Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : Article

Guatemalan President Sports Friendship Bridge Cap!

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/GT-President-in-FB-cap.jpg[/do]On May 23 the city of Huehuetenango hosted a second annual Microfinance Fair in Guatemala.  Approximately 10 microfinance institutions, including Friendship Bridge, participated in the fair where festivities were kicked off by Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina, who addressed the crowd as the day began.  Following his opening remarks, the President then mingled with participants and guests.  When he passed by Friendship Bridge’s booth, Branch Manager Maria Delfina Lopez Mendez put the cap on the President’s head and he posed for the picture seen here.  Besides befriending the President of Guatemala, Friendship Bridge made 150 new contacts with potential clients – a very successful day!

Shop Amazon and Support Friendship Bridge

Friendship Bridge

Now, simply shopping at Amazon can result in a gift to Friendship Bridge.  The AmazonSmile program is the reason.

The AmazonSmile Foundation is Amazon’s giving arm of operation.  It was created by Amazon to allow its customers to designate the charitable organizations to which Amazon will give.  Via AmazonSmile, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the customer’s selected charitable organization.

To support Friendship Bridge the next time you shop at Amazon, begin your shopping by going to smile.amazon.com.  The first time you visit, you will be prompted to select a charitable organization.  Type “Friendship Bridge” in the search box and press the Search button.  Select Friendship Bridge from the results list and begin shopping as usual.  Note you will not be allowed to shop at AmazonSmile until you designate a charitable organization.  Also you will need to shop at the AmazonSmile website (smile.amazon.com) in order for a donation to be made.

You may want to add a bookmark to AmazonSmile to make it easier to return to do your Amazon shopping.  Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registries, and other account settings on Amazon.com will carry over.

Each time you shop at AmazonSmile, a donation of 0.5% of your eligible purchases will automatically be made and collected by Amazon for delivery to Friendship Bridge.  All expenses will be paid by Amazon.  And we will receive the funds on a quarterly basis.  So get shopping!

Join Us in Guatemala in November

[do action=”image-right”]2013/06/TravelGuatemalaLakeAtitlan-300×169.jpg[/do]Bi-annually, when the weather is best in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge guides a tour of Lake Atitlán and the surrounding communities where our clients live and work.  The experience is called an Insight Trip and our Fall trip is scheduled for November 9-15, 2014.  It is an amazing journey of discovery as we travel through areas extraordinarily rich in culture and natural beauty.  Lake Atitlán is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

While an exact itinerary has not been finalized, Insight Trips typically involve visits to Friendship Bridge clients’ homes and businesses, a boat ride on Lake Atitlán, interesting demonstrations of local weaving and dying techniques, and opportunities to learn about the indigenous Mayan culture.  Likely, you and 12 fellow travelers will fly into Guatemala City and travel to Antigua; spend the next four days in Friendship Bridge-guided activities like those mentioned above; have a free day to explore the ruins, markets, and city of Antigua; and travel back to Guatemala City to head home.

Insight Trips are $1,500 per person which includes ground transportation, most meals, and double-occupancy lodging.  An initial non-refundable deposit of $250 is required, plus two more payments prior to the trip.  Experience the culture and beauty of Guatemala while seeing first-hand the impact Friendship Bridge has on the lives of women, their families, and their communities.  We’d love to be your guide.

Building Bridges 2014 a Big Success

Friendship Bridge’s 2014 Building Bridges Gala, at Mile High Station on April 24, was a wonderful evening shared by friends, celebrating our clients, and contributing critical dollars for microloans and education to impoverished women in Guatemala. We raised nearly $100,000 toward our goal and made more per person this year than we have in previous years.  Plus it was a lot of fun!

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/sparkly-big-picture-2-square.jpg[/do]Those who attended the Gala got the chance to meet Friendship Bridge client, Petrona Cumes Matzar as she demonstrated the art of weaving on her backstrap loom.  All of the exquisite textiles for sale at the event were handmade by Petrona and other Friendship Bridge clients.  If you did not get the chance to purchase one of their lovely pieces, you will have another opportunity the evening of June 5, 2014 at the Boulder Hub.  Stay tuned for more information on this artisan sale!

Due to the talents of award-winning auctioneer, Shawn Hagler and his team, the live auction was another highlight of the evening.  Shawn had everyone’s attention as he adeptly auctioned dream vacations to Cabo and Italy, an heirloom quality quilt made from vintage Guatemalan fabrics, a guided fly fishing trip, and a festively painted wheelbarrow full of local craft beer!

Otherwise guests enjoyed tapas and beverages while wandering the Guatemalan Market and silent auction.  Conversations were lively and the live marimba music and ambiance of Mile High Station were a perfect backdrop for promoting a good cause.  Next year’s Gala, which will likely be at a different venue, has a lot to live up to.  We hope to see you there!

Friendship Bridge Recognized for SPM

In April, Friendship Bridge was acknowledged for its leadership in the use of Social Performance Management (SPM) by two organizations that are leading the way in promoting the importance of SPM in the microfinance industry:  Grameen Foundation and MIX.

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/PPI_logo-2-e1399657692416.png[/do]In its recent report, 2014 Global Report on Poverty Measurement with the Progress Out of Poverty Index, Grameen Foundation highlighted Friendship Bridge along with seven other organizations who exemplify best practices using the Progress Out of Poverty Index (PPI), a poverty measurement tool for organizations with a mission to serve the poor.  Nearly three quarters of PPI users (142) are MFIs.  Friendship Bridge was an early user of the tool, evincing our commitment to serving our clients in the best ways possible.

[do action=”image-right”]2014/05/MIX-Market-logo-2-e1399658803321.png[/do]MIX has long promoted transparency among microfinance organizations regarding their financial performance.  With the increased use of SPM in the industry, they recently began corroborating the social performance of MFIs as well.  Friendship Bridge is one of the first 24 recipients of their brand new STAR (Socially Transparent and Responsible) Recognition.  Two hundred organizations participated.  Friendship Bridge is also the first organization to receive recognition in Central America.  STAR Recognition is awarded to MFIs that have achieved a high level of compliance with the Social Performance Task Force’s (SPTF) Universal Standards of Social Performance Management (USSPM) as evidenced by the documentation provided by each MFI.  Environmental protection policies (not covered by the USSPM) are considered as well.  Source: http://www.mixmarket.org/sites/default/files/star_factsheet_final_en.pdf)


Drivers of Change: International Women’s Day

Global Partnerships Partner with Friendship BridgeBelow is an excerpt of an article published today in Global Partnerships Blog.  For the full article, click here.

By Tara Murphy Forde, director of research & impact, Global Partnerships, and Karen Larson, executive director, Friendship Bridge 

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day (March 8, 2014) by highlighting the importance of empowering women around the world. This year’s U.N. theme is “Equality for women is progress for all,” and it echoes Global Partnerships’ (GP’s) belief that investing in women is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

What Happens When Women are Empowered?

At GP we believe that increasing women’s access to resources and information enables them to make decisions that improve the wellbeing of their families, businesses, and communities. In turn we seek partners like Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides microcredit and education to Guatemalan women, so they can create their own solutions to poverty. Through Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program, women start, expand or diversify their businesses and learn practical, applicable lessons on everyday topics including business, health and self-esteem. Today more than 20,000 Friendship Bridge clients participate in the program, resulting in:

  • A greater ability to weather economic shocks, such as illness or natural disaster
  • Decreased malnutrition
  • Decreased spousal abuse
  • Improved hygiene and health care
  • Increased number of children attending school, especially girls
  • Increased support, camaraderie, and self-esteem among borrowers
  • Increased family planning (borrowers are 50% more likely to have fewer children)

Empowering Women

GP seeks innovators – by that we mean organizations that aim to improve, refine, and renew their approach to solving the world’s toughest problems. By leveraging cross-trained loan officers to provide education during group repayment meetings, Friendship Bridge is achieving high levels of participation and excellent loan repayment rates while incurring low marginal costs. This refined approach means that Friendship Bridge can arm more women with the tools and information they need to transform their lives.

This is an excerpt of an article from Global Partnerships Blog.  For the full article, click here.

2013 Friendship Bridge Highlights

Signing for a Microloan, GuatemalaAs we embark on 2014, we wanted to share highlights from 2013.  These would not have been possible without the generous support from all of you.  Thank you!

In 2013, Friendship Bridge:

  • Maintained an excellent portfolio quality with 1.27% in write-offs, or $55K, and ending the year with PAR>30 of 0.43% – continuing to be one of the best portfolio results in the industry
  • Increased the number of clients from 15,750 to 19,969
  • Friendship Circles raised over $205,000 to support our mission
  • Promoted 7 employees, 42% of promotions went to women
  • 11.8% of new hires were clients
  • 517 clients attended advanced education or technical training
  • Conducted nearly 19,000 surveys to enhance programming,
  • Presented FB’s Social Performance Management at the Latin America  Village Banking Forum 2013 in Ecuador
  • Implemented a new database – GoProve – to assist in measuring impact
  • Launched new website to raise awareness and funds for FB clients
  • Published in Grameen Foundation’s Blog for our work with PPI
  • Offered tuition reimbursement for 16 employees in Guatemala
  • Initiated clean stove loan, part of our health initiative program
  • Instituted an education loan product at a low interest rate to help clients prioritize education for their children
  • 100% of FB Board of Directors supported our work with financial contributions

Fourth Quarter Highlights from Executive Director, Karen Larson

Dear Friends,

Season’s Greetings from all of us at Friendship Bridge!  After just returning from several weeks in Guatemala, I have much to share, but first, I would like to thank you all for the tremendous impact you had on Friendship Bridge this past year.  I am excited to highlight our many successes with you, and of course, if you are looking for more in-depth information on any of these highlights, please contact the Friendship Bridge office via e-mail or 303.674.0717.


  • Guatemalan women learn more about new, safe stoves with Friendship BridgePilot stove project health initiative rolled out in October – A recent study on open pit fires, used by many of our clients, found the deadly gas carbon monoxide was found to be fifteen times greater than the EPA base level considered to be dangerous (learn more at HELPS International).  Friendship Bridge is offering low-rate loans to help our clients transition to safer and healthier stoves.
  • Pricing study on interest rates proves Friendship Bridge remains in the lower quartile – Friendship Bridge recently completed a comprehensive pricing study of 13 competitors that make up 70 percent of the market share in Guatemala.  The study confirms that we have met our goal of offering loan rates in the lower quartile of the market.
  • Expanding the Bridge: 2014-2016 Strategic Plan sneak preview – Guided by comprehensive data evaluations, the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan includes enhanced credit and savings products, a focus on rural agriculture families, a market access program for artisan clients, implementing several health related initiatives, and growing successful relationships with partners including Kiva and Global Partnerships.  You will hear more about this in 2014.

I know it is a busy time of year for everyone, but I am grateful you have made the time to review our highlights.  We are in a very exciting stage in our organizational growth and I encourage you to remember Friendship Bridge and the potential of our many thousands of empowered women in your end-of-year giving.

All the best this holiday season,

Karen Larson
Executive Director

How poverty data influences strategy at Friendship Bridge

For many years, Friendship Bridge has been utilizing both qualitative and quantitative evaluation tools to monitor the impact of the mission.  In 2011, Friendship Bridge committed to a PPIlogomore consistent evaluation process to better monitor balanced financial and social performance, which included conducting a baseline study using the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI).  The following year, Friendship Bridge institutionalized the PPI as part of its regular processes.  The data collected from these efforts are now used to shape the strategic plans and priorities for the organization.

The Grameen Foundation’s PPI blog recently highlighted Friendship Bridge for our efforts in using poverty data to influence strategy.  The data obtained through the PPI validates existing program strategy to deliver microcredit and education to our target market.  In addition, the data is guiding the 2014-2016 Strategic Plan to expand programs that offer diversified financial products and advanced educational services.  Please read the full blog post on the PPI blog here.

Giving the Gift of Empowerment

Empower Guatemalan WomenAfter receiving Microcredit Plus from Friendship Bridge, Vicenta left the back-breaking life in the fields behind to pursue her weaving trade.

At Friendship Bridge, our philosophy is simple: We believe women are the key to economic development.  Over the past year, Friendship Bridge offered more than 19,000 Guatemalan women loans and education programs to help them create their own solutions to poverty. Through microloans and education, you are helping to turn the tide in Guatemala by providing women the skills and resources to build sustainable futures.  Renewable loans for as little as $125 allow them to enhance their own small businesses such as artisan trades, raising livestock, and making and selling food products.

Case in point: Vicenta Zaput Palax.  From the age of 11, Vicenta worked in the cotton and coffee fields along the southern coast of Guatemala.  With only three years of formal education, planting and harvesting year after year became a way of life.  While working the fields had always put food on the table, what she really loved was weaving.  After receiving Microcredit Plus from Friendship Bridge, Vicenta was able to turn her love for weaving into a business, capable of supporting herself and her family.

In fact, she is so successful that all of her children are now in school and she is also using what she has learned to help others in her community, Vicenta now leads an association of women artisans!  Women like Vicenta are a perfect example of how microloans combined with education can empower women to find their dreams and become change agents in their families and communities.

The success of these programs and the women we serve, would not be possible without donors like you.  Please consider making a significant impact with your donation this holiday season by investing in women through Friendship Bridge.  Your donation will provide life-changing microloans and education programs to help women grow their businesses, create change for themselves, their families and communities, and like Vicenta, find their dreams.

Click here to give the gift of empowerment.

Visiting Guatemala with Friendship Bridge

By: Meryle Melnicoff

On the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for the November Insight trip, organized and hosted by Friendship Bridge.  As a believer in the power of micro-finance to improve lives, I wanted to see how Friendship Bridge works with its women clients.  The trip turned out to be filled with many wonderful surprises and delights.

My first surprise was the country of Guatemala itself.   At the urging of the Friendship Bridge staff, I went straight to the town of Antigua from the airport instead of staying in the capital of Guatemala City.  Antigua is a lovely tourist town full of shops and markets where you can purchase the wonderful hand-woven articles that are unique to Guatemala.  Anyone who enjoys quality handicrafts and artwork will have a wonderful time in this town.  After Antigua, we went to Lake Atitlan, which is a magnificent lake surrounded by beautiful mountains, which I learned were active volcanoes.

The most meaningful moments of my Insight trip were our visits to the Friendship Bridge clients, many of whom are located in the small towns and villages around Lake Atitlan.  During these visits we saw the power of micro-finance to improve lives.  We met with some long-term Friendship Bridge clients who now have thriving businesses such as restaurants, shops selling local goods, and even a multi-family clothing factory; these businesses now supported the women and their entire families.

Clients Learning about Children Education

FB Loan Officer teaching clients about the importance of education for their children.

During one client visit, we had the opportunity to observe – and participate in – a repayment meeting and that is when I learned how special and unique the Friendship Bridge micro-loan program is in Guatemala.  Once a month each Trust Bank (a group of 8-12 women who have agreed to guarantee each others’ loans) meets with a Friendship Bridge loan officer.  Instead of simply making their payment and then leaving, as would be the case with a for-profit micro-loan company, the women meet for an hour for a bonding and educational session.  These educational sessions are the real reason the Friendship Bridge clients rise out of poverty: the clients learn about the importance of keeping their children in school, mental and physical health, family planning, and managing their business.  One impact of these sessions is that, in a country with only a fifty percent literacy rate, we know that Friendship Bridge clients are now able to prioritize education for their children.

Guatemala is a beautiful country that is growing and prospering, but it still has many people, mainly indigenous Mayans, living in poverty and without education.   Thanks to the work of Friendship Bridge, 19,000 families are now led by empowered women who are getting the financial and educational support to lift themselves out of poverty.  Much has been accomplished in Guatemala in the past 15 years, but there is still much more to do.

View a photo album of Meryle’s trip, here.  Photos by: Doug Smith

Technical Training Creates New Love for Floral Arranging

Guatemalan women in technical trainingFriendship Bridge is continuing to make huge strides with our advanced education and technical training initiative.  To date, over 700 women have participated in a technical training to help take their business to the next level.   Through a variety of strategic partnerships with key organizations in Guatemala, we have sponsored courses on topics ranging from pastry making and canning to improved agriculture techniques and flower arranging.

Recently, a handful of our clients completed a training dedicated specifically to the art of flower arranging.  This skill is versatile as it can give clients a variety of opportunities including:

1) Store owners can create a new stream of income

2) Allows women to start a second small business

3) Presents an opportunity for women who really enjoy the art, to move from their current career into a new one

In addition to enhancing their businesses, the women in these technical trainings report that they love to get out of the house, form new relationships and the new skill boosts their confidence levels.