Oikocredit, a global member-based social investment co-operative which makes small loans to hundreds of vital development projects, has expressed hope that it will "really take off" in the UK after receiving its first major contribution.
The Society of the Sacred Heart, a religious order, are Oikocredit’s first substantial investor in pounds sterling.
Oikocredit already has 27,000 investors worldwide, who have raised millions of Euros to support economically disadvantaged people working creatively against poverty and for human and environmental development. It needs more, especially in Britain.
Sister Bernadette Porter, Provincial treasurer of the Society of the Sacred Heart, explained: “Like many religious orders experiencing diminishing vocations, we seek out ways of continuing our mission with fewer people. Oikocredit’s mission was one we could share; extending credit to marginalized people irrespective of their faith, culture, age or gender and favouring initiatives for women as the backbone of families and thus society as a whole”.
Sacred Heart Sisters work in schools, parishes, hospitals, prayer centres, universities, airports and many other places. Their charitable objectives emphasise projects involving education and social justice. An investment in Oikocredit is considered an extension of their ministry to educate and empower others to help themselves.
This is a great start for Oikocredit UK’s work in 2008, says its backers, who include Ekklesia, the think-tank on religion and society which also seeks to be a "do-tank".
The demand for credit is growing and Oikocredit’s inflow of investments needs to keep up with this demand, the group explains.
For Patrick Hynes, Oikocredit’s representative in the UK, this has been a welcome start to developing UK investments. “Since the UK launch in October 2007, we now have around 30 new UK investors and £300,000 invested. It is a challenging task for the volunteers and myself, so the Society of the Sacred Heart’s early support is very encouraging."
Hynes continued: "Hopefully this will lead to others finding out about Oikocredit and making their investment, whether it’s a large institutional investment or a modest investment from an individual.”
Oikocredit is a global member-based co-operative with its international office based in the Netherlands. It has a network of offices in countries where lending takes place, and 37 support associations raising investment from across the world.
Hynes explains: "People's investment enables Oikocredit to back microfinance institutions (MFIs), co-operatives and small to medium sized enterprises. Loans have proven to be very effective in stimulating economic productivity. Where grants may lead to dependency, loans create a real business partnership based on mutual respect. Plus, repaid loans are recycled time and again into new loans."
He adds: "If you invest £1,000, with Oikocredit's usual dividend standing at 2% per annum, this will normally provide you a financial return of £20 plus a substantial social return. If you placed that money in the bank you might earn say £50, a difference of £30. You could of course donate £30 to charity, but ask yourself what will do more good: a donation of £30 or a loan of £1,000?"
Those interested in helping can download a UK prospectus and application form  and also get information about projects  which show how the money is used. Further questions may be directed to the Oikocredit UK Representative, or your local support association. 
Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow said: "Oikocredit is an important and imaginative initiative which demonstrates how ground-up action can help reshape social and economic priorities in a divided and unequal world. This is the kind of thing our research and reporting is seeking to highlight."
He added: "With its origins in work carried out by the World Council of Churches, it is also a great example of Christians working alongside those of other faith or simply 'good faith' and furthering the human good without regard to the things - including religion, sadly - that can sometimes separate us. It is also one very positive answer the the often asked question, 'what can I do that will make a difference?'"