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Spotlight on Ivan Mancillas: A Compartamos Founder

I have just returned from an incredible summer internship as an Accion Ambassador at Grupo Compartamos in Mexico City. Looking back on my time, I feel so fortunate to have had the experiences I had: participating in the strategic planning for the Compartamos Foundation, seeing some of the microfinance operations in the field, and being part of a large yet tight-knit community for eight weeks. In my last week there, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ivan Mancillas, one of the founders of Compartamos and my boss there.

Ivan is the Director of the Compartamos Foundation and the developer behind several different Compartamos departments throughout his 20+ years there. In his early twenties, Ivan was a microentrepreneur himself; he owned three different businesses: carpentry, snacks and sandwiches. Coincidentally, he met Carlos Labarthe, Compartamos’ Co-Founder and CEO in college. Carlos invited Ivan to volunteer at a youth conference in Guatemala, where they were put in charge of organizing the meals for 1,000 people. This task inspired the two to begin a similar food distribution program in 1987, this time under the name of Compartamos (Spanish for “we share”). After Ivan finished his college education, he continued volunteering part-time and then began working at a company called More Business Forms. About a year later, he received a call from Carlos with a job offer to volunteer full time at Compartamos. Although hesitant to give up his job, he finally agreed. From then on, the two transformed the food distribution program into a fully-fledged microfinance operation.

Ivan Mancillas (fourth from the left), surrounded by the Compartamos Foundation team.

Ivan Mancillas (fourth from the left), surrounded by the Compartamos Foundation team.

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The Social Responsibility Umbrella of Banco Compartamos

Part of my summer assignment for La Fundación at Grupo Compartamos is to research social impact measurement and propose a system for them to measure their programs. While researching this complex topic, I was connected with a colleague in the Social Responsibility Department on the Financial Education team. In doing so, I got to hear about another unique aspect of the company and another program that falls in line with its overall philosophy of investing in the development of human beings.

As a quick side note, La Fundación used to be a part of Social Responsibility until just a few months ago, when it broke off and became its own entity under the Grupo Compartamos umbrella. La Fundación was always committed to giving 2% of its annual net income, but whereas before it distributed this money through donations, it is now planning to launch its own programs to impact similar causes.

Compartamos staff planting trees in Toluca, Mexico as part of the June 2013 reforestation Community Service Day

Compartamos staff planting trees in Toluca, Mexico as part of the June 2013 reforestation Community Service Day

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The Importance of Investing in Human Beings through Compartamos’ Philosophy

This week marks my fifth week at Grupo Compartamos and it’s hard to believe how fast time is flying. There are so many exciting things happening with Compartamos’ Foundation (La Fundación) that I wish I could write about. Unfortunately, due to its novelty, I am not at liberty to describe my project in detail. I can tell you, however, that it is coming along smoothly and I am working with a small, dedicated team, often into the late hours of the night, in preparation for its upcoming launch. Instead, my remaining blog posts will cover other interesting aspects of my time here at Compartamos – this one on Compartamos’ Philosophy department.

I have heard about Compartamos’ Philosophy from the first day, but only recently begun to truly understand its significance to its staff, operations, and overall success of the company. To provide a context, Compartamos’ Philosophy is based on promoting ethical behavior through a specific code of ethics. This code of ethics serves as a daily guide, helping staff members make decisions, solve problems, and achieve goals. The way that Compartamos instills this type of ethical behavior in its staff is through FISEP, their integrated model of human development. In Spanish, FISEP stands for five different aspects of development: the physical, intellectual, social (family), spiritual, and professional. Compartamos believe that the development of these five areas amongst its staff leads to a positive impact not only upon relationships and performance at work, but also reflects that of personal lives, allowing for an overall higher quality. New hires undergo an induction process whereby they must become FISEP-certified through a 5-hour course. One of the certifications, called human formation, is completed in person, and the other is online, consisting of the code of ethics. Afterwards, the staff member must renew the certifications annually, through 15 hours of different FISEP workshops (3 hours for each of the 5 areas). Some workshops vary based on current culture and “mysticism,” taking into account suggestions from others. Aside from these 15 mandatory hours, Compartamos promotes FISEP through a number of other organized activities and events. One event happening now on a series of five Saturdays is called Family Day, where staff can invite family members to visit the office, learn more about company, and meet one another. Participation in such events is voluntary, but most staff members prioritize them.

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A (long) Day in the Life of a Compartamos Loan Officer

In my last post, I mentioned that my first introduction to real microfinance through two different client site visits in Toluca left me wanting more. It turns out I was lucky to get what I asked for, and last Tuesday I was given the opportunity to spend my workday in Huixquilucan (pronounced Wick-ski-lew-caan), a town in the state of Mexico about an hour west of the Distrito Federal.

After an unexpected taxi adventure that involved looking for the Compartamos office for nearly 45 minutes in Cuajimalpa, a nearby town whose streets coincidentally shared the names with those in Huixquilucan, I finally arrived at the right office around 8:30am. Upon entering, I saw a large, open reception area with several rows of chairs, many being occupied by prospective clients waiting to file loan applications. A team of welcoming staff greeted me, including the Office Manager, who provided me with a bit of information regarding the Huixquilucan office. The office was much larger than the Toluca office that I visited the prior week, as this one serves 5,000 clients and provides a wider variety of Compartamos’ products, including credit to individuals and microinsurance. Upstairs, loan officers prepared for their days in the field – confirming their routes for that day, finishing their breakfasts, and just chatting amongst themselves.

A smiling face approached me. It was Rosario, the officer I was going to be shadowing, who explained that we would be visiting seven different client sites, all of whom were groups of women, and the majority of them either being a loan collection or a renewal. I tried to contain my excitement to be back in the action of Compartamos’ operations since it had only been seconds since I met her, and before I knew it, we were out the door and flagging a kombi, a small van that would take us about twenty minutes down a windy, one-lane road where brightly colored houses pop out from either side of Mexico’s deep, green valley.

Loan Officer Rosario (in the blue sweater) surrounded by clients from the group Madho, signing a loan renewal.

Loan Officer Rosario (in the blue sweater) surrounded by clients from the group Madho, signing a loan renewal.

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Microfinance in Action: From Mexico City to Toluca

Around 1pm on Saturday, June 22, I awoke to a loud thump and the sound of clapping passengers as our plane touched down. After much preparation and anticipation, I was finally back in one of the places I hold closest to my heart, Mexico City. That day marked my fourth time in Mexico City, and the beginning of my second two-month stint here. You might be asking yourselves why I would spend so much time in a place notorious for its appearance on the State Department Travel Advisory list. However, I have found myself oddly comfortable here, especially amongst some of the world’s warmest and most welcoming friends. This time, though, I stepped off the plane into the Western Hemisphere’s largest city with more nervousness than expected.

This time, I am here as an Accion Ambassador at Grupo Compartamos (Compartamos), one of the largest and most successful microfinance institutions in the world. If you are interested in microfinance at all, you are most likely familiar with the name. Until now, I knew microfinance strictly from a distance – through my microfinance course at the Fletcher School last semester as a part of my Master of International Business program, plenty of outside reading, online microloans, and various networking phone calls – but now I was given the wonderful opportunity to experience it firsthand.

The Compartamos headquarters, located on one of Mexico's busies streets, Insurgentes Sur.

The Compartamos headquarters, located on one of Mexico’s busies streets, Insurgentes Sur.

Monday marked my first day of work, and it was packed with various activities to familiarize us with everything Compartamos – its history, model, staff, culture, and code of ethics. This also included two client site visits in order to give us a taste of Compartamos in action.

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Microfinance in the ‘Real Mexico’

Oaxaca is a state often referred to as “The Real Mexico”. Its rich indigenous roots combined with a strong colonial presence do seem to embody the Mexican soul. Or, maybe the “real Mexico” refers to the fact that considerable wealth exists side-by-side with rural poverty. Maybe it’s just because Oaxaca is rumored to be the birthplace of mole. Whatever the reason, this “Real Mexico” was one of the two states where Compartamos co-founders decided to make their first loans to clients in 1990. Over 20 years later, Oaxaca has a thriving microfinance industry serving thousands of clients. This week, I was fortunate enough to visit this fascinating state and talk to some of its people. Here are just some of their stories:

Bertha Gopar (center) has been a Compartamos client in Oaxaca since 1993. She now shares the group with her daughters and granddaughters (pictured) and even has a great-granddaughter who will join the group soon.

A Real Microfinance Success Story

Maria Teresa Hernandez was in tears as she told us the story of how she came to be involved with Compartamos.

10 years ago, Maria had taken out a loan with another bank. Shortly afterwards, her granddaughter became sick with pneumonia and needed to be hospitalized. With few other options in sight, Maria used her loan money to pay the hospital bills and was unable to generate enough income to pay back her loan. Having defaulted, the credit authorities started to come after her.

“I thought my family would be in ruins,” she said, choking back tears. She told us she thought no one would ever trust her again.

Compartamos decided to go out on a limb and offer Maria a loan of Ps.$3,000 (about $225 USD) to buy ingredients to make and sell bread. She and her husband, Benjamin Cruz, were able to use his mother’s clay oven to produce about 100-200 loaves of bread a day. This was enough to keep the family out of financial ruin and pay back their loans.

Maria Teresa Hernandez and her husband, Benjamin Cruz, pose in front of one of their industrial ovens. They use these ovens to produce 100,000 loaves of bread a day.

Maria and Benjamin soon realized that local schools needed to purchase loaves of bread for the children’s mid-morning sandwich snack. However, their small oven was not sufficient to make the amount of bread needed to provide to schools. So, they went back to Compartamos and signed up for the individual credit plan, Grow Your Business Loan. This credit works more like those given by a traditional bank, with loans of up to Ps. $100,000 (about $7,500 USD) made to and guaranteed by individuals. Continue reading


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A Sweeter Side of Microfinance

Normally I don’t like reading microfinance stories about the proverbial, impoverished woman who is able to change her life with a simple microloan. These stories often give too much credit to the loan, and underplay the skills it requires to both run a small business and pull yourself up, out of poverty. In my opinion, anyone who can do either is a truly exceptional person. This week, I was fortunate enough to meet with six such Compartamos clients from Puebla, Mexico, and I wanted to share their inspiring stories with you.

In the rough neighborhood of Magnolias, Tentaciones bakery stands out with walls painted in three different shades of purple. In fact, both the bakery and the cakes inside of it seem more in line with what’s sold on 5th Avenue in New York City than anything I’ve seen in Mexico. All of this is thanks to Elizabeth Carral and her spunky daughter Lorena Bonilla.

Elizabeth joined a Compartamos loan group about a year and a half ago with the idea of opening up a bakery. Since Lorena was not having much luck finding a job after getting a college degree in industrial engineering, she decided to help her mom with the endeavor. In order to get started, they used their first loan to buy an oven and, with each loan cycle, continue adding to their business. In a few weeks, they plan to buy a truck, which will allow them to make deliveries more easily.

Lorena Bonilla used her microloans to buy equipment like this industrial mixer for their bakery, Tentaciones

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