09/10/2012 12:27 EDT | Updated 11/10/2012 05:12 EST

Don't Teach a Man to Fish, Ask Him What he Needs

Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages
TO GO WITH Myanmar-economy-finance-farm,FOCUS by Shwe Yinn Mar Oo This photo taken on July 18, 2012 shows a Myanmar farmer, a client of a microfinance project worker, minding ducks at a village near the town of Pyapone in the Irrawaddy delta region. Microfinance initiatives -- which provide small, low-cost loans to the poor -- are seen by experts as a way to help alleviate poverty in one of the world's least-developed countries. AFP PHOTO / Soe Than WIN (Photo credit should read Soe Than WIN/AFP/GettyImages)

In the summer of 2002 at our family cottage my husband and I had an eye opening conversation. We met a fascinating -- and exhausted -- man who had just that day returned from Kabul and I asked him what on earth had brought him to Afghanistan in the midst of war. He began to tell me about FINCA microfinance, and how he had been in the marketplace in Kabul looking at whether FINCA's method of providing small loans to groups of poor women so they can start or grow their own small businesses might work in that difficult, different place.

My husband and I were very impressed by his story and decided to look further into the idea of microfinance and FINCA as an organization. With our kids getting older, we'd found that we had a little more time on our hands to really do something that could make an impact in the world. As part of our investigation process, we went to Uganda in 2004 to see the program in action and meet some of the clients, staff and board.

We were enormously taken by FINCA's work and the stories we heard firsthand from women who were clients. The village bank programs were allowing these women to make their way out of poverty by starting small businesses and work hard to feed their families, educate their children and improve their very difficult lives. It was the sustainability of the model that we both responded to the most. It reminded us of the resounding truth in the old saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Except that I saw a problem with that old saying. As I sat looking out over Lake Victoria -- a huge body of fresh water that is terribly contaminated with bacteria due to overfishing -- I realized that probably it's a bad idea to teach people to fish. Probably it's better to ask them how they can solve the problem of feeding their families, then lend them the money to help them implement their own solutions. FINCA empowers the poor and allows them to develop small businesses as they see fit, whether it be weaving, selling produce, woodworking, baking or any other trade. They understand the only way to truly combat poverty is to provide sustainable work -- because without a steady income, things like an education, or proper medical care are not options.

When we returned from Uganda, we suggested to FINCA International that they might do some fundraising in Canada -- that their mission and work might well resonate with Canadians. Since then, my husband and I have worked with FINCA International to launch FINCA Canada by assembling a board of directors and obtaining our charitable donation status to raise the funds that support FINCA.

It took us until 2008 to put everything in place, but since then, with incredible dedication and support from our fellow board member Linda Wolfond, we have proudly raised over $1.6 million to support FINCA programs worldwide, and provide loan capital to impoverished entrepreneurs. As part of FINCA International, we raise funds for programs in 21 countries providing a hand up to close to one million individuals. FINCA treats each donation as an investment in the poor, multiplying its impact and stewarding its growth so that we can reach as many microentrepreneurs with as deep an impact as possible.

You don't have to take a trip to Uganda to help those who need it most. You can "Make a Stand Against Poverty" by participating in our new fundraising campaign. In addition to asking people to open their chequebooks, we're asking them to have a little fundraiser themselves. Whether it's a lemonade stand, or bake sale, a dinner party, a golf tournament or maybe a garage sale -- we want people to think of themselves as fundraisers rather than just donors, and tap into their inner entrepreneur to support FINCA's microentrepreneurs. If there's something that you enjoy doing, perhaps you can do it as a fundraiser for FINCA.

And I can tell you from experience that you don't need to have any special training to raise some money for FINCA. I am a visual artist, I was a school teacher for 23 years and my husband works as an executive in the IT world. We didn't know anything about fundraising. At all. But we did know the desperation of overwhelming poverty in developing countries, where people live on $2 per day. And we have the ability to do something about it.

On the 11th of September, we'll be celebrating FINCA Canada and its remarkable progress at a special event during the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. This will be our fourth annual fundraising event and they are always a blast. If you're at the Toronto Film Festival, I invite you to join us at the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, located at 273 Bloor Street West on September 11, 2012 from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for a cocktail reception. To RSVP, visit the site.