A few colleagues and I just completed a trip to Central America where we visited several NGOs with whom we partner on micro-financing projects. You may be asking, so what in the world is micro-financing? Essentially, micro-financing (also known as micro-enterprising or micro-credit) focuses on providing small start-up loans (usually $100 - $500 each) to individuals in resource-poor settings that enable them to create small, community-based businesses to improve their livelihood. This is a growing phenomenon over the past several years; thousands of organizations are doing a wide range of projects around the world.
Micro-financing appears to be an excellent platform upon which to deliver small business training and health education messages in community-based settings.
Our trip included stops in Costa Rica and El Salvador where we visited remote locations to see firsthand just how the concept of micro-financing plays out. A few examples...
In Costa Rica, we partner with Fundebase and APACO on projects that provide loans and a dose of health education, disease prevention, and wellness programs to local communities along the way. We visited with a mother and daughter in Santa Cruz de León Cortéz, for instance, who received a loan to start a sweater-knitting business. The loan enabled them to purchase a knitting machine, yarns and other materials to take a first step. And now, several months later, they’re selling their sweaters in a catalogue that reaches throughout the country. Their energy and passion were palpable as they described how they started and where they're planning to go next. Without question, the start-up loan changed their lives. The project we support facilitates these loans and also brings health programs – breast and cervical cancer awareness, nutrition education, and oral care – to the community, and these two women are among the dozens participating.
In El Salvador, we partner with Asociación para la Organización y Educación Empresarial Femenina (OEF) on micro-enterprising efforts reaching more than 60 families in Aguaje Escondido. Individuals apply for small loans from the OEF community bank, which also doubles as a community health center for health and wellness check-ups and screenings. Carmela used her loan to open a bodega and bakery shop; Andres used his loan to purchase tools to expand his carpentry business. Each story we heard was more inspiring than the previous. And, the health center -- THE meeting place for community members -- has increased prevention and wellness screenings, reduced the rate of teenage pregnancies, and has eliminated malnutrition among the children. It's an amazing story of how a simple idea takes hold in a community and creates a ripple effect throughout.