“Our zeal must embrace the world.” – St Mary Euphrasia

In 1981, youth workers in Collingwood were finding a lack of access to ready cash for essential household items was a major impediment to people trying to improve their circumstances.

Not having the simple things, like a fridge to store fresh food or a comfortable bed, was having negative consequences and there was no readymade solution.

Unwilling to let these people go without, the Good Shepherd Sisters, famous for their audacity, began working toward a solution. They established the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) – a program that offered men and women no interest loans to purchase essential items.

This fair and equitable model of small loans was based on a commitment to upholding individual dignity and respect. The Sisters program would:

  • Make money available as a loan not as charity
  • Show respect for clients by entering into a professional business relationship
  • Educate clients to negotiate a loan and, importantly, create a system that makes it very easy for them to pay it back
  • Charge no interest and encourage people to return the money so their friends and neighbours could also benefit

It wasn’t an easy start, and the program had its doubters – many believing the Sisters would never see their money again. But the Sisters of Good Shepherd weren’t to be put off.

In the early days some of the money did disappear, but most of it came back time and time again, allowing it to be reinvested in the community.

In 2012, Good Shepherd Microfinance was established to maintain and grow NILS. With the support of more than 260 accredited providers, the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS), the National Australia Bank, and State Governments, NILS is offered at 671 locations across Australia.

The Good Shepherd Sisters showed a zeal for financial and social equality – a zeal that has now positively impacted the lives of over 400,000 people. It’s what drives Good Shepherd Microfinance to grow and innovate and has led to the creation of the StepUP Loan, Good Money, AddsUP Savings Plan and Good Insurance.

As we look to the future with an ambitious goal of reaching 1 million people by 2018, we do so knowing that we need only look to the past for our inspiration.