Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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A New Strategic Plan for Friendship Bridge

At Friendship Bridge, we pride ourselves on being a nimble, learning organization that continuously evaluates our impact and responds to the evolving needs of our clients: Guatemalan women living in poverty looking to build a better life. Our tactics have evolved substantially since our work in Guatemala began in 1998 and last year, despite a global pandemic, our team adapted quickly, responded proactively, and focused on the needs of our clients with compassion to be Here for her in 2020. Today, with renewed confidence in the future, we are thrilled to share the details of our 2021-25 Strategic Plan.

View Strategic Plan

What does Impact “Squared” mean?

Impact2 refers to the exponential impact our new strategy will have on an even greater number of Guatemalan women, families, and communities. We expect the results of our new strategy to have a multiplier effect as we serve two distinct client segments. As a result, our clients will experience a combination of increased resilience, improved empowerment, and business development.

New Client Segmentations

In our previous Strategic Plan from 2017-19, we segmented our clients into three groups: Dreamers, Entrepreneurs, and Leaders, which allowed us to offer products and programs tailored to their individual stages of development. This group lending model, paired with basic, Non-Formal Education, was effective in reducing clients’ burden of poverty, but it was too basic for all clients over time. Yet overall, our data and evaluations from this method showed us that we were on the right track and our learnings from this approach informed the changes we are moving forward with currently. With Impact2, we are implementing a new organizational structure that will provide specialized services to just two distinct client segments: Dreamer and Entrepreneurs

Who are “Dreamers?”

Dreamers are women living in poverty, mainly in rural areas, looking for access to financial services to support a variety of productive economic activities, otherwise known as “necessity-driven” entrepreneurs. This segment is characterized as hard to reach, with many small loans offered through our group lending methodology. 

Who are “Entrepreneurs?”

Entrepreneurs are women looking to start or expand a business, who are living in vulnerable circumstances, and willing to assume some financial risk. They are highly motivated and capable of growing high-functioning businesses, creating jobs, and becoming leaders in their communities through the operations of “livelihood-sustaining enterprises.”

Theory of Change

With the mission and vision being the guiding light for the organization, Friendship Bridge has worked to clearly define its Theory of Change, which we convey through the metaphor of a tree. Each tree below represents the two distinct client segments we serve. The roots are the products and services (or interventions.) The leaves are the outcomes we expect to achieve. Learn More

How Will We Serve Each Client?

Dreamers

The Dreamer client segment will continue to comprise the majority of our clients. Our theory of change for this segment will focus on improving the client’s resilience and empowerment to positively impact her family. Altogether, we expect that every Dreamer client we support will impact six people beyond our reach. We are prepared to serve Dreamer clients by adopting new technologies to improve our efficiency, reach more clients, and expand our holistic services.

 

Entrepreneurs 

We plan to empower more than 1,000 women entrepreneurs with business development by 2025 via the Bridge to Success program. Because this client segment is highly variable, we will offer personalized products and services focused on business growth and employment. New and graduating clients will access individual loans, structured in a way that responds to their business opportunities and capacity. They will also receive personalized advisory services, connections to peer networks, and access to markets. Although this segment will represent a smaller portion of our total clients, we expect their impact to exponentially extend to a much larger community beyond our reach.

Stay In Touch!

Interested in learning more about our strategy and the impacts we’re making for women in Guatemala? Follow us on social media to stay in touch with Friendship Bridge and the work we’re doing to empower Guatemalan women to build a better life!

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Introducing our new program: Bridge to Success





Great news! Friendship Bridge has officially launched Bridge to Success, a new program that will empower over 1,000 women entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala by 2025 with intensive business development training, individual loans, technical assistance, connections to peer networks, and access to new markets.

Read the Press Release

In this post, we’ll provide a clear explanation of this exciting new program and provide examples of the financial services and business training benefits women entrepreneurs in Guatemala will receive as a result of participating. We expect the impact of this program will play a key role in strengthening Guatemala’s economy and therefore address the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle region of Central America.

“The new Bridge to Success program will be excellent. I will invest my loan more securely because I know there will be buyers and connections. This will bring more orders and more work. We can progress in our business and with a mentor’s help, it will be excellent.”

– RUTH, Friendship Bridge Client

What is the Bridge to Success program?

Bridge to Success is the newest of Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus programs, focused on providing women entrepreneurs in Guatemala with intensive business development training and specialized loans. Supported by the financial backing of a $1 million grant, this new program will allow us to directly serve a specific segment of clients we call Entrepreneurs. These businesswomen, who manage what are known as “livelihood-sustaining enterprises,” are highly motivated, have an economically viable business model poised for growth, and are the drivers of economic development and new jobs in their communities. The program will grow significantly over the next five years, resulting in increased income for these entrepreneurs and job growth in Guatemala’s rural communities, where it is most needed.

The Bridge to Success program will provide two major benefits to clients:

  • Financial Services: Individual loans offered to women entrepreneurs for working capital and purchasing fixed assets. Loan terms of 6-36 months, with fiduciary guarantees, possession rights, and mortgages, depending on the size of the loan. 
  • Business Training: Evidence-based classes focused on business strategy, planning, and management, as well as leadership and community development. Some market services will be offered as well, such as branding, business formalization services, networking, fairs, and business competition, among others.

A Key Component to Our Mission and Strategy

Friendship Bridge is a nonprofit social enterprise creating opportunities that empower women in Guatemala to build a better life. The Bridge to Success program is a major component of our 2021-25 Strategic Plan, which will focus on: Responsible Growth, Innovation and Technology, Social Impact, and the launch of Bridge to Success. We use an innovative and high-impact approach to poverty alleviation by combining the tools of microfinance, education, and preventive health services. We call this Microcredit Plus. As a result of participating, our clients experience a combination of:

  • Increased resilience
  • Improved empowerment
  • Accelerated business development

“Friendship Bridge is unique in Guatemala in that we combine our loan program with intensive business and leadership training, tailored to the needs of each woman,” said Karen Larson, Friendship Bridge President & CEO. “We will use this approach in our new program to directly serve a specific group of clients called the ‘missing middle’ who are underserved but have high potential to create jobs.”

Ready to Start!

Our President & CEO Karen Larson was able to travel to Guatemala in July 2021 to attend a training with staff on the methodology and techniques we will need to support our Entrepreneur clients and develop their businesses. The group included our individual credit facilitators, business developers, Business Development Services Coordinator, and Non-Formal Education team. The methodology of the Bridge to Success program was generated by our partners Swisscontact through an alliance transferred to Friendship Bridge.

Our 1st Workshop

We held our first successful pilot workshop in Quetzaltenango on Aug. 19, 2021 to recruit clients for the Bridge to Success. A total of 69 people participated (in-person and online) to learn how to do business using their cell phones and sell their products on WhatsApp and Facebook. The class was facilitated by a certified coach and specialist in business empowerment with more than 29 years of experience in sales.

How to Support?

Friendship Bridge is working harder than ever to increase economic opportunities for women in Guatemala and empower them to build a better life. Poverty, violence, natural disasters, malnutrition, and corruption are just some of the tragic challenges our clients face on a regular basis. The compounded effects of COVID-19 have only exacerbated their burdens, leading some to send their loved ones away from Guatemala on a dangerous and costly journey North. Our new Bridge to Success program is part of our long-term efforts to provide holistic solutions that counter the root causes of migration. You can support our work by making a donation today that will help us grow and improve women-led businesses, reducing household vulnerability, and increasing empowerment for thousands of women in Guatemala. Thank you for your support!

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Celebrating Women’s Achievements

How We’re Celebrating this March

The month of March is one of our favorites at Friendship Bridge. With the annual observance of International Women’s Day on March 8 and all 31 days dedicated to Women’s History Month, we take immense pride in celebrating the achievements of women and our work as an organization to empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. As we continue serving our clients and working toward eliminating poverty in Guatemala, we thank all our supporters for joining us in raising awareness while staying connected to Friendship Bridge.

Virtual Sale: March 8-12

Our Friendship Circles volunteers coordinated a fabulous virtual sale from their homes to support Friendship Bridge for International Women’s Day! All proceeds benefited Friendship Bridge and women in rural and poverty-stricken areas of Guatemala to give them access to business capital, education, health services, and mentorship. The sale closed Friday, March 12, 2021

Thank you, Circles! Circles host social gatherings, organize fundraising efforts, and spread the word with friends and family in their local communities. They create a community of energy and enthusiasm for our work for women and share a common vision of positive change in our world. Learn more.

Facebook Live Health Event for Clients: March 8

Friendship Bridge hosted an informative Facebook Live event for International Women’s Day to teach clients about healthy eating called, “Is there an ideal weight?” Many of our clients are not aware that having an inadequate weight can cause diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension, among others. These common health concerns are preventable, yet the topic is rarely discussed in rural areas of Guatemala.

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Coffee Chat with Friendship Bridge

Friendship Bridge hosted a special webinar with our key partners to join in on the fun for International Women’s Day – a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. During this virtual event, Karen Larson (President & CEO) and Marta Julia Ixtuc (Communications and Public Relations Specialist) answered a series of questions about the work we’re doing to empower women and eliminate poverty in Guatemala – even in the face of  COVID-19. 

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Thank you, Charity Navigator

Friendship Bridge has been listed by Charity Navigator as a top-rated nonprofit that supports and promotes the success of all girls and women locally and globally! This curated list of 3 and 4 Star rated charities was vetted by their analyst team and shares all the highly-rated charities promoting women’s health, education, rights, and social services.

Stay Connected!

Thank you to all of our volunteers, donors, and partners for supporting Friendship Bridge this month. You can stay connected with our work and support our mission in a number of ways:

Subscribe to our Newsletter Attend an Event Donate Now

 

 

2020 Achievements

 

  • Served 29,294 clients and disbursed more than $14 million in new loans during 2020.
  • When the 1st case of COVID-19 was reported, we immediately implemented a phone strategy to educate our more than 22,000 clients about the virus and provide emotional support and small business solutions. See the 2020 Timeline
  • Identified that an estimated 30% of clients lost their business activity during the lock-down. Many clients showed incredible resilience and pivoted to a different activity with the help of our instructional videos and encouragement from our staff.
  • Gave all clients a two-month grace period in April and May so they would not have to choose between their loan payment and buying food for their families.
  • Executed an Emergency Food Relief Program, resulting in: $65,000+ in donations raised; Coordination of food purchasing and packaging; Disbursement of 3,300 food kits to clients and their families in rural areas of Guatemala; Effectively feeding more than 15,000 people facing severe hunger.
  • Pivoted our Health for Life program to telehealth services so that clients could access health services with our nurses, even during the lockdowns.
  • Served more than 9,900 clients with telehealth services.
  • Qualified for the 3rd year in a row for the Citi Bank Award. Friendship Bridge artisan client Jacinta Xon Cali won 2nd place in the category of Entrepreneurs in Microcredit! Watch the Video
  • Obtained outstanding results for client satisfaction and loyalty from our Client Survey conducted in the 4th quarter. 
  • Provided technical assistance to 81.8% of our agriculture clients supporting the improvement of their crop productivity and income, including identifying agricultural risk with the use of fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Implemented 2 tomato field schools, which combines theoretical training and actual implementation in demonstration plots. With this technique, clients learn best agricultural practices in order to replicate them in their own crops.
  • Handmade by Friendship Bridge sold more than $80,500 products created by 33 artisan clients and their families and employees. $65,000 went directly to our clients and 129 people were employed by them.
  • Sold more than $10,500 worth of face masks, sourced from our own artisan clients and their families.
  • Raised donations for an additional 442 handmade face masks for field staff in Guatemala.
  • Sold nearly 5,000 Handmade by Friendship Bridge items through our online store.
  • With the help of a generous donor, provided 24 clients with new sewing machines to support the growth of their businesses.
  • Non-Formal Education continued through the year despite the pandemic, both through automated and direct calls from staff, despite not being able to meet physically in much of the country.
  • Implemented a pilot of virtual Advanced Training sessions to teach clients how to develop new products through Facebook with much success. We plan to expand this in 2021.

  • Ensured all staff had the tools they needed to work from home during the pandemic and implemented home office and COVID protocols successfully.
  • Purchased and shipped throughout Guatemala more than $25,000 of COVID-19 protective and sanitizing equipment for all our offices. As an essential business in the country, we continued to staff all offices following the initial 2-month lock-down.
  • Launched Mi Puente, an internal online communications system serving as the main means of collaboration for all employees, critical to sharing information during the pandemic.
  • Initiated a new online learning platform to provide staff with training and professional development tools from our internal Friendship University. Achieved nearly 13,000 hours of employee training during the year.

 

  • Even during this crisis, our portfolio quality continues to be one of the best in the Microfinance industry with full-year write-offs of less than 3%, client retention rate of 76.8%, and PAR>30 of 2.03%.
  • Nearly 95% of our clients were making their loan repayments by the end of 2020, exceeding our expectations and allowing us to plan for the future with a clear path forward.
  • Secured sufficient liquidity during the year to ensure operations would not be interrupted by raising nearly $800,000 in new capital and rolling over our $1.6 million Private Placement investment.
  • Automated a variety of manual processes with the digital transformation of 5 major internal operating processes, originally planned over 3 years.
  • Obtained the Great Place to Work certification for the 2nd year, positioning ourselves as one of the best companies to work for in Central America
  • Hosted 3 Virtual Insight Trips from Guatemala, allowing our U.S. supporters to virtually “visit” with our clients and staff, stay connected, and see the impact of our products and services.
  • Published our 1st digital Annual Report in English and Spanish.
  • Raised over $1 million in charitable contributions including donations, fundraising events, insight trips, and grants.
  • Raised $154,500 with the support of 36 crowdfunders during our 6th Annual Health for Life Campaign.
  • Raised $72,600 during our virtual Building Bridges Stay-at-Home Gala: Resiliency in the Face of Adversity.
  • Achieved GuideStar’s Gold Seal of Transparency and the top rating of 4 Stars on Charity Navigator.
  •  Circles Volunteers placed $8,800 in orders at our online store, Handmade by Friendship Bridge.

Virtual Insight Trips to Guatemala: 2020

 

We couldn’t travel with you to Guatemala this year, so we’re bringing Guatemala to you! We hosted three virtual events in 2020 to connect you with our clients and show how your support impacts our work on the ground. These “trips” have been recorded and we invite you to travel with us from the comfort of your home to meet Marcela, Elena, Estefana, and many others.

Reconnecting with Clients: August 27, 2020

See one of our monthly Trust Bank meetings in action in Panajachel + hear a thoughtful conversation with 7 Friendship Bridge clients, facilitated by our loan officer Cesar Arriola.

 

Artisan Program: Weaving Dreams for a Better Future: Oct. 1, 2020

Travel to Sololá and visit Marcela’s workshop where she makes beautiful, handmade artisan items as part of Handmade by Friendship Bridge + a weaving demo by Santos.

 

Health for Life in Times of COVID: Nov. 5, 2020

Meet the amazing doctors and nurses from our Health for Life program who provide preventive health services and education to our clients in partnership with Maya Health Alliance + meet Elena and her daughters.

Marcela’s Beautiful Textiles

Friendship Bridge clients like Marcela are adapting with brilliant resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Marcela was scared about the global pandemic. “I asked myself, ‘How are we going to survive?’ We live in Sololá and we did not have a place to go and buy things.” Even if the markets were open, Marcela thought to herself, she would not be able to buy anything without money. “That affected me a lot,” she said. But fear did not dictate Marcela’s resilient spirit. She had survived the armed conflict in Guatemala. She had become a business entrepreneur despite being widowed with young children. Again and again, she had outsmarted fear with resourcefulness and navigated hardship alongside a strong community of women. 

Only a few weeks after learning about the pandemic, she used her hard-earned skills to gain income again. “I made scarves and shawls to survive,” she said. “Sometimes my neighbors celebrated their daughters’ birthdays in lockdown… They came to my house and asked for birthday gifts.” As a trained artisan, Marcela was already selling her beautiful, textile woven products to an international market through Friendship Bridge’s online store, Handmade by Friendship Bridge. In March, she started investing more effort into selling to her nearby community to support her family during the earlier months of the pandemic. 

Marcela belongs to a Friendship Bridge Trust Bank made up of 18 women, almost all of who became widowed during and after the armed conflict in Guatemala. “They had no way out,” she said, noting that when she herself joined 17 years ago, she only had about three pieces of fabric. “I needed capital in order to make more.” All the women in her group have different interests; from artisanry to agriculture. Over time, they have acquired new skills through Friendship Bridge’s trainings that have allowed them to diversify their income, an especially useful skill for this year. Marcela, for example, now knows how to use a backstrap loom, as well as a foot loom. She also learned to collect recycled plastics that some stores throw away to make durable, reusable shopping bags. “We go to collect and wash them, and when they are dry, we cut it to the size we need.” 

As things slowly start to open and “normalize” in Guatemala, Marcela encourages women who are not yet part of Friendship Bridge to join. “They teach us about everything,” she said. “I feel that they are encouraging me again to create some products and deliver them. As they are asking me for orders, I feel that I am already getting out of this situation.” 

The microloans, education, business training, and health services we provide to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of your support, women like Marcela are able to continue supporting themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work amid a global pandemic.

Donate Now

 

Estefana and The Blessing

How Friendship Bridge clients like Estefana are adapting with brilliant resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When Estefana opened her bakery 25 years ago in Guatemala, she named it La Bendición (The Blessing). “I feel so happy to have this work,” she said in January. “The business is doing well and it allows me to fight and work alongside my husband.” Without question, Estefana’s top priority and motivation is the welfare of her six children. And as a Friendship Bridge client, she learned to provide for them by dividing her bakery profits into savings and business investments. She uses the rest to pay for her children’s school tuition and household services like water and electricity. “My wish for my children is that they learn from the work I do. That someday when I am gone, they will have learned something.”

Before COVID-19, Estefana and her small staff delivered bread to four small villages near her home. “People look for us because we make good bread and rolls with different flavors,” she said. Not only did she have a loyal customer base, but she also had a diversified source of income from her embroidering business and selling textiles. “I have learned to do several things and not just one. If any business is down, I can help myself with another. This is what Friendship Bridge has taught me.”

This important skill has proved useful this year as COVID-19 spread throughout the country. “COVID affected me a lot,” she said in September. “We could no longer leave or enter. All the villages were closed. We could no longer sell our product.” With strict curfews, Estefana sometimes had only a few hours to do her grocery shopping. And because local buses were restricted, she sometimes had to walk the hour-long round-trip to the market.

Since March, however, she has adapted brilliantly. Because she could not leave her home in the early stages of the pandemic, Estefana started baking bread right in her home and selling to only her closest neighbors. When Friendship Bridge granted clients a two-month grace period for their loan payments, she strategized on how to best use the extra money. “Those months of non-payment helped us to support our family. Instead of paying the loan, we bought food and household things for the family.” While at least three of her neighbors placed white flags outside their homes to indicate a dire need for food, Estefana was instead able to support her own family and remain resilient.

Things have slowly started to open and “normalize” in Guatemala and Estefana is now baking 100 pounds of bread per day. She uses a small car to travel to three nearby villages to sell her baked goods. Her children are now able to complete their studies from home using cell phones. The Blessing has lived up to its name. “The advice I give to all the women at Friendship Bridge is to keep working hard for their business,” Estefana said. “Thanks to Friendship Bridge’s support, we can continue our work.” The microloans, education, business training, and health services we provide to women in Guatemala matter now more than ever. Because of your support, women like Estefana are able to continue supporting themselves and their communities through innovation and hard work amid a global pandemic.

Get to Know Her: Angelina Roquel

When you meet Angelina, her deep-seated strength is at first hidden behind her quiet voice and calm demeanor. Since the beginning of the global pandemic, however, she has been able to support herself and her children with great determination during these difficult months. By selling her products through our online store at Handmade by Friendship Bridge, she has continued paying her microloans on time and recently purchased monthly data plans so that her children can continue their education online. We spoke with Angelina yesterday to get to know her better and understand how she is adapting during this time.

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Angelina, tell us a bit about your childhood:

I was born in Chaquijya, Solola in 1985. My mom raised my 2 brothers, 2 sisters, and me. She received the support of my grandmother who took care of us while my mom worked on the fields. She worked farming celery and lettuce, packing vegetables and sending them to bigger cities. I did not get to meet my father as he separated from my mom when I was a newborn. Overall, I had a loving mother and grandmother who made a lot of sacrifices for us. I was able to study until sixth grade.

How did you learn to work with beads?

I learned how to make beaded bracelets when I was 8 years old. I wanted to support my mom financially. Learning how to bead allowed me to bring in some money and stay at home. She did not allow me to work outside of our house. I learned how to make beaded bags when I was 12 years old. I like creating jewelry, especially necklaces and bracelets. 

How did you learn to create your beautiful handmade baskets? 

My grandmother taught me how to create baskets and embroider them. When I was growing up, she spent her afternoons creating baskets to support our family. My grandfather passed away before I was born – and the creation of these baskets supported her financially for many years. I now buy baskets from neighbors and embroider them. 

When did you get married and how many children do you have? 

I married when I was 20-years-old. Emilio, my husband, and I met when I was working in Guatemala city. When I turned 16, I moved to the capital to find work and support my family. I was working as a clerk in a neighborhood convenience store. We are both from the same area, so we develop a friendship. I have three children (two girls and one boy),  my oldest daughter studies at Maia Impact School. She is currently in 7th grade, and my other two kids are in a public school close to home.

How does your husband feel about your small business?

He likes it when I stay at home and work from here. I have a little convenience store and my handmade business. He supports me, but I find it hard to convince him to let me go for the artisan training. Lately, he has seen how much it has helped our financial situation, so I hope he will let me go for the coming year. 

What are your dreams for your children? 

I want them to have a professional career. I will put on the hard work to make sure my children graduate from university and have the opportunity I did not have. My youngest daughter, Heyday, just started first grade. Bryan is in third grade and Jennifer received a great opportunity at The MAIA Impact School. I know it is a long road. My husband does not support this idea of my children focusing only on school. But I am willing to support them financially until they reach their dreams. 

How did Friendship Bridge come into your life?

My neighbor talked to me about Friendship Bridge and their Trust Bank, Tablon Central. She introduced me to the rest of the members. I am very happy with my Trust Bank. We support each other and my group members are on time with their payments. I joined in 2008. My first loan was Q1000 ($130 USD), now I manage a loan of Q10,000 ($1,300 USD). Currently, I am the president of our Trust Bank. 

How has your life been impacted by Handmade by Friendship Bridge? 

I joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge in 2018. I was invited to participate in the advanced artisan trainings and I liked the topics we learned. I have been using this knowledge for the orders I create. I am happy when I receive orders and develop new jewelry pieces. I have also been developing new designs for my baskets like flowers and words. I have met many new friends, women like me that are working hard to learn new things and put them into practice. 

What was your favorite part of the artisan training? 

I liked it when we learned how to take photos of our products and all the tricks to make our products shine. I also like costing because I realized how much I am profiting. One of my favorite experiences was the fairs and traveling with all of us together to Antigua Guatemala. I met another business in the fair that I have been working with during these past months. 

How is COVID19 affecting your business?

I was working on an order for a company and it got canceled right away when COVID19 started in Guatemala. The neighbors also stopped going outside. The sales of my small convenience store decreased a lot. To expand, I started selling vegetables and fruits, as many neighbors were not able to travel to Solola’s market. I received orders from you and another business. I also learned how to create fabric carpets; I am working on developing new samples in this category. 

What are your dreams for your business? 

I would like to create new carpet designs and better the quality of my products. I also want to finish paying my loan and expand both my businesses. I dream of having a bigger convenience store and also receive many orders for my necklaces and baskets. I want to meet new international buyers that will help me expand my business. Thanks to you, I now know that my work is valued and respected in the whole world. 

Angelina’s Best Selling Products

Twilight Multicolored Playful Necklace

Missing going out to see the neon lights? These bright, saturated colors have you covered! It is sure to bring a smile to the wearer and the world.

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Forest Flower Necklace

Missing going out to see the neon lights? These bright, saturated colors have you covered! It is sure to bring a smile to the wearer and the world.

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View All of Angelina’s Products

 

Our ‘Here for Her’ email series was developed in early 2020 in an effort to keep our supporters connected to our artisan clients at the height of the global pandemic. We hope this series gives you the chance to learn more about the women we serve in Guatemala and the many ways their lives are impacted by our programs and services.

Handmade by Friendship Bridge (formerly the Artisan Market Access Program) provides artists and artisans with trainings designed to ready them to access new markets – in particular, the global market. Trainings focus on topics such as quality of raw materials, buyer expectations, and tastes and preferences of the North American market. Clients are also trained about product pricing to ensure they receive a fair wage for their work. Learn more

Friendship Bridge & MAIA: A Partnership Creating Pathways for Guatemalan Women

I characterize myself as a happy, dynamic, caring person. My goal is always to serve and to be useful to people in order to impact their lives.” – Mildred

Friendship Bridge is proud to recognize one of our star Credit and Education Facilitators, Mildred Chas Morales, who recently received the Field Officer Appreciation Award from Whole Planet Foundation. During an online award ceremony, Stephanie Manciagli, WPF’s Program Manager of Latin America and the Caribbean, presented Mildred with a plaque and certificate, plus a $600 prize in recognition of the hundreds of Guatemalan women Mildred impacts at Friendship Bridge.

As a teenager, Mildred participated in the MAIA program formerly known as Starfish. MAIA was founded by Ted and Connie Ning who also founded Friendship Bridge. Mildred’s excellent academic performance at MAIA helped secure her an internship at Friendship Bridge where she quickly became a full-time employee. She’s been with Friendship Bridge for three years and manages 65 Trust Banks that together service 523 clients. Mildred enjoys enriching the lives of other Guatemalan women while earning a quality income and providing for her family. “At Friendship Bridge, I have learned that we are not only part of people’s lives, but we are also making great changes,” Mildred said. “That fills me with satisfaction.”

About Whole Planet Foundation

Whole Planet Foundation—established by Whole Foods Market—is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to poverty alleviation. The foundation aims to empower the world’s poorest people with microcredit and specifically in places where Whole Foods Market sources its products. Since its founding, WPF has “authorized $101 million through microlending partners worldwide, funding 4.3 million microloans and over 22 million opportunities for microentrepreneurs and their family members.”

This is the 4th year that a Friendship Bridge staff member has received the award. Whole Planet Foundation invited all of its Latin American and Caribbean partners to submit nominations for their best loan officers and Mildred was a top 5 winner. Her profile demonstrated the proactive, determined, and driven characteristics it takes to be what Whole Planet Foundation refers to as a front line warrior. “We found Mildred’s performance particularly compelling knowing that she is a young mom working on her own education,” Manciagli said. “She is clearly equally invested in her own self-development as she is her clients and we applaud that.”

Mildred’s Beginnings

Mildred was raised by hard-working parents in a rural village near Chicacao, a town located in the Guatemalan province of Suchitepéquez.  “I lived the best years of my life at our farm,” Mildred said. “But we had to leave when my father wasn’t able to secure consistent work.” Left without other options, Mildred and her family moved to the center of Chicacao. As a means to support their family, her parents started beekeeping, a natural path for a farmer. And like the bees they tended, Mildred’s parents raised her and her eight siblings to work hard and respect nature.

As it is for most rural Guatemalan girls, attaining a quality education was difficult for Mildred. But she credits her mother for always motivating her to work hard in school. By age thirteen, Mildred would show strong academic performance and great leadership skills. With the support of one of her teachers, she applied for a scholarship at MAIA. She was accepted and given the opportunity to attend secondary school at one of the most progressive institutions in the country. 

 

Mildred at MAIA

“Like any teenager, she was shy,” said Norma Baján Balán, MAIA’s Executive Director. “But months later, she began to show a very high level of leadership. She coordinated activities with her group mates and she loved to sing. She delighted everyone with her songs and she was always well prepared and very professional. Mildred had a lot of fans here.” Balán remembers Mildred as being highly-active in MAIA’s many programs, something that made her parents proud. “I remember how her parents spoke proudly about her and everything she was achieving. She always demanded of herself and she always gave her best,” Balán said.

Through a partnership between MAIA and Friendship Bridge, Mildred attended a mentoring program where she says she first identified with Friendship Bridge’s methodology and philosophy. She was later offered an internship at Friendship Bridge where she received formal work experience and job training. Her goal was to secure a position at Friendship Bridge and when her internship ended she applied and was hired as a Credit and Education Facilitator. With her salary, she supports her family and makes it possible for her younger siblings to attend school.

Mildred’s impact at Friendship Bridge

Mildred spends the early hours of her morning with her husband and six-month-old son while she gets ready for her day. She uses public transportation to travel to her first Trust Bank meeting where she is greeted by a group of Friendship Bridge clients. Friendship Bridge Trust Banks are comprised of 7-25 women who meet monthly and where they manage their group loan and participate in Non-Formal Education programming. On average, Mildred facilitates four group sessions daily. Additionally, she manages promotional activities, new loan applications and pre-credit training.

“I am a leader and an empowered woman who seeks to achieve her goals.” – Mildred

Mildred says her clients look forward to seeing her because they always learn something new and are provided with a space where they can share their life experiences with other members of the group. Mildred also values what she learns from her clients and is passionate about empowering them to be role models for their daughters and create generational change. “I feel a lot of satisfaction when clients tell me their thinking has evolved and they are using what they learned in our education sessions to help their children get ahead,” Mildred said.

Mildred is happy to be in a position where her voice is heard and where she can have a positive impact on the lives of other women, especially with their businesses. “Any time a Trust Bank has a problem, we talk and find a solution. I always give my support through educational trainings and I love seeing women take what they learn and make changes to their businesses that can help them increase their sales, successfully repay their loans, and help their families.”

Despite her busy work schedule and time spent with her family, Mildred still finds the energy to attend classes at the university. She’s now in her final year and will soon complete a degree in Special Education. Mildred would eventually like to work as a primary school teacher or professional lecturer and she’s saving to buy land and build a home. If her past accomplishments are any indication of her future ones, we have little doubt this hardworking and empowered woman will achieve anything she sets her mind to. Congratulations, Mildred! We offer our heartfelt gratitude for all that you do for Friendship Bridge and the women who are impacted by your work. And a special thanks to Whole Planet Foundation for honoring the hard work of loan officers around the world with this incredible award.

A Health Appointment at Home During a Pandemic

Meet Sandra

“Free,” said the loan officer on the other line of the phone. Sandra had just asked how much a medical appointment would cost her. “You will not be charged for the health services. And the nurse will come to your home.” Sandra was surprised and delighted. She had been a client of Friendship Bridge since 2015 but was new to the Health for Life program. For years, she and her Trust Bank met once every month in Chinique, a rural area of the Department of Quiche in Guatemala. During these meetings, a Friendship Bridge loan officer travels to her community to teach her and her group about a variety of important topics, from money and business management to women’s rights and health. The loan officer also provides loans to the women, allowing Sandra to grow her business and provide food and necessities for her husband and three children.

Last year, Sandra’s loan officer announced to the group that as a benefit of being a Friendship Bridge client, they were eligible to participate in the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program. At the time, Sandra was too busy to take part. But a few months later, right at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, her loan officer called her to check-in and explained again about the health services available to her. 

When she heard that these health services would be provided to her at no cost, she automatically felt motivated to try it. She became even more compelled to participate when she learned that the appointment would be safe and could take place in her home. Due to COVID-19, the nurses in the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program have updated the operations of in-home mobile clinic visits. To keep everyone safe, they are now making pre-screening phone calls and putting new safety protocols in place for home visits.

“Thanks to the glucose test, I know that my blood sugar is a little high and if I don’t take care of myself, diabetes can develop. I thank the nurse and Friendship Bridge for considering us and caring about our health.” – Sandra

Sandra was looking forward to prioritizing her health in a safe way. For millions of indigenous women in Guatemala, access to healthcare is inadequate and the most common diseases are preventable, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cervical cancer. “I am happy with this flexibility because it will allow me to be treated with privacy and special care in my own home,” she said. When the nurse visited Sandra’s home, she spoke in Sandra’s native Maya language to explain the range of benefits available through the Health for Life program. For the first time, she heard accurate information about COVID-19 and the necessary precautions she and her family needed to take. The nurse asked questions and started a new patient record for her. Diabetes is common in Sandra’s family, so her attention was drawn to the results of the blood sugar test. Her test results were high and the nurse recommended a healthy balanced diet. She reviewed the importance of daily exercise and advised Sandra to drink purified water more often. 

“I am very grateful to Friendship Bridge for coming to my house to take these tests, which I never imagined would be useful,” Sandra said. “Now I have to take better care of myself because, thanks to the glucose test, I know that my blood sugar is a little high and if I don’t take care of myself, diabetes can develop. I thank the nurse and Friendship Bridge for considering us and caring about our health.”

Lives like Sandra’s are forever changed after taking part in our Health for Life program, showing that even in the midst of a global pandemic, Friendship Bridge has continued to meet the needs of our clients. The women we serve are facing unimaginable hardship and right now, their need for healthcare and reliable information about COVID-19 is extreme. In 2020, our goal is to reach even more clients with in-home mobile clinic visits and expanded telehealth services. Will you donate now to help us continue providing women like Sandra with important health services? 

Donate Now

Since 2015, over 9,500 women in Guatemala have received health education and services in our Health for Life program. In partnership with Maya Health Alliance, we provide culturally sensitive services using mobile clinics that travel to the villages where our clients live. Each clinic is staffed by highly-trained, female medical staff fluent in the indigenous languages our clients speak. This year, the pandemic has forced us to redesign our delivery of services. This year’s Health for Life Campaign will provide support for in-home mobile clinic visits, telehealth services via the phone, and a healthcare phone hotline for our clients.

Learn More

How we plan to use technology to serve women in Guatemala during the COVID-19 crisis

 

Everything has changed. It’s true for the whole world and for the work we do at Friendship Bridge for vulnerable women in Guatemala. All our in-person operations have stopped and in just a few short weeks, we’ve turned everything around. How did we do it?

Like you, we are using technology in new and creative ways to continue providing invaluable services to our clients. We wrote 3 weeks ago about the steps we’ve taken to prepare and support them through this challenge from afar. Not only are we calling clients to address their concerns about COVID-19, we are also striving to continue regular business operations while treating staff responsibly.

We adapted quickly, but not without costs and challenges. With your help, we are now ready to take the next step and use this time to strategically strengthen our position and continue empowering Guatemalan women to build a better life.

 

Friendship Bridge is seeking to raise $30K to support women in Guatemala through technology solutions. A group of generous donors answered our call for support and together are offering a match on all donations up to a total of $30k until May 8th 2020. Thank you to Christy and Geoff Hoyl, Katie Kitchen and Paul Kovach, and Brandi and Dave Mason for providing Friendship Bridge with this generous match. Double your gift today. Donate now to help us carry out our plan to use technology to solve the problems this crisis is creating.

 

• Although Guatemala is a poor country, many clients own a cellphone. When our facilitators call clients, they can continue their relationships with women who may be afraid and worried about how they will earn money. They can offer exemplary customer service, provide information that is accurate, show care, and comfort our clients during a time of uncertainty.

• Our calls in mid-March gave us real, on the ground information regarding the level of knowledge, clients have about the situation and their concerns. The calls gave us the opportunity to prepare clients to confront the situation, demonstrate our commitment to them, and get feedback on what might be the best solutions or interventions in response to the crisis.

 

 

 

  • We have 11 nurses in our Health for Life Program who are ready to provide telehealth services to our clients to keep them safe and informed.
  • In partnership with Maya Health Alliance, our nurses will be able to call clients to discuss symptoms, provide healthcare education, and direct women on treatments as needed. When reliable and trustworthy information is scarce in Guatemala, our clients will have access to accurate healthcare education and share it with their communities.

 

 

  • We have over 170 staff in Guatemala who will begin using our new INTRANET, our new internal communications tool, to receive timely, imperative, and streamlined organization-wide communications from Friendship Bridge online.
  • We are also using this time strategically to take advantage of remote learning opportunities during restrictive shelter-in-place orders. With the use of an online learning platform, staff will be trained on customer service, emotional intelligence, and responsible loan collections practices from the safety of their homes.

 

 

As you know, Friendship Bridge works with the poorest of the poor. We have a proven record of helping women and their families climb out of poverty and the need for microcredit will be greater than ever once this pandemic is behind us. To weather this storm, Friendship Bridge needs your help now.

Can you make a donation today? We’ll put it right to work by being Here for Her through technology solutions.

 

 

Giving Tuesday: #GivingTuesdayNow is a global day of giving and unity that has been moved up and will now take place on May 5, 2020 as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Join the movement and donate to Friendship Bridge today.

CARES Act Charitable Giving Incentive: Includes a new above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to contributions made in 2020 and would be claimed on tax forms next year. The bill also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent.

ReFUND Colorado: Now you can give some or all of your Colorado State income tax refund to Friendship Bridge. Choose Friendship Bridge with registration number 20033005126 in the “Donate to a Colorado Nonprofit” line on your Colorado state income tax return or software. You may also share this information with your tax preparer.

Here for Her.

 

Since 1998, Friendship Bridge has stared down multiple crises while standing steadfast alongside the women we serve in Guatemala. We persevered through those challenges and emerged more resilient on the other side. Now is no exception, even as the virus responsible for COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, presenting unknown risks to all.

Because this crisis will be especially dire for our organization and our clients, we are more committed than ever to being here for them and their families now and, most importantly, after the crisis. The health and safety of our community, staff, and women in Guatemala are at the core of our decision making. In an effort to ensure the safety of all our stakeholders, we are being proactive, compassionate and thoughtful in our response to COVID-19.

Below is an update on the situation in Guatemala and a list of just some of the measures Friendship Bridge has implemented thus far, rooted in our core values.

 

When this was written on March 24, 2020, there were 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Guatemala and testing for the virus has been extremely limited. Testing is only available in the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, and health experts believe the number of cases is much higher and will only continue to climb as testing becomes more available.

Honduras and Guatemala are the countries most susceptible to a large-scale outbreak due to the poor quality of their health systems. The Guatemalan government understands this and they are implementing measures like closing borders, canceling all Semana Santa activities, and closing restaurants and schools until further notice.

Guatemalan economists believe that the country is already losing nearly $128 million every day to lost productivity. Also, remittances from the U.S. (which represent nearly 13% of Guatemala’s GDP) are a vital source of income to families across the country. Although they have remained steady up until now, economists predict they will soon plummet as the economic calamity becomes widespread and intractable in the U.S., which will disproportionately affect migrant laborers.

 

Communication, Education, and Support

Mainly through phone calls and What’s App messaging, our staff has been communicating with clients to disseminate information about the Coronavirus, often hearing about it from us first. The early calls were focused on how to stay safe with proper hygiene and social distancing, information on common symptoms, and who to call if someone is sick.

 

Loan Restructuring + Grace Periods

The containment orders have a direct and negative impact on our clients’ ability to earn income. In response to growing concerns of our clients, Friendship Bridge is offering clients the option to restructure their loans to include a one-month grace period.

We also are offering prepayments with no penalties and reduced interest and are prepared to offer a two-month grace period if needed. Clients should not have to choose between making their loan payments and buying food or necessary medical supplies.

 

Suspended Travel

We have postponed our Building Bridges Gala from May 1 to Oct. 8 knowing that large gatherings are not considered to be safe now and in the coming months.

We have also suspended all business travel between the U.S. and Guatemala and suspended all Trust Bank meetings, technical training, agriculture programs, health services, and nonformal education sessions. Some branch offices remain open for support, but with reduced hours and managed by only essential staff.

 

Working Remotely + #TogetherAtHome

Most of our employees in the U.S. and Guatemala, which is approximately 175 people, are now working from home where they remain committed to getting us through this crisis while still supporting our clients. While our most critical systems are cloud-based, access to the necessary information is available with an internet connection. Access to the internet can be a challenge for many employees in rural Guatemala, but most have smart phones and can access the internet that way. It is complicated!

 

Honored Agreements + Stopped Spending

Even though the economic climate in Guatemala is highly uncertain and risky, we are honoring our agreements for March 2020 and will disperse new loans to clients that were previously approved. And we will continue to offer new loans where longer-term clients still have viable businesses.

We have canceled all organizational spending and purchasing of anything not deemed essential.

 

Open + Accurate Information

Misinformation abounds in Guatemala regarding COVID-19 and we are doing our best to counter false messaging with accurate medical guidelines to keep our clients and staff informed and safe. We continue to be transparent with our clients about their loan status and with our supporters about the steps we are taking to respond as an organization. We are constantly reviewing various financial scenarios as we make some very difficult decisions about a future no one knows for sure. These are indeed difficult and sad times for Friendship Bridge and our clients.

 

 

You have always stood by our clients and now we need you here for her more than ever. Our clients continue to be at the forefront of our decisions. Our response to our clients’ needs through restructuring of loans and deferment of payments will not be possible without your ongoing support.

We ask for your continued support through a gift today to allow Friendship Bridge to continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

Please contact us by email if you have any questions and please take good care of yourselves.