Accion Ambassadors Blog

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3 Reasons Microfinance Still Matters

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“Banco Occidente, Banco Caja Social, Citibank, BBVA…” Don Hugo listed off the banks he had taken loans from in the past. A microentrepreneur, José Hugo Beceira runs a construction shop in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogotá, and as he described, there is no shortage of credit for small business owners in the city. Entrepreneurs can walk into any number of NGOs, Colombian banks, or multinational banks, and walk out with a loan.

So if a microentrepreneur like Don Hugo can get the loans he needs to grow his business from so many providers, can’t we just consider this microfinance business a success and pat ourselves on the back?

Not so fast.

Though credit is widely available in major Latin American cities like Bogotá, we’re still very far from universal access, and moreover, easier access doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results for individuals or at the macroeconomic level. So, why do we need a continued focus on microfinance? Continue reading


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Lessons from Colombia: Make the Client Feel Like Family

Don Marco’s wife sat us down at the wooden table in their living room as we waited for him to come in from the fields. When he walked in the door, he greeted us with his generous smile and excitedly motioned for us to sit down again. Don Marco, who has been working on this farm in Tabio since he was a young boy, graciously agreed to talk about his experiences as a microcredit client with Bancompartir. Continue reading


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May I Have Your Attention, Please?

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Welp, here we go again. I’m standing on the Transmilenio, squeezed between a backpack and a pole. No need to hold on to anything when it’s this packed – even with the driver’s jerky braking technique, there’s nowhere you can go. You can pick them out from the crowd by the way their eyes sweep the bus cabin as they step on, seeking out just the right place to stand so as to command everyone’s attention. They might hand out their candy bars, one to each person, even those plainly attempting to avoid eye contact. Or they get their boombox set up, a scratchy beatbox recording setting the mood.

But what they all have in common is the speech. Continue reading


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Social Class (and Castes?) in Colombia

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Walking through Paloquemao, Bogota.

“Where do you live?” It’s a basic question, but in Bogota, as in many cities, it can also be a pretext for assessing social class. Saying you live in Usaquén, to the north of the city, is quite different than saying you’re from Las Margaritas in the South, just as people in San Francisco would make very different assumptions about someone living in the Tenderloin versus the Marina. What separates Bogota from other cities, however, is the city’s subdivision into six distinct strata that classify the population according to socio-economic status. From 1, the lowest class, to 6, the highest, these designations were put in place so that wealthier citizens would subsidize services for the poorest citizens. Nonetheless, while the classification system does make it easier for those in lower strata to afford services, the system also reinforces inequality and stigmatization of the poor and impedes social mobility. Continue reading


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Relationship-building with Bancompartir

In addition to working with Accion’s hub office here in Bogotá, I’m also getting a project off the ground with Bancompartir, Accion’s largest partner in Colombia. Bancompartir provides services to microentrepreneurs, as well as financial access to the unbanked and underserved across Colombia. Bancompartir has a uniquely social mandate, as its majority investors are Colombia’s Cajas de Compensación, or Family Compensation Funds. In Colombia, firms are required to have all employees contribute to these funds, based on their salary level. All contributors to the Caja, regardless of income level, have equal access to social services and benefits. When the Cajas de Compensación originally invested in Bancompartir, the idea was to support the expansion of access to financial services. Now, Bancompartir continues to serve that mandate through products and channels that target excluded populations, including the poor, rural clients, and even former guerrilla and military fighters. Continue reading


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Adrenaline rush (both the good kind and the bad)

Swinging in midair, doing my best to avoid bumping up against the intimidating rock that I was only halfway up, I thought, “This is it, I’ll try one more time, and then I’m done. There’s no way I’m going to make it to the top.” Our guide Jonathan yelled up at me, “Sí se puede!,” and I realized I had to keep going, if nothing else to avoid disappointing him. As I grabbed on to a decent sized crack in the rock, and wedged my foot in a hollow below to regain stability, my heart was racing and the adrenaline was surging, making me forget my tired muscles and pushing me onward. After reaching the top and being lowered down in my harness, I felt slightly relieved and very proud. I realized that it wasn’t the first time that week in which I had felt that instinctual adrenaline rush. Continue reading


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Sustainably Banking the Poor

Dinamización – that’s the word that Luis Orlando Cardenas, one of Accion’s microfinance senior experts, used to describe the transformation that Accion spurred in Latin America’s microfinance industry. Over the past two decades he has spent working in financial inclusion, Accion more than revitalized banking services for the poor in Latin American markets; where microfinance was once considered a losing proposition, left to foundations whose missions allowed them to forego profits, now the largest banks in Latin America offer a growing number of financial products that target the base of the pyramid. Continue reading