The IKATU event of September 4th was a source of inspiration for all of us that attended. The atmosphere was full of laughter, joy and hard work that left anyone in doubt motivated for what is coming ahead. Women from different areas were brought together for the one main feature they have in common: the desire to overcome poverty.
A very early morning start introduced the pilot committees Divino Niño Jesus, Ñañopytyvomba, Fortaleza and La Esperanza to each other for the first time since IKATU has been implemented, giving them the opportunity to see other women in similar situations to their own. The event took place in the San Francisco Agricultural School, which also allowed the women to learn about the varying projects Fundacion Paraguaya invests in. The day began with a fun icebreaking activity of capture the flag where the spirit of the woman shone, doing everything they could (and I mean everything) so that their group would win. The strength and motivation of the teams was visible from start to finish, reminding us how it was purely thanks to their aspiration to succeed that our microfinance projects are possible.
After finishing to set up and to get to know each other better, the women presented their businesses, experiences, and aims for the future. IKATU encourages each committee to have a group business to increase the sources of income of the women, whose profits go towards two savings funds, the caja grande and the caja chica (big safe and small safe). The savings may be for general needs at the end of year or specific goals, such as group investment, like an oven!
Each committee has different activities: Divino Niño Jesus makes chipas and cakes (the chipa recipe came from them), Ñañopytyvomba makes cleaning products, Fortaleza sells fruit and La Esperanza makes typical Paraguayan foods. Over the two first months of the project, the women have raised up to $200 for their savings just through group businesses. The women also presented the different community projects they organize. Divino Niño Jesus for example plans monthly chocolate snacks for all the kids of the neighbourhood, in remembrance of the Child Christ who has always kept the committee united. Throughout my stay at the Fundacion, this is probably the aspect that has striked me the most: the pure generosity of the women in these committees, their genuine desire to help not only themselves but anyone who may find themselves in constraining life situations.
Speeches on positive deviance were the next activity of the day (see Farah’s previous post) followed by self-evaluation of the women of their poverty levels. We divided into four groups (one for each committee), each led by an employee and an intern from IKATU. I personally was helping La Esperanza with Fabiola Cantero (the IKATU loan officer). Each woman was given a visual questionnaire with about 40 poverty indicators of the total 50. They had to answer what category they felt they belonged to for each of the indicators while Fabiola and I explained them in more detail with the help of posters. They then had to choose three indicators that they felt were priorities to fulfill. A large portion of the priorities concerned the living space, the wider community’s development and health. I will develop this further in a future post.
The purpose of this latter activity was to test the sustainability of IKATU in the future, experimenting whether it is more reliable to let the women assess their own poverty levels or the loan officers. The difficulty with this has been that some of the women can only measure poverty from their perspective, which can lead to an underestimation of their poverty level. In fact, the results tended to be quite different from the initial surveys done by IKATU staff; overall the women tend to place themselves in a richer category than they were previously placed in, particularly for housing, infrastructure, health, and environment.
The day ended with a presentation on the microfranchises that the IKATU team has been researching and preparing. This was useful for us to get the clients’ perspective on the possible success of the differing kits we plan on selling. After being given gifts from the school (including dulce de leche, yogurt, marmalades, and vegetables), the women had time to do business with the students and each other!
Speaking to the women after the event, we learned that the day was a big success. They all had a lot of fun, got the chance to learn new ideas, and finally were inspired. I think the same went for everyone at the event, including team IKATU!
A selection of pictures from the event can be seen at the beginning and end of the video!
 Not all the women were present at the event, causing the results to vary somewhat.
Paraguay is country that thrives when it comes to entrepreneurship. All the side streets are filled with family run restaurants, Paraguayan crafts and clothes boutiques, and of course the many corner shops. Because of this variety and competition, it is important that future entrepreneurs learn from a young age how to make their business special and successful. As a foundation that promotes the entrepreneurial spirit, that is exactly what Fundación Paraguaya does.
Last week I had the chance to fill in for a fellow intern while he was absent. The area of interest was Junior Achievement, a field that tries to bring the entrepreneurship of young people of Paraguay to the forefront. Junior Achievement is one of the three main branches of the Fundación (alongside Microfinance and the Agricultural Schools). The aim of this initiative is to teach young people about business, applying the business skills to their work place, and finally about the importance of contributing to the development of their communities.
Junior Achievement works with young people from all over Paraguay, adapting the workshops to the type of community they work in. The students are taught about the economy in an interactive method, with a wide range of activities to tune into. The idea is to motivate the students to think as entrepreneurs so that when they graduate from high school or university, they will have the necessary skills to enter the workplace with the right frame of mind and understanding as to how things function. Depending on the activity, they are taught a vast array of tools, such as how to set interest rates, administration, marketing and publicity.
I participated in one of the Banks in Action workshops, which is a simulator programme in which students from all over the country form groups of three to set interest rates based on a few preset figures concerning savings, credit, and deposit certificates in the short and long run. The goal is to generate as high an income as possible based on these rates. From each school or city, the group of students who makes the most virtual money moves to the national round, in Asuncion (takes place in October). The national winners then go to the finals, in Costa Rica. The importance of this activity is teamwork toward achieving a goal, and the development of an understanding on how banks can generate profits.
Another one of the main projects that Junior Achievement engages in is the Cooperative, the Company and Community Leadership. Bringing these together, Fundación Paraguaya has developed a six-month competitive project in which students from high schools around the country have to create their own innovative business from scratch. The final activity is a day in a shopping center where they get the opportunity to sell their products to the public and discover who the overall best business was (the best wins a few prizes). The businesses ranged from making gingerbread cookies and chocolate, to boxers and bamboo products. This past Saturday, the company “Nutripar JA” from Ybycuí who makes roasted coffee, flour and bean biscuits won the first prize.
Paraguayan collectivos (local buses) are always buzzing with vendors, selling products from cold sodas to underwear. Constantly jumping on and off the bus, the peddlers ensure that you are never left hungry or without some form of entertainment, be it a five-minute sales pitch on indestructible bracelets or the chance to buy CD’s of the latest reggaeton hits. One food that is never lacking is the chipa barrero, a typical Paraguayan specialty.
The sale of chipas is a favourite among the clients in the women’s committees. It generates a high profit while being easy and cheap to make. Many of the women we interview dedicate a large part of their activities to making chipas, as well as other traditional foods such as mbeju, empanadas, and alfajores. Chipas are a staple for both the businesses and day-to-day lives of Fundacion Paraguaya’s clients.
Raquel Martinez, one of the first clients we met, was one of the many women whose sales thrived on chipas. Her ability to attract customers however distinguished her from others as she offered her customers the ability to top-up their phone credit at her kiosk. Top-ups enable Raquel to lure potential customers to her shop, tempting them to buy her warm pastries once at her stand thanks to their strong aroma. This is one of the many methods women use to differentiate themselves from the rest of the local chipasellers.
Participating in an IKATU event for all the women of the pilot committees, we had the opportunity to get a recipe directly from the experts. Baking chipas at the intern house with success, it is an easy to make snack that deserves trying out at home. Enjoy!
Chipa barrero recipe
Cassava or corn starch – 625 g. (22 ounces)
Eggs – 4
Cheese, grated – 250 g. (8.8 ounces)
Milk – one cup
Lard or butter – 125 g. (4.4 ounces)
Salt – one tablespoon
Anis seeds – one small cup
- Beat the lard, eggs, and cheese until well mixed.
- Add the anis, salt, milk and starch, and knead until doughy.
- Form the dough into medium-sized rings (like doughnuts) and place on a cooking sheet.
- Cook in a very hot oven for about 25-30 minutes.
Note: I am trying to get a video of vendors selling chipas on buses, once I do, I will post it on here!
Poverty identification and elimination through Ikatu does not only target the clients of Fundación Paraguaya but also the people that make its projects possible: the employees. Loan officers are burdened with work, often having hundreds of clients for whom they are always available. If they are therefore not attended to and made felt part of the Fundación’s projects, how can they do their job effectively?
To promote poverty alleviation through evaluating the Ikatu indicators, it is crucial that the Fundación’s own employees know how to identify their levels of poverty. As such, the Ikatu team organized a daylong workshop with 16 loan officers for self-evaluation of poverty, and to learn more about and take part in the Fundación’s upcoming projects. The day began with a talk given by the executive director Martin Burt, explaining the goals of Ikatu and the Fundación for the future. Mr. Burt and the Ikatu manager, Rodrigo Alonso spoke about the importance of believing in poverty eradication and working together to achieve it from within.
The next activity was an icebreaker for the attendees where two teams had to be creative using miscellaneous objects to build a bridge. The symbolic bridge connected the participants’ current situation to their final goals (which was in this case a very high salary). The game promoted sustained teamwork in the path towards achieving ones goals. The workshop continued with a discussion and evaluation on the impressions of the game and an introduction to Ikatu. In order to understand the innovative programme, the loan officers then had to self-assess their poverty levels by answering a series of questions on the Ikatu survey. The results were not always positive, illustrating the complex facets of poverty that are not always automatically visible. Some indicators that stood out as being negative were living in a contaminated environment, lack of insurance and no self-belief in the capacity of playing a role in the public sector.
The loan officers were also given presentations on the microfranchises we are developing (mini-pharmacy, food kit and cleaning product kit). With their feedback on the costs and products, the Ikatu team has been able to improve the likelihood of the kits being successful. Prioritizing and setting goals based on the results of the surveys for themselves was the final task the loan officers engaged in. Mr. Alonso’s belief in group support put the officers in groups of two to three people, who will regularly check-in with each other over the next few months to see how the pursuit of the goals is progressing.
Overall, the workshop appeared successful. The loan officers seemed happy with the activities, and were given a sense of appreciation on behalf of the headquarters. Without the hard work and dedication of the loan officers, a large share of the social work the Fundación engages in would not be possible. Showing them how much they are appreciated, how important they are, and helping them achieve their goals is therefore just as important as reaching out to the clients.
Last weekend Carlo and I went to the Escuela Agrícola de San Francisco in Cerrito to act as ‘trainers’ for the World Cup between that school and the girls’ Agricultural School in Mbaracayu. The event was an attempt to bring the students from all around the country together to play soccer, attend intercultural activities and generally get to know each other.
The day started by splitting the students into 16 teams representing countries from all around the world. In their groups, the students had to present the information they gathered on their country during one of their IT classes. The day continued with soccer games between the different countries. After lunch, the students had two hours of cultural activities: Arabic dancing and writing, French and Italian classes (taught by another intern, Carlo and I), drawing, and the history of the World Cup.
More soccer and a final victory for Afghanistan (against the USA) brought the interns to the field against some of the students. Having ten very diverse young interns leading the activities appeared to be very beneficial to the students. They were enthusiastic about learning about different cultures, engaging with us and the students from the other school all day.
The World Cup was one of the many activities that Fundación Paraguaya has given interns the opportunity to organize, encouraging diversity and integration among the Agricultural Schools’ students. The attempt to transcend poverty by promoting a wide variety of educative programmes is a quality that distinguishes Fundación Paraguaya from other microfinance institutions. As outlined by the novel Ikatu project, restricted financial resources is only one of the facets of poverty. Accounting for this, the Fundación is targeting the young in education programmes that will inspire them to pull themselves out of poverty. In Paraguay, soccer is a good way to start!
This past week in the city of San Lorenzo near Asunción, Carlo and I visited Carlos Arzcumendia, a long-standing client of Fundación Paraguaya. Carlos couldn’t recall how many years he had been taking out loans with ACCION’s partner because it had already been so long. Carlos is one of San Lorenzo’s wood artisans, making traditional Paraguayan artefacts out of palo santo, such as guampas, materos, and bombillas to drink mate and tereré from. Carlos’ first loan was of $1,000, which he used to buy more primary material and lathes. He has now reached $4,000 loans with which he can hire two turners full time. Despite the difficulties caused by high competition and taxes, Carlos’ business has thrived over the years, allowing his two daughters to attend university, and his wife to open her own corner shop.
The video below shows the workshop behind Carlos’ home, where the palo santo is stored, shaped and transformed into a variety of objects.
Fundación Paraguaya’s microfranchise in eye-glasses is a unique attempt to reduce sight-related issues among lower-income populations in Paraguay. A kit containing bifocals, regular prescription glasses, sunglasses, accessories, an eye test sheet and a mirror is sold to entrepreneurs from women’s committees, providing them with an innovative business strategy in their area. The Fundación gives these women basic training in oculism needed for the prescription of these glasses.
This microfranchise in glasses enables women to start an original venture that is generally absent and out of reach for the people in these women’s communities. The dual target of this programme is therefore exceptional as women are given diverse business strategies while people with flawed vision in the involved communities are finally being provided with an affordable way to live with their sight problems comfortably.
Fundación Paraguaya is also aiming to reduce sight related issues through the Leapfrog Fund, a partnership with the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India, and Fundación Visión (Paraguay). The partnership involves exporting technology from the Indian hospital to Fundación Visión, a leader in eye care provision to the poor in Paraguay, targeting issues such as cataracts and Pterigion (carnosity). Fundación Paraguaya’s role is to find the clientele among lower income communities across Paraguay and provide them with micro loans enabling them to access surgeries that could significantly reduce blindness.
The outreach of the programme is being spread through the training of Fundación Paraguaya’s loan officers in detecting vision problems. Using the most advanced Philip’s flashlights, 91 officers have now received theoretical and practical training and are able to conduct consultations among their clients. Throughout the next year, members from the women’s committees will also be trained to detect eye difficulties. To date, 2,138 Paraguayans have been submitted to these eye exams, of which 45 deemed in need of surgery. Micro loans were given to nine clients so far, including four for cataracts surgery, one for a cornea transplant, two for myopia and two for pterygium surgery.
As the programme matures, Fundación Paraguaya is developing a model that will be replicable across Latin America through the production of an informative procedural manual on eliminating preventable blindness.
Fundación Paraguaya is considered throughout the microfinance industry as an innovative institution in its sector, aiming to alleviate poverty through a number of methods. The primary approach is to give low-income people, especially women, the necessary tools to pull themselves out of poverty, namely through small business and agriculture loans. These loans enable the clients to increase productivity so as to eventually enlarge their business and profits. For many of the clients the generated capital (including obligatory savings) is crucial to family investments, such as the education of children and health. Entrepreneurial education accompanies the loans to help with the development of the client’s businesses. The 21 rural and urban branches throughout the country allow for the broad reach of the services.
But the Fundación’s services extend to so much more than just small business loans. One of the ways in which the foundation is distinguished from other microfinance institutions is through its programmes for children. Three “escuelas agrícolas” (agricultural schools) have been established in rural settings to teach low-income teenagers organic agricultural practices, hotel and tourism management, and business skills in order to give them the opportunity to thrive in these activities. Two of the schools are self-sustainable, whereas the third is only just opening and will be self-sufficient in five years. This model of education has been replicated so far in 27 other countries.
ACCION’s partner also organizes workshops for children in order to teach them the importance of savings. The curriculum includes 10 workshops where the children engage in activities such as games, music, and creative arts (such as making piggy banks) to make them understand why they should save. At the end of the course the students receive certificates of completion, giving them a sense of accomplishment. This year, 6,000 children will be attending these workshops.
These are a mere few of the many services that Fundación Paraguaya offers. Over the next few months, we will provide updates with our experiences and more detailed information on these fantastic services!