Accion Ambassadors Blog

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Starting with the Semáforo

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My first days working at la Casa Matriz – headquarters – remind me of a quote from a book I’ve read countless times.

“Of all the delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed.” –J.M. Barrie, Peter & Wendy

La Casa Matriz is a two to three minute walk from la Casa de Pasantes – Intern House. My morning stroll through the neighborhood is tranquil; I know that my day at work will be full of enthusiasm from start to finish. The Fundación Paraguaya office is a converted residential compound, bustling with vibrant energy from one room to the next. Here, we are “nicely crammed.” Each department has a dedicated space in the compound; for the Semáforo team, that space is not enough.

These Poverty Stoplight cards make it easy to visualize the fifty different indicators considered in determining overall poverty levels.

These Poverty Stoplight cards make it easy to visualize the fifty different indicators considered in determining overall poverty levels.

Semáforo de Eliminación de la Pobreza—the Poverty Stoplight—is a methodology to measure levels of poverty among the clients Fundación Paraguaya serves. The Semáforo was created in 2010, and has grown substantially since then. In 2011, Accion Ambassador Aurélie Dagneaux wrote a little bit about the program in her post “Measuring Microfinance Impact.”

Each color is assigned a specific level within the poverty scale.

Each color is assigned a specific level within the poverty scale.

There are fifty different indicators distributed between six different categories: income & employment, health & environment, housing & infrastructure, education & culture, organization & participation, and self-esteem & motivation. Clients in the program complete a self-assessment survey with assistance from a Fundación Paraguaya staff member. The survey uses three images that represent the different levels of poverty for each indicator. Each image correlates to a color and poverty level: green (no poverty), yellow (poverty), and red (extreme poverty).

JLW Post 2- Semaforo Complete Chart 1JLW Post 2 Semaforo Complete Chart 2







After clients complete the survey, they receive a color-coded report with their results. With help from Fundación Paraguaya, they come up with an action plan to address their most pressing needs. Red indicators are tackled first, followed by yellow. If you’d like to read more about how the program is applied, check out this manual from Fundación Paraguaya.

JLW Post 2- Semaforo Stats Graphic

In their 2014 Annual Report, Fundación Paraguaya reported some impressive numbers regarding Semáforo’s work. With numbers like this, it’s clear why the Semáforo team seems to be growing by the day! I’m working in their office for some of my time here, and empty desk space is hard to find. They’re hoping to move into a new office within the compound in the near future, but they may have to relocate half the staff to another space in the meantime.

So, why all the growth in staff? The Semáforo is completely open source, and Fundación Paraguaya wants to share it with other nonprofit organizations. The team here is spreading the word about the program in hopes of replicating it in other areas. They hosted their first conference in South Africa last year, and the methodology has been implemented in eighteen countries so far! While I’m here, I’m working with members of the team to design some new collateral for conferences, including a booklet detailing the replication process for other organizations. To learn more about the program, check out this awesome video.


Jessica Lynn Wickman is working out of Asunción, Paraguay, where she’s providing support on various communications projects with Accion partner Fundación Paraguaya.

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