While most other “best of” lists usually hit the press around New Year’s, our calendar here at the Ambassadors Program is a bit different. With 16 new Ambassadors volunteers arriving at our Boston offices this Monday for their orientation training, we thought this week would be the perfect time to look back on some of the best posts from our 2012 Ambassador class.
1.) In ‘A company with a difference’ by Jerry Brady, read how one social enterprise is making a difference for a group of people long excluded from the financial system: people with disabilities.
2.) In ‘To be a woman is to…‘ by Kate McGrath, learn about the work of Génesis Empresarial and one of their most successful groups of women entrepreneurs.
3.) In ‘Inside in the cold’ by Charlene Nemson, see what air conditioning means for development in the country.
4.) In ‘Can we call him a social entrepreneur?‘ by Guila Angi, meet a client of Paraguay’s Financiera El Comercio and learn about his successful dairy business and the additional support he lends to other budding businesses in his community.
5.) In ‘The stuff that doesn’t get lost in translation‘ by Asya Tabdili, find out how Accion is providing financial literacy training to thousands of entrepreneurs in India – by watching a video she created.
We’re about to kick off another great summer of stories from the field from around the world of microfinance – so stay tuned for the best of 2013 from Paraguay, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and India.
>> The following is a post from guest blogger, Rajul Bharti, an Analyst for Accion’s Dialogue on Business training program based in Gujarat, India.
With the Month of Microfinance upon us, I wanted to share a story about the power that financial education can have on its students.
Last month, the staff of Accion’s Dialogue on Business (DOB) entrepreneurship training program wanted to find a way to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with our students. We started our thinking along traditional lines of celebration, like a ceremony to congratulate our entrepreneurial students, maybe accompanied by a traditional dance and a snack, but our initial brainstorming didn’t prepare us for the inspirational events that unfolded…
We ended up asking the women themselves how they wanted to celebrate. After all, this was a day to celebrate their independence, so it seemed only fitting! These women—all microentrepreneurs trained by DOB in stitching, tailoring and embroidery work—typically work from home and earn somewhere between 500 and 1500 rupees a month (just U.S. $10–30) just through their embroidery and tailoring projects.
To our surprise, the women chose to do an exposure visit – a field trip for the women to experience something new to them – an idea that we had only briefly considered. One of the most active women in the group strongly supported the idea, but she needed someone to care for her young baby in order to participate. When all the other women offered to take care of the baby in turns, that settled it—an exposure visit it was!
When the discussion began about where the group would go on their exposure visit, one of the women asked about the big glass buildings in the city. We soon realized that the woman was referring to the many shopping malls that dot the landscape of Ahmadabad City. Many of the others had also noticed the malls before, but had always thought they were exclusively for rich people and that they would not be allowed to enter. We decided that this would be a perfect place to visit: we wanted to show the women that these malls are inclusive urban spaces created for everyone—and that they were welcome just as much as anyone else was.
We picked Alpha One, a mall with special wing called Ranino Hajiro that houses a handicraft and traditional ethnic market. We wanted the women to see how some of the products that they help create now are refined and later sold at an outlet like this one. This would allow the women to see just how far their skills and growing enterprise could potentially take them.
I came to India to document the stories of the women entrepreneurs I would eventually meet; but what I left with was so much more. Despite being lost in translation one too many times throughout my journey, there was one thing that needed no interpretation: the courage, strength, and gratitude that all these women entrepreneurs possess. These women instilled in me the necessity to take action instead of just make excuses.
It is easy to complain about our lot in life, but it is so much more rewarding and exhilarating to shape your own destiny. So let’s stop longing, and start doing. Let’s move forward in this New Year by taking small but steadfast steps in the direction of the life we’ve always wanted. Let’s be trailblazers in our communities just like these women — Bushra, Dilshod, Praveentaj, and Savitha, Manju and Sanguna. And why not? We have more to gain than to lose.
Signing off – Asya Tabdili!
María Dolores Valdéz, 35, and Nilda María Achucaro, 51, have been collecting and selling recyclable materials in northeastern Asunción’s Santa Ana neighborhood for eight years. It’s good work, says María, who does it with her husband, sister, and niece (who also works as a maid). They go out in the evenings with their horse and cart, and once a week a buyer comes to take their haul.
But for collecting around 400 pounds of plastic, aluminum and plastic bags per week, María and her crew only make between 200,000 or 250,000 guaraníes (about $50 to $60). Shared between the four of them, this puts each person below Fundación Paraguaya’s 2012 extreme poverty threshold of $78 per month. Nilda, who works the waterfront on foot since her cargo motortrike broke down, earns even less.
When they joined Fundación Paraguaya’s clientele as leaders of the women’s committee Mujeres Valientes (Courageous Women) a few years ago, María and Nilda started up a line of business and a new source of income: making and selling jewelry and embellished flip-flops. Read More…
How well do you know yourself? What do you consider yourself talented at? What dreams do you have?
These questions are ones that can easily put people on a thinking spree, but for the loan officers of Fundacion Paraguaya, these are the questions that they ask every day to the women’s committees with whom they work. A typical committee is made of around 12-17 women, and with such a large group, you are bound to see all kinds of personalities and a unique life story for each female member.
During the first few loans, the loan officer is the mentor to the group: she motivates the women to be entrepreneurial, to value their own ideas, and to understand the steps and start thinking about how to start a business, among other things. But as time passes, and the women repay and renew their loans, and start and improve their businesses, a mentor emerges from within the group and takes on the role of the committee president. Usually the president exhibits more security thanks to a higher than average education or income and this helps her lead others in the same route.
How to get Josefa to smile? Read More…
In the Fundación Paraguaya Microfinance Office, Alcira Añazco is working hard to receive some special visitors—and their luggage. If you’ve ever wondered where the other pair goes when you buy your Tom’s (the shoe company that donates one pair of shoes, for every pair purchased), here’s the scoop. In March, officials from Tom’s Shoes will be arriving in Asunción with a second shipment for the Fundación.
The first shipment came in July of last year, and Fundación Paraguaya loan officers have been busy distributing them to clients of the Womens’ Committees as one of the perks they receive beyond credit and support as borrowers. The two requirements for receiving a pair are to be part of a committee in good standing and to have a child under the age of 18 (who will receive the shoes). In addition, a pair went to every student at Fundación Paraguaya’s agricultural schools, where they are reportedly now high fashion, the thing to wear to parties and for visits home.
I first encountered this shipment of Tom’s in the trunk of Encarnación loan officer Liliana Lugo’s car as I went with her on her client visits. When I returned last week for a good-bye visit, I found all of the Encarnación team sporting Tom’s—a gift for the new year from Fundación Paraguaya.
The shoes that are coming in March are destined for even broader distribution. Besides arranging everything for their arrival, Alcira is also coordinating with Fundación Paraguaya’s Junior Achievement program for young entrepreneurs, Junior Achievement’s Aprender a Emprender en el Medio Ambiente program (roughly, “learn to be an environmental entrepreneur”), and outside collaborators Fundación Moises Bertoni (a conservation and sustainable development foundation) and Fundación Dequení (an anti-poverty foundation) to get the shoes on the feet of more young people in Paraguay.
While there will be more stories to come, I wanted to first share my own personal story… When I was a teenager I moved from grey, modern London to my mother’s homeland Monteria, the steamy and colorful North-West of Colombia, an area well-known for its music, literature and a tropical love of life. In England we were a small family of four, and in Colombia, once my youngest brother was born, we became part of an extended clan. Sundays now meant family lunches at my grandmother’s house, and sitting outside in the porch for afternoon gossiping with the neighbors.
Having lived in the flesh in both of these very different realities, I soon became passionate about social and economic development in emerging countries. I wanted to contribute in some way but first I needed to understand the base of the social pyramid. While I lived in Bogotá I volunteered in Techo building houses in the slums and did research with my professors during my undergrad searching for sustainable solutions to overcome poverty in Colombia through access to financial tools and education. That is how I came to learn of Accion… Read More…