Women We Love: A Tribute to Mildred Robbins Leet

May 12, 2011 | 5:11 AM

On May 3, 2011 we were saddened to learn of the passing of one of the original figures of the microfinance movement, Mrs. Mildred Robbins Leet. Today Grameen America recognizes her outstanding contribution to the field of microfinance for over 32 years through her organization Trickle Up.

Who She Is: Mrs. Leet was a philanthropist and activist who, along with her late husband Glen, was a co-founder of the non-profit microgrant organization Trickle Up.

Why We Love Her: Mrs. Leet started Trickle Up in a very similar fashion to the way Professor Yunus did with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, by producing the organizations initial capital of $1,000 from her own pocket. These initial grants were distributed to 10 trial businesses in the Caribbean and each grantee returned her generosity with hard work and success. Mrs. Leet also chose to focus on the empowerment of women through microgrants. Today over 80% of the program is comprised of women. Since 1979 Trickle Up has helped more than 200,000 people create 2,000 businesses. Today the organization aims to alleviate poverty in five countries: Mali, Burkina Faso, India, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

In addition to her involvement with Trickle Up, Mrs. Leet was also involved with and helped establish numerous other charitable organizations such as the US Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), United Cerebral Palsy, Metropolitan College of New York, and InterAction, the association for US humanitarian and development organizations.

Mrs. Leet was also the recipient of many awards for her work and philanthropy including the “Women of the World Award” in 1989, which she received from Princess Diana along with fellow awardees Mother Theresa and Wangari Maathi.

Quote: “ I remember being in the Philippines and visiting a women who, when we first went to meet her, had started with fifty dollars a small table in this market. She had some vegetables displayed and she was doing fairly well and was encouraged. We went back the next year and there we saw she had double the amount and we said well it’s obvious you’re doing very well. I said, tell me something about yourself, what was special about the result of what you’ve been doing. She said, well you know we have a simple house and I used to have to bend over in order to enter the house but now I’ve been able to lift the doorway. Now I can walk into my doorway with my head up high.”

A website celebrating her life: http://www.mildredrobbinsleet.org/index.html

NY Times Obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/nyregion/mildred-robbins-leet-philanthropist-dies-at-88.html?_r=1&ref=obituaries

An interview with Mildred Robbins Leet with The Women’s Connection from 1998. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMocmtZYX9M

Video of Trickle Up Mali: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yt0_sa_wr_U

Video of Trickle Up India: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHEuBT5Kl_M&feature=relmfu

Indian villagers honor Trickle Up with a folksong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eEDzyPkj1U


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