Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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Drought crisis in Guatemala

CornDroughtThe devastating drought in Guatemala, now a declared state of emergency in 16 of 22 departments in central and western Guatemala, has affected more than 750,000 families. Crop loss is estimated at 80 percent for corn production and 63 percent for bean production.

Of those 16 departments, Friendship Bridge serves clients in half of them:  Quiche, Huehuetenango, Retalhuleu, Suchitepequez, Sololá, Totonicapan, Chimaltenango and San Marcos.

During what is supposed to be Guatemala’s rainy season, more than a month went by without any showers. Officials estimate the economic consequences of the drought at Q450 million ($57.4 million).

More than ever, women need sustainable businesses they can rely on in these difficult times. Food prices are skyrocketing. The more sustainable defenses Friendship Bridge can build with our clients, the better they will be when these crises occur.

As access to food dwindles, incidents of malnutrition will rise, and this is deadly in a nation where one in five children are already malnourished.  Our health program teaches mothers proper nutrition and eating habits for their children. With this education and the businesses our clients run, their children receive better access to food and improved nutrition. The children of Friendship Bridge clients are headed in the right direction.

CISCO Foundation PPI® Support

Thank you to the Cisco Foundation for recognizing Friendship Bridge in its support of the Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI®). Cisco invests in self-sustaining programs that use technology to overcome challenges. With the formalization of Friendship Bridge’s Social Performance Management (SPM) in 2011 along with our adoption of PPI, our data collection systems and results are more robust and integrated with our regular everyday operations. Data stored in a cloud-based system is shared by teams in six Guatemalan branches and the U.S.  The data provides crucial information to align strategy with client needs and shows how we have made a difference in the lives of our clients.  View the PPI Global Report 2014.

Primavera Trust Bank Invests in Progress

The village of Palanquix is home to Julia Ixtos, a woman with an infectious smile, and president of the Primavera Trust Bank. This group of Friendship Bridge microloan clients is comprised of 16 enthusiastic and hard-working women.

Trust Bank members gather to learn and make a loan repayment.

Trust Bank members gather to learn and make their first loan payment from a recent disbursement.

Julia is the group leader, and welcomes all the participants as they catch up with one another and listen attentively to Otilia Ixmata, the loan officer, to learn about indebtedness, the non-formal education topic for the month. Some of the women shared examples of friends or family who have been in that uncomfortable situation. The topic helps the clients understand how important it is to pay their loans back.

There are a variety of businesses led by women in this large group. From the traditional clothing markets to fruit stands and convenience stores, these businesses are growing due to the training clients receive. Trust Bank member Maria Tambriz recalls that she applied lessons from a recent “Investment” topic and plans on using her working capital to general profit and achieve better returns on her tortilla business. Another Trust Bank client, Isabela Ajtzalam, is an artisan who makes handcrafted baskets and buys reeds to increase her production.

The Pimavera Trust Bank members each have different stories woven with effort and hard work, sacrifice and perseverance as they continue to progress. Because of their involvement with Friendship Bridge, they have a chance to continue making life better for themselves, their families and their community.

‘Beer, Burgers and Folk Music’

JammingMusic and suds were flowing in the Foothills near Friendship Bridge’s Lakewood, Colo., headquarters recently.  A “Beer, Burgers and Folk Music” Circle fundraising event supporting Friendship Bridge clients was held September 6. Professional musicians Patrick Hiester and Joel Denman jammed with guitar, mandolins and fiddle to lead an enthusiastic group of music lovers at the home of hosts David and Molly Niven. “It was a real jamboree with world percussion instruments we had around the house,” Molly said, adding she picked up a guitar and the cello herself and sang along. “It was a memorable evening for all.”

The event was an experience offered as a silent auction item during the annual Building Bridges fundraising gala last April. Mark your calendars for the next Building Bridges Gala, scheduled April 23, 2015 at Mile High Station!




Legacy Gift to Provide Years of Assistance to Impoverished Women

Appreciation is the word that comes to mind when Dr. Judy Snyder considers Friendship Bridge and its clients. The Colorado resident saw opportunity at work when she came face-to-face with loan recipients at their homes and at their businesses during a February Insight Trip to Guatemala with the organization.

During the nine-day trip, Judy was so impressed with the improvements gained with the loans and training programs that she approached a Friendship Bridge board member with an offer of immense value. She is providing a legacy gift of $70,000, realizing that the funds will help numerous families and generations. It is a legacy to Guatemala as well as Friendship Bridge.

“Let’s look to the future,” Judy said. “A little goes a long way. The paperwork took minutes to set up.” And her gift will last years.

Snyder, a retired Professor and Dean at the University of Denver,, knows the significance of education. Along with extending microfinance loans, Friendship Bridge also trains clients on the importance of putting children in school, especially girls, and keeping them in school. Girls are often pulled from classes to help with chores around the house.

“For a former educator, it was great to see that their kids can now go to school. For some, it was the first generation ever. We brought notebooks, pens and pencils. It was recommended that we bring eyeglasses since they don’t have the money to get them and I cleaned out a store and bought all their reading glasses. The women were thrilled with them. The things we take for granted—everything is so appreciated.”

If you are interested in arranging a legacy gift, either through a will or trust, or as a beneficiary of 401(k)s or other investments, please contact your financial institution or Development Director Michael Allen at mallen@friendshipbridge.og

Leaders Learn with Philip Isely Leaders in Action

Leaders participate in a team exercise during training.

Leaders participate in a team exercise during training.

A leader in action aspires to learn and improve. In Guatemala, Friendship Bridge employees undertook that challenge and learned that growth and hard work are investment opportunities. Nine participants benefited from their involvement in the inaugural cohort for the Philip Isely Leaders in Action Program.

The program is made possible by the support of Eli Isely in the name of her late husband Philip Isely. Philip co-founded Vitamin Cottage and began his business selling door-to-door. Over the years, his business grew organically into a large corporation supporting several stores. Philip was a successful and inspiring example of a micro-entrepreneur who became a successful business and community leader. It is therefore very fitting that this unique staff leadership program bear his name.

Eli, a long-time patron who pledged a $15,000 gift to develop and support the program, believes that investing in leadership is an appropriate tribute to her late husband. “Philip believed that the growth of good leaders was a worthwhile cause,” Eli says. “Leaders in Action is a great investment in the future of Friendship Bridge.” Eli served on the Planning Committee for the Building Bridges Gala and continues to give her time and energy in supporting our mission in Guatemala.

Employees taking training included loan officers, branch managers, office managers and program staff. Twelve months of activities and classes were scheduled, including full-day seminars and quarterly meetings with the entire group. Topics such as coaching, time management, organizational culture and leadership were addressed. Book discussions were also included as the students applied new concepts to their jobs.

Mentoring from a senior participant was key to learning different perspectives on work challenges. As each learner progressed, they also worked on a group assignment and an individual project. The group project focused on improving operational self-sufficiency while individuals learned how to approach problems with solutions and leadership skills.

Karen Reyes works as an Accounting Coordinator. She was excited to report that she “discovered skills and qualities that I did not know I had.”

This testimony of an empowered woman is just one of many successful outcomes that the Leaders in Action program produced. Two employees were promoted – and in May, a new cohort was formed and training is underway again. Congratulations to all our Guatemalan staff who completed and are currently taking the training – you are all leaders who are empowering our clients!

The 2013 Impact Report – Making a Difference

Making a difference is what Friendship Bridge strives to do each day among more than 22,000 clients and their families. We now have statistics from two years of research that shows what we are doing truly IS making a difference.  Friendship Bridge is pleased to announce publication of the 2013 Impact Report. It illustrates the results of our monitoring activities and evaluation, providing critical information to improve our program as well as to provide evidence that we are achieving our mission. We found that our Microcredit Plus program seems to be providing the appropriate support for our clients to find sturdy footing, allowing them to look upward and forward, to dream and to pursue a better future for themselves, their children and their communities. This social empowerment was the key to the most significant advances among clients.

Findings indicate that our loan clients are becoming more stable, accumulating social capital and skills, and they are prioritizing education for their children. The data is presented through the experiences of three typical clients, revealing the different levels of poverty in the communities we serve. The report findings guided development of the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan, our line of sight to directly respond to client needs by developing programs specifically to stabilize our clients, so that they can gain skills and knowledge, increase their self-confidence, grow their social networks and develop their business to enact the change they want for themselves, their children, and their communities. For our most vulnerable clients – artisans and agriculturalists – we are developing value chain solution programs. To increase the stability of clients, we are working to improve the health of client households by financing higher-quality stoves and offering preventative health services for clients and their children.

Although we regularly use data we collect throughout the year for operations, we hope to produce a similar report annually to continually demonstrate our progress toward achieving our mission. We invite you to read the report, and learn more about our clients and how our mission in Guatemala is impacting lives.

Farmer finds attitude essential in outgrowing poverty

MariaARBlogBecause of the financial assistance and education Friendship Bridge provides, more than 22,000 clients overcome hardships to succeed for themselves and their families. But the perseverance of María Tun Panjoj, a farmer in the central highlands of Guatemala, is exceptional.

In 2010, Tropical Storm Agatha hit María’s home in Aldea Xajaxac, Sololá, a small village. The unrelenting storm washed away everything she and her family had, including their home and crops. In the aftermath of the storm, María used her Friendship Bridge loans to rebuild her life again.  At 29, with five children, a husband, a few goats and chickens, María works hard every day to grow several different kinds of vegetables. She and her husband work the land themselves until harvest season when they hire others, mostly women, to help. They use their loans to buy seeds, fertilizer, and hire workers. Through access to microloans, María has rebuilt her home and managed to keep her children in school. She and her husband dream of acquiring more land to expand their farm.

María is one of three women highlighted in the Friendship Bridge 2013 Annual Report, which will be available in August. These clients represent three segments that correspond to their development. Through segmentation, we tailor products and services to best meet their needs for a more stable future.

“It takes more than tools and money to escape poverty. To be truly empowered, one’s attitude is essential,” she says.


Band of Sisters – A Trust Bank is ‘All for One’


Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank
  Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala
Loan cycles:  1
Members:  8
Average age of members:  35 years
Average member school level:  4
Average loan size: $240

Santa Cruz, the capital of the department (state) of Quiche, is a metropolis nestled in the Chuacús Mountains and surrounded by several small towns. The city serves as a marketplace where corn, beans and livestock are commonly sold. In this environment, the Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank was formed with eight members in their first-ever loan cycle. These women all make their living by selling in the marketplace. Their goods include tortillas, pastries and meals as well as clothes.

Although new to the concept of microfinance loans, these women are already working on future goals. The group began as close friends and they expect to work together long-term. Despite having different businesses, Elena Viviana says, ‘When one of us proposes something, we can get it done together!”

With only five years of primary school and five children, Elena set up a food business. She responded quickly when a loan officer asked when they were going to start going after what they want. “Now!” she said enthusiastically. “I want to grow my business,” she says. “I can do this with the help of Friendship Bridge.” She is thankful and does not think she could expand her business without the capital provided through Friendship Bridge.

Marta Raymundo is another member of the Trust Bank. A teacher, she believes strongly in education. “A lot of times there is not an opportunity for education. It is not okay because we have a right to education.” She explains her motivation:

“If we do not know, we cannot act. We need to know to live.”

The others nod in agreement. The lessons they are learning are investments in their quality of life. “We are already empowered!”

The Luz de Mi Sendero Trust Bank.

The Luz de mi Sendero Trust Bank.


‘From the Field:’ Sharing, caring with clients

A loan officer leads clients through an exercise.

A loan officer leads clients through an exercise.

Maya and Adrienne from Boulder, Colo., are working in Guatemala through the end of July as interns for Friendship Bridge, preparing reports for KIVA. They love traveling, exploring new places, speaking Spanish and playing music.  

When traveling, rarely does time feel like it passes slowly. However, here in Panajachel, we feel as if we have been here for weeks. Maybe it’s because of the numerous incredible people we have met; or maybe it’s because of how different every day is here.  Our first week with Friendship Bridge has come to an end, and we feel as if we’ve learned weeks’ worth of wisdom.

Within just one week we have met 24 different and inspiring local women; and have traveled to three unique communities. Although this week has been long and exhausting from the travel and acclimation, it is all worth it.

We are excited about our work this week! We will travel alone to communities to meet with a loan officer and accompany the officer to the Friendship Bridge meetings. There, we will use a standard set of questions to ask for KIVA and many photos to take. Even though it will be nerve racking to no longer be the shadow of a trained employee, we feel ready for the responsibility! Serving as a direct link between these women and the organization is a huge responsibility – as well as finding our way along the challenging bus system!

It seems to us that this responsibility is a sign of trust from Friendship Bridge, and we are excited to earn that trust.



‘From the Field’: A Blog from Friendship Bridge Interns

Maya  and Adrienne from Boulder, Colo., are working in Guatemala through the end of July as interns for Friendship Bridge. They love traveling, exploring new places, speaking Spanish and playing music. Both have traveled extensively in Central and South America. This is the first of several blogs as they share interaction with the clients of Friendship Bridge in reports for KIVA.

Maya interviews a client in Santa Clara la Laguna as her friends listen.

Maya interviews a client in Santa Clara la Laguna as her friends listen.

Bienvenidos a Panajachel!

Imagine sitting in a kitchen of adobe walls with a group of eight women bantering in languages that you not only can’t understand, but have never heard. The simple task of “taking notes” becomes very complicated in this situation. Our coordinator and mentor, Marta, leans over to us every 10 minutes to give us a vague idea of the conversation taking place. We sit there dazed and confused; however, we appreciate the little that we do understand. We take in much more than words. We understand their laughter, and we admire their perseverance to grow their businesses despite the obstacles they encounter.

We met a woman who, without local education, has not only raised two children alone but is also creating a successful business in cosmetics and clothing. She sits among a group of seven other individuals. Each of them come from different backgrounds and will advance to different futures. The common ground they share is that they each are motivated to improve their circumstances through this opportunity that is being provided through Friendship Bridge. They sit quietly as we ask them a set of standard questions.

Although it is slightly intimidating to enter foreign communities to meet these groups of women, we realized what an incredible opportunity it is to be invited into their lives.

Without this internship we would never have seen the amazing lifestyles of so many different cultures. We have only been in Panajachel for a little over a week but it feels like much longer. We have explored and learned so much as a part of Friendship Bridge and have become friends with the other employees in the office. We feel at home.


A circle of clients laughs as a loan officer demonstrates empowerment in an exercise.



[do action=”image-right”]2014/06/SantosQGrandson.jpg[/do] Santos Ajiquichi Quisquina
Age: 42 years old
Marital Status: separated
Number of children: 2, 1 grandchild
Loan cycle: 2nd
Loan Amount: $246
Trust Bank: Eight members
Location: Canton El Tablon, Sololá Guatemala
Business: Artisan weaver

Santos Ajiquichi Quisquina, is an artisan weaver currently in her second loan cycle with Friendship Bridge.  She hand weaves beautiful textiles on a back strap loom for customers and tourists in local community.  She creates textile patterns reminiscent of a more traditional pattern that existed in her community years ago, but regaining popularity.

Santos’ story of empowerment is like that of many clients helped by Friendship Bridge. Rather than stay in a bad marriage, Santos left an abusive husband to care for her daughter and grandson with money earned from weaving, made possible by a micro-loan.

More than 22,000 women and their families in rural areas are using Friendship Bridge loans and education to enhance their businesses.  Santos lives in the ​​Sololá area in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is one of the larger, more prominent communities near Lake Atitlan.

Santos says that her microloans have given her a new sense of independence. “I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish on my own.  It’s a good feeling.”

Her Trust Bank is comprised of eight members with an average age of 44 years and an average formal education of 1.6 years.  On average, they have four children per member and varied businesses including bakeries, flowers, vegetables, tortillas, snacks and concessions, convenience stores, avocados, and handicrafts. The average loan of $378 goes directly into these businesses.

Thanks to loans made possible from our partnership with ShareBrands, Santos can continue to make life better for herself and her family.