My story with microfinance
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…
Fundacion Paraguaya and Microfranchises
And now, here I am in Asunción working with Fundacion Paraguaya and having the opportunity to see the impact of equal access to financial tools that have been changing lives throughout the country. Fundacion Paraguaya has been very creative in offering different microfinance services, one of them called microfranchises. My assignment is to evaluate the performance and satisfaction of microfranchises offered currently by Fundacion to women committees (for more details, see Esther’s recent post “A practical lesson in Microfranchising“).
Microfranchises offer a ready-made business in a box to low-income individuals who haven’t been able to start their own businesses from scratch. Hopefully if the microfranchise sticks it will give them the means necessary to bring them above the poverty line — the slowly changing of colors from red, to yellow, to green, in Fundacion Paraguaya’s famous traffic light. (For more on the poverty indicators, check out Hannah’s post “Green Light means Go?” or even a post from 2011, “Measuring Microfinance Impact” by Aurelie).
My First Survey
My first survey was in San Lorenzo - a 30 minute bus ride from Asunción. I soon realized though, that it was hard to first get the women to be open to answering my questions. The great thing about group lending is that it fosters a tight-knit community and what one woman says replicates within the rest of the group. So unfortunately, that meant that what I got was 17 women answering exactly my questions the same as their leader/President did. The women in the committees also had to go back to work that day, and I had to go back to Asunción the next morning. I crafted a new strategy though, waking up extra early and went into San Lorenzo before the office had even opened! While the woman arrived one by one, for their weekly meeting, I was able to survey each woman separately. The more intimate environment allowed the women to open up more, and I got better answers! The women felt free to express their opinions, their frustrations about specific policies or group members and also the optimism they all shared that their loans and microfranchise kits purchased from Fundacion were able to produce.
What I learned is for another post – stay tuned!