Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Category : Article

Tiny Loans, Big Impact

Chico Women's Microfinance Collaborative Women’s collaborative brings speaker to teach about microfinance for poor Guatemalan women.  When women in poor, rural areas receive a small loan, big things can happen.  (Excerpt taken from Chico News & Review, click here for full story)

“There was one [Guatemalan] lady … [who] had become a success, and she said, ‘Now I know that my husband doesn’t need to beat me,’” offered Katy Warren, co-founder of the Women’s Microfinance Collaborative, a loosely knit group of Chico-area donors focused on microfinance.

The woman was a recipient of a microfinance loan that she received from Friendship Bridge—a Colorado-based microfinance institution (MFI) that focuses on empowering poor entrepreneurial women in Guatemala by giving loans of usually around $300-$350. Loans are used to grow small businesses—for instance, to buy a new loom for a weaving business, or buy seeds for a small farm.

“That’s a big deal to me,” said Warren of the Guatemalan woman’s newly found strength. “She had enough power to say, ‘No, you’re not going to hit me again’ to him.”

Michelle Rasmussen, the collaborative’s facilitator and chairwoman, agreed. “Allowing women to get into a business and be self-sustaining changes not only their economic situation, but their social situation [as well].”

Microfinance—as the name implies—is the supply of small loans and other financial services to the poor, who often are excluded from traditional banks’ services because of their rural locations (making banks inaccessible), or because of their low incomes, which disqualify them for traditional loans.

Click here for full story at Chico News & Review.

Health Initiatives Provide a Breath of Fresh Air

Guatemalan women learn more about new, safe stoves with Friendship BridgeHealth initiatives are part of Friendship Bridge’s commitment to the women we serve.  This has led to an exciting new partnership with HELPS International, the manufacturer of ONIL stoves and the pilot of our newest health initiative project. For centuries the Mayan’s, Guatemala’s indigenous population, have cooked using open flame fires on the floors of their homes. This traditional method of cooking is the cause of rampant medical and environmental problems including severe burns, respiratory problems and smoke-related eye complications.  In addition, these open fires use significant amounts of wood that takes valuable time to gather, are expensive, cause physical stress and have detrimental environmental effects.  HELPS International has developed the ONIL stove, which minimizes smoke and burns, and reduce wood use by 70%.  Learn how these stoves work in this short video.

Friendship Bridge is working hard to facilitate our clients’ transition to the ONIL stove.  Last week, we conducted our first ONIL stove learning session with clients.  The women are excited about the opportunity and many began to fill out applications for special micro-health loans to purchase a stove for their household.  This project helps create a healthy, lasting change for our clients, their families and communities.

Highlights from Executive Director, Karen Larson

Ag_KarenWebsiteDear Friends,

As key stakeholders who have made a considerable impact on our organization, I want to ensure you are well-informed of our activities and progress.   Friendship Bridge has hit an important milestone this month and I am excited to share the details with you, along with other important initiatives. 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.


  • Portfolio reaches historic high while maintaining excellent quality
    Friendship Bridge grew our portfolio to 30 million quetzales ($3.85 million)!  This is an exciting milestone for Friendship Bridge and I am happy to report that this accomplishment was met while continuing to maintain our excellent portfolio quality and serving nearly 18,000 clients.
  • Reducing the burden of poverty
    Our impact and evaluation work shows a clear, positive association between the length of time a client is with Friendship Bridge and their level of poverty.  Our work in reducing the burden of poverty is two-fold: (1) Clients create a more consistent cash flow and protection against shocks such as unexpected illnesses or natural disasters; and, (2) clients are using valuable information they learn during our health education programs in their daily lives.
  • Social Performance Management principles garner industry attention
    Shon Morris, Friendship Bridge staff member, was invited to present at the Latin American Conference on Village Banking for our exemplarily work with Social Performance Management, affirming our position as a leader in the field.
  • Health initiatives
    Data shows that clients appreciate our health programs and are using what they learn.  In an effort to enhance our social impact commitment to our clients, we have partnered with HELPS International, the manufacturer of ONIL Stoves, to facilitate our clients’ transition to safer and healthier stoves that minimize smoke inhalation and burns.  In addition, these stoves reduce wood use by 70%, saving valuable time, money and natural resources.

Lastly, if anyone is interested in traveling to Guatemala to see first-hand the impact these programs have on our clients, consider our next Insight Trip scheduled for November 10-16, 2013.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 303.674.0717.

All the best,

Karen Larson
Executive Director

Dining for Women Awards Grant to Friendship Bridge

Dining For Women Presents Check to Friendship Bridge

We at Friendship Bridge always enjoy welcoming guests into our offices.  Today we received an extra special surprise at the Lakewood office when Betty, a volunteer from Dining for Women, stopped by with a $15,000 grant check to show DFW’s support for Friendship Bridge programs (Betty is pictured with Karen Larsen, Executive Director and Michael Allen, Development Director).  Thank you Dining for Women!  This grant will support many clients in our Microcredit Plus program where women receive both loans and education.

DFW is an educational giving circle whose members meet monthly, learn about featured and sustained programs, and donate to DFW.  All of this allows DFW to support grassroots international programs empowering women and girls living in extreme poverty. They fund programs that foster good health, education, and economic self-sufficiency in developing countries.  They are devoted to educating and inspiring individuals to make a difference and fight global poverty through the power of collective giving, so you can see why Friendship Bridge and DFW make a perfect pair!

Sweet Success with Microcredit Plus

Client teaches daughter chocolate skillsMarta Cristina Pérez Carrera lives in Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Gutemala. Several years ago, Marta Cristina took her three young children and left an abusive marriage. She struggled in the beginning just to meet her and her children’s basic needs.

It wasn’t until Marta Cristina found Friendship Bridge, and took out her first loan of $192, that life started to change for the better. Marta Cristina invested her first loan in a chocolate-making business. She had learned the craft from her mother-in-law but was struggling to earn enough to buy the raw materials to make more product. Though Marta Cristina still has to travel to use her mother-in-law’s chocolate making machine once a week, the loan has allowed her to produce more chocolates. She now sells the chocolates in three different markets.

One of Marta Cristina’s goals is to buy her own chocolate machine so she doesn’t have to rely on her mother-in-law. While she is earning enough income now to keep her children in school, she hopes to return herself to school on the weekends and eventually earn a college degree.

Guatemala: Post-Conflict Microfinance – “From Swords to Plowshares”

Jeffrey Nelson, a Kiva Fellow who has been working with Friendship Bridge in Guatemala recently posted this wonderful article on the Kiva Fellows Blog.

Post-Conflict MicrofinanceThe following blog post will discuss why micro-finance is distinctly qualified as an holistic-development tool to affect lasting improvement in post-conflict zones. After establishing an understanding of the Guatemalan post-conflict context, I will discuss anecdotal and academic evidence of the economic and social benefits that micro-finance provides in post-conflict zones. This blog’s content will be drawing heavily from the report, “Microfinance and Social Impact in Post-Conflict Environments,” by Laura K. Messiner. Please consult her report HERE for a more in-depth analysis.

Get the whole story here.

Giving Women an Asset for Life

Education has and will always be a signature component of Friendship Bridge programs.  While microcredit provides our clients with a hand up for their businesses, education provides them with an asset for life – skills and knowledge to create sustainable change for themselves, their families and their communities.  Keeping with this approach, in 2012 we inaugurated an advanced training program to help our more seasoned clients grow and diversify their businesses.

[do action=”image-right”]2013/06/CanningClass_Guatemala.jpg[/do]The trainings teach a variety of new business opportunities including advanced agricultural practices, pastry making, and canning.  Since its inception, nearly 400 women have participated in advanced training courses, learning to make new products and earning more income.

“This is learning for life.  I can now teach my family and neighbors these lessons and everyone benefits,” explains Angelica Zaput, a Friendship Bridge client.  Another client, Josefa Torres, is amazed at her own progress, “I began applying what I learned immediately.  I’m a vegetable vendor, and normally what I can’t sell goes bad.  Now, I pickle whatever I have left over to sell.  In just two weeks, I’ve earned an extra 300 quetzals ($38).”

Gardening for a Good Cause – Foothills Circle

[do action=”image-right”]2013/06/FoothillsCircleDayofGardeningWalsh.jpeg[/do]Each year the Foothills Circle donates three hours of garden labor to the silent auction at the Building Bridges Gala.  Over the years, this has become one of the most popular items at the Gala and we appreciate all the time donated by the green thumbs in Foothills Circle.

There was no rest for them this spring as they have already completed three days with three lucky auction winners.  Last weekend they had a lovely, cool, shady time planting containers, moving perennials, planting new perennials after adding LOTS of natural soil amendments. Now if they could just work some magic to keep the elk and rodents at bay!

This is just one fun, unique way our circles give back to Friendship Bridge.  Keep this beautiful garden picture in mind when bidding at 2014 Building Bridges Gala!

Growing With Our Clients

Clients Progress Out of Poverty

Agustina Quisquina Mendoza

[do action=”image-right”]2013/06/Agustina_BeansLR-150×150.jpg[/do]

Agustina Quisquina Mendoza, 51 years old, applied for Microcredit Plus through Friendship Bridge three years ago.  A weaver by trade, she used her loan to buy yarn and a more functional loom.  This small but crucial investment allowed her to produce more textiles, build a base of customers and earn more for her family.  She is now in her third loan cycle with Friendship Bridge and recently attended an Advanced Education course.  Learn about Agustina’s experience in Advanced Education in the 2013 Newsletter.

MicroCredit + Education = MicroCredit Plus, A Winning Combination

MicroCredit + Education = MicroCredit Plus, A Winning Combination

Our Microcredit Plus program combines small loans with non-formal participatory education. Women form groups of 7-25 members called Trust Banks. Each elects its own officers, creates business plans together, co-guarantees individual member’s loans, and participates in education sessions that are included in monthly loan repayment meetings.

Microcredit Plus Facts:

  • Friendship Bridge’s average loan size is $250 and loan terms are 4-12 months.
  • Friendship Bridge clients expand small businesses such as weaving, embroidery, pastry making, raising livestock or poultry, basket weaving, roadside vending, or growing fruits and vegetables for sale at the local markets.
  • Profits from the women’s businesses boost overall household income, as well as self-esteem.
  • As loans are repaid, they are re-loaned.
  • A Friendship Bridge client, on average, has 2.6 years of formal education, is unable to read and write and is unlikely to speak Spanish
  • Friendship Bridge has created non-formal, participatory education lessons such as business, money management, self-esteem, women’s rights, health and children’s education.

The benefits of microcredit include:

  • 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 level of family planning (borrowers are 50% more likely to have fewer children)

Our Microcredit Plus programs are available to Guatemalan women thanks to the impact from generous donors like you. Please donate now to help us continue to provide loans, education, training and empowerment to women like Otilia.