Green Light Means Go?
Around a conference table early in the morning all of the asesoras, loan officers for Fundacion Paraguaya, are huddled in big puffy jackets and waiting for their training to start. Nancy Ramos, the head of the microfinance division, begins casually at 8:15am, even as cellphone ringing and late-comers sauntering in surprisingly (to me, at least) do not seem to disturb the flow of the presentation. (I often forget that a Katy Perry ringtone playing loudly in a meeting in Paraguay is not considered rude or offensive, and if you are on time to a meeting you will be waiting for at least 20 minutes for it to begin). When the training finally did begin, we learned how to help a client develop a “Plan of Business” then moved on to modules on “Personal Budget,” “Family Budget,” and “I am an Entrepreneur.”
The value the foundation places on individual financial success is a thread that runs through all of their business models and is part of what has intrigued me so much about the organization. Their mission statement reads: Sustainable, social business that promotes entrepreneurship and innovation, allowing families with fewer resources to rise out of poverty and join the middle class. Microfinance is just one strategy to support this vision of poverty elimination - a noble task and one that is the most difficult for do-gooders like me, who dream of changing the world.
Fundacion Paraguaya understands that microfinance – providing small loans to the entrepreneurial poor – plays an important role in alleviating poverty, but also that it is just a small piece of a larger puzzle that incorporates systemic, cultural, behavioral and collective strategies of addressing poverty. A teacher once told me that there are two approaches to social justice. Say that there is a river flowing down a mountain and you are downstream when you notice that there are people who are drowning. Do you repeatedly jump in to save them as each person passes, or do you go up the mountain to find what is pushing people into the river in the first place? I am an “up-streamer” – so to speak – and as such, I appreciate Fundacion Paraguaya’s approach to financial inclusion.
The development of the 6 Dimensions and 50 Indicators of Poverty include Salary and Employment, Health and Environment, Home and Infrastructure, Education and Culture, Organization and Participation, Motivation and Self. They are scaled in stop light colors (red, yellow and green). For example, under the indicator #7 (for Running Water), green indicates that there is plumbing in the house, yellow that there is an outside water source like a well less than 100 meters from the house and red indicates that there is no water within 100 meters of the residence. The idea behind these indicators is that after a basic observation of the lives of those in poverty, Fundacion Paraguaya can begin to implement basic interventions such as credit, savings and surveys, followed by personal interventions to help raise the clients out of poverty with self-esteem workshops that aim to help promote a new standard of living and can help to design a unique business plan (like the story of Elida Sosa, by Ambassador colleague, Sarah Ryan).
The asesora resumes training after a coffee and cookie break, with strong coffee served in shot glass sized plastic cups, half sugar and half coffee. Now giggling and chattering, the presentation continues with “Using Credit Prudently,” “The Breakdown of a Hamburger,” “Savings,” “Steps to Present Sales” then culminating in “Working in Teams,” “The Gift of Happiness,” “Effective Communication” and finally, “Mapping your Life.”
The asesroas must choose three of their client families whose indicators are all nearly green, then work to improve the areas in the yellow or red zones, finally presenting the families to the head of the organization in August. A marriage of business and social justice might be just what a globalized world needs, as we must ask if corporations and businesses can continue to make money and then ultimately, afford a social conscience.