Dana Dakin is the founder of WomenTrust Inc., a community-based microlending program in the village of Pokuase outside of Ghana’s capital city in West Africa. Dakin launched WomensTrust to help stimulate entrepreneurship and economic development. She fostered relationships with women clients to address the root cause of poverty in the area. The company started a scholarship program to keep girls in school. Dakin also sought to improve the maternal mortality rate in the region by integrating volunteer nurses into healthcare clinics.
Dakin believes that life is lived in thirds; first you learn, then earn, then return. She adhered to this belief by leaving a successful career in investment marketing at age 60 in 2003 to set up WomensTrust in Ghana; a country she studied as an undergraduate. Today, the 501c(3) organization with NGO status in Ghana is thriving, with more than 1000 women in the loan program and repayment rates typically more than 90 percent.
Dakin was a Purpose Prize Fellow in 2008. She graduated from Scripps College with a Bachelor’s in international relations. Her senior honors thesis was on Pan-Africanism.
Dana Dakin: I wanted to have a career where I could – there were no limits. I was very lucky to end up in the investment business, at quite an entrepreneurial time, and started my own business as a marketing consultant. It was necessary to do market research. To go out and ask others about my client and in one conversation, I talked to a gentleman named John English. He was the head of the Ford Foundation Endowment. He said, “I’m retiring, because I believe life is in thirds. The first third you learn, the second third you earn, and the last third you return.” It shot me right into the heart. I mean, it was like Cupid sending an arrow. So I tucked that away, and it became a very important structure – a conceptual structure for moving ahead with my life. So, I moved to New Hampshire. Desired to get away from the competitive push of my career and settle in a place, where there was a sense of place, and slow down in order to get ready and honor the return phase of my life.
I had an example of a woman, who had gone to Nepal, when she was 60. She saw the poverty in Nepal and started on that trip to partner, and came back and started a daycare center for the street sweepers. The women she observed sweeping the streets at 4:00 and 5:00 am, using chemicals, with children and babies on their back. And that’s where she started. I had her as an example.
And one morning, I woke up with the whole idea. You’re going to go to Africa, find a village, and start a microlending program. Microlending appealed, because I had been a woman entrepreneur, and microlending is almost 98% about helping women be successful entrepreneurs. In a developing economy, the women almost always work, and they work in what’s call the informal economy and make so, so little per day. But they are entrepreneurs. If they don’t wake up and motivate themselves to start the work, do the work, and finish the day with money in their pocket, their family won’t eat. So, the concept of microlending appealed to me, and I personally identified with it.