling men and women to lift their families out of poverty, make their neighborhoods better places to live, and strengthen their country's economies. I've met with women in some of the most remote parts of India and some of the poorest barrios in South America, in places that have weathered civil wars and earthquakes, and I have listened as they have told me how their lives were changed from destitution to inspiration because a community bank had given them the opportunity to start a small business, perhaps sewing clothes or selling auto parts or baking bread and pastries or weaving mosquito netting.

I wish all of you could have been with me as members of a microlending network in Santiago, Chile told me their stories. I met a seamstress who told me that for years, she could barely make a living and compete with the large clothing factories in the city. She said, I felt like I had all this potential and energy, but I was a bird in a cage. But buying a high-speed sewing machine with a small loan from a village community bank made her feel like a caged bird set free. There are many, many people like her throughout our country and the world.

Microcredit and microenterprise can help communities thrive. And as we will see from the stories of today's award recipients, they are already seeing a difference in the lives of many people here at home. Too many citizens across our own country -- people who work hard, who have little or no collateral who wish to secure a loan to start a business, know that it is but a distant dream today. As one woman at Mi Casa, a micro-lending project in Denver, told me, too many great ideas die in the parking lots of banks.

Well, we hope these awards will help to change that -- not only because of the projects represented here but because of the inspiration we hope this will give to many in the private financial marketplace to reconsider what collateral might mean, what credit could mean, and to give economic opportunity where there is none.

These awards represent one of the commitments our country made at the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, to encourage local governments, businesses, and citizens to support micro-lending.

These micro-lending networks and the small businesses they create can be important tools in our efforts to move Americans off welfare and to give working but poor Americans more of a chance to realize their own potential. The loans represent not only an infusion of cash into a business but also an infusion of confidence in a recipient's ability to succeed. Whether it is a beauty salon in Albuquerque or a child care center in San Diego or a small restaurant right here in the District of Columbia, small neighborhood businesses created with micro-loans can bring much-needed jobs, goods, services, and opportunities to low-income areas. They are already showing that they can help reclaim our cities and destitute rural areas from decay and decline.

So I want to thank all of the awardees for their vision, their compassion, their pioneering efforts, their hard-headed business and entrepreneurial sense, and to know that they will continue and many others will follow with these efforts.

I am also pleased that one of the partners and leaders in this effort here in the administration is someone who understands fully what it means to unleash the economic and human potential of our citizens, and who has worked very hard every day for the last four years to do just that. I'm pleased to introduce the Secretary of the Treasury, Bob Rubin. (Applause.)

SECRETARY RUBIN: Thank you very much. Let me say that it is really a great pleasure to join the President and the First Lady in honoring these first recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Microenterprise Development. The people who are gathered here are turning the President's vision into a reality.

The President has long advocated addressing the problems of depressed areas in America with greater access to capital and has recognized that that access to capital is a critical step in helping bring the residents of the inner cities and rural depressed areas into the economic mainstream.

When then-Governor Clinton was running for election in 1992, he talked about establishing a network of community development banks across the country, and after he was elected one of the first things he did was to begin to implement that vision. As a consequence, legislation was enacted. Pursuant to that legislation, the Treasury has put into place a Community Development Fund that is run by Kirsten Moy.

The First Lady's experiences and her visits abroad have enormously energized this effort, particularly in causing us to focus on microenterprise activity, microenterprise lending. Last spring, the First Lady and I had the opportunity to launch the effort that has led to the awards being granted today. Today, we have seven awardees who have gone through a rigorous two-stage process involving review by a national panel of recognized experts. Microenterprise is a relatively new and emerging activity in this country. But in my opinion, it is a very, very big idea.

All of these recipients are refining their strategies. The best practices that we recognize here today provide important lessons for others involved in similar activity around the country. In a few years, I have no doubt that the programs that will then be engaged in by microenterprise lenders will be different than they are today, but they will build on the work of the people that we are honoring today.

Finally, let me say that I deeply believe that if our economy is going to reach the potential for all of us that it can reach, then we must address the problems of our depressed areas, inner cities, and in rural America. That is only by bringing all Americans into the economic mainstream that we can reach that potential.

So for all of us, no matter what our incomes or where we may live, programs like the kinds of programs that we're recognizing today are of vital importance. Thank you.