Death of Maria Nowak, pioneer of microcredit in France

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“Much more should be done. » It is in these terms that Maria Nowak-Przygodzka greeted a success. “If you have any ideas, let me know,” she added, always open to other horizons. The pioneer of microcredit in France and Europe died on December 22, in Paris, at the age of 87.

Read also: Maria Nowak the banker of the excluded

Coming from a family of four children, born on March 27, 1935 in Lwow, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine), Maria had fled the horrors of the Second World War. The family home, home of the Polish resistance, was burnt down in 1943 by the Germans, his mother and sister arrested by the Gestapo. She arrived in France illegally, uprooted, without papers at the age of 11. His parents will eventually join him there. “She will always remain very attached to Poland and to the family who stayed there. The war in Ukraine [déclenchée en février 2022] made her sick”confides his daughter, Anne Hirsch.

A trying personal story at the origin of an unfailing determination. “Requirement”, “optimism”, “respect” and “tenacity” are the words that come up most often in the testimonies of those who knew her well. A graduate of Sciences Po at the age of 21 and of the London School of Economics at 24, the economist will have devoted her entire life to social innovation, to free the individual initiative of those excluded from employment.

“Faith in Action”

After a study trip to Guinea (to Madina Dian) in 1958, where she would later return to initiate a credit program for poor peasants, she worked at the Caisse centrale de coopération économique (the former French Development Agency) . It was in this context that in 1985 she met the “banker of the poor”, Muhammad Yunus, elected Nobel Peace Prize (in 2006) for having developed microcredit in Bangladesh. She will draw on her experience to transpose the model to France. “You did a fantastic job (…) you showed that it was possible to get people out of social assistance”will salute Mr. Yunus, in a documentary by Anne Hirsch and Olivier Wlodarczyk (Maria Nowak, the banker of hoper, 2009).

For Maria Nowak, microcredit can change the way people look, giving them back the means to act. “When she consulted me to find out who could help her bring this project to France, I couldn’t see too much, and suggested to her: ‘do it yourself'”, testifies the one who was then a senior civil servant and president of the association Solidarités nouvelles facing unemployment, Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld. She spoke of microcredit as“a positive alternative”. A tireless fighter, she made it her mission.

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