Kashf is the brainchild of Roshaneh Zafar, a Pakistani woman who sounds more like a banker than an aid worker. Roshaneh grew up in a wealthy, emancipated family of intellectuals who allowed her to study at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and later earn her MA in development economics at Yale. Many of Roshaneh's friends in Pakistan and at Wharton wanted to get rich, but she wanted to save the world, and so she joined the World Bank.
"I didn't want to create wealth for people who were already wealthy," Roshaneh said. "I thought I would go to the World Bank and make a difference. But it was like screaming against the wind. Everywhere we went, we would tell people to use better hygiene. And they would say: 'You think we're stupid? If we had money, we would.' I wondered what we were doing wrong. We had megamillion-dollar projects, but the money never got down to the villages."
Then Roshaneh happened to find herself seated at a dinner next to Muhammad Yunus, the ebullient Bangladeshi professor who much later won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microfinance. Yunus wasn't famous then, but he was attracting interest in development circles for starting Grameen Bank, which championed loans for poor women. Roshaneh had heard stories of Yunus's success and quizzed him over dinner. He talked animatedly about Grameen's work, and it was exactly the kind of pragmatic grassroots effort that she yearned to join. So Roshaneh took a leap of faith: She quit her job at the World Bank and wrote a letter to Yunus telling him that she wanted to become a microfinancier. He promptly sent her an air ticket to Bangladesh. Roshaneh spent ten weeks there, studying the work of Grameen. Then she returned to Lahore and set up the Kashf Foundation that helped Saima.
Kashf means "miracle," and at first it seemed a miracle would be needed to make it work. Pakistanis told Roshaneh that microfinance was impossible in a conservative Muslim country like Pakistan, that women would never be allowed to borrow. In the summer of 1996, she started combing poor neighborhoods, looking for clients. Roshaneh discovered, to her horror, that women were reluctant to take money. "We went from door to door, attempting to convince women to start a credit relationship with us," she recalled. Finally, Roshaneh found fifteen women willing to borrow and handed out 4,000 rupees ($65) to each of them.
Excerpted from Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Copyright © 2009 by Nicholas D. Kristof. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.