CAIRO: Thousands of poor Egyptian women are benefiting from a partnership between the Nobel peace prize-winning Grameen Bank of Bangladeshi Muhammad Yunus and a local credit organization. I got my first loan of 250 pounds [$43] six years ago, and it meant I could expand my vegetable stall and earn more money, says Hanem Shaban in Cairo s popular Imbaba market. She now earns enough to be able to afford schooling for her four sons. Sixteen thousand Egyptian women are currently receiving micro-credits totaling LE 10 million ($1.7 million) from the Solidarity Program, an organization launched in 1996 that has been in partnership with Grameen Bank for the past three years. All of our credits go to women, because in Egypt it is generally women who work who put bread on the table. In very poor levels of society we couldn t guarantee that this money would go to the family if it was given to the man, says the organization s Maha Antar. The Solidarity Program is small, with just 100 employees staffing six offices in Cairo s poorer neighborhoods. It advances micro-credits of between LE 250 and LE 4,000 at an annual interest rate of 2.5 percent. Repayment rates are one hundred percent, says Antar, who puts this success down both to the willingness of the women to expand their small enterprises and to the loans system adopted by the Solidarity Program. It provides micro-credits to groups of women who are linked by friendship or because they are relatives or neighbors and can therefore help each other. As the women repay their loans, they become eligible for even larger micro-credits, Antar says. In order to get her foot on the first rung of the micro-credit ladder, a potential borrower has to be aged at least 18 and be able to prove that she is serious about what the loan entails. If a woman given a micro-credit doesn t demonstrate that her project has developed, then we stop helping her, says Hisham Al-Said, another of the Solidarity Program s officials. Some beneficiaries are in their seventies and are still providing for their families , he adds. The small businesses created by the women given micro-credits range from dressmaking and embroidery to small grocery shops. In the organization s Imbaba office, a hive of activity teeming with women throughout the day, 23-year-old Amal Mohammad is preparing for a new day at the sharp end. Her role is to gather information from women and their families about their individual cases and needs. Every two weeks, the women pay back part of their credit. I encourage them by telling that that if they keep to their payments schedule they will increase their chances of becoming eligible for the major credit of 4,000 pounds, she says. The Grameen Bank (Village Bank), which provides loans to poor people in Bangladesh – mostly to landless rural families – has been a partner of the Egyptian organization since 2003. Last year, Grameen advanced a credit of LE 2.3 million ($400,000) to the Solidarity Program. The organization obtains the rest of its funding from wealthy private donors, as well as from the government s social security coffers. Maha Antar hopes that five years from now the Solidarity Program will have opened a further 20 offices and will be helping another 100,000 Egyptian women by granting them micro-credits totaling LE 72 million ($12.5 million).