Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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Tracie Cordeiro named President and CEO of Friendship Bridge

After a thorough global search, the Board of Directors is pleased to announce the selection of Tracie Cordeiro, CFO, as the new President and CEO of Friendship Bridge. Cordeiro will officially assume the position on January 23, 2023, working closely with the current President and CEO, Karen Larson, until that time to ensure a smooth transition.

Cordeiro joined Friendship Bridge more than four years ago and has become a trusted advisor to Larson and the leadership team ever since. Throughout these years, she has had the opportunity to work in Guatemala and travel around the country visiting staff and clients.

“We are very excited to welcome Tracie Cordeiro on as our new CEO!  Karen Larson has brought Friendship Bridge to a level of excellence over the past 13 years that is reflected in all aspects of our organization and Tracie’s combination of experience with her knowledge of Friendship Bridge and the passion and dedication she brings to her work make her an ideal CEO for the next stages of growth.”
– Susie Miller, Friendship Bridge Board of Directors Chair

Cordeiro is a CPA, fluent in English and Spanish and brings 25 years of valuable finance and managerial experience to the CEO role.  Before joining Friendship Bridge, for 11 years she helped lead the finance and procurement area of Opera Australia, a 100 million dollar nonprofit organization. This experience exposed her to many key dynamics such as leadership, fundraising and strategic planning. Prior to that, she worked in finance and leadership positions for Honeywell and KPMG in the U.S., Europe and Asia Pacific, where she gained deep, technical experience in finance, accounting and audit, working in both English and Spanish across a diverse portfolio of industries and organizations. These qualifications, paired with her ability to motivate and inspire trust and confidence in those around her, made her an excellent choice for the role.

A Wisconsin native and current Colorado resident, Cordeiro is a summa cum laude graduate of Arizona State University with a BA in accounting and a minor in Spanish. As a mother of two girls, Cordeiro is excited to take on the new position that will allow her to have greater influence in empowering Guatemalan women.

“I am thrilled with the selection of Tracie as my successor, and I know Tracie is passionate about our mission. As the CFO, Tracie has been intimately involved in building our strategic plan with me and the leadership team and is familiar with every financial detail of our organization.”
– Karen Larson, President and CEO

The Board of Directors elected the Executive Search and Transition Committee, composed of four board members. The committee engaged an external recruitment search firm specializing in nonprofit executive placement to guide us through the search and transition process. A very robust, transparent, and inclusive process was implemented and followed for the past several months to ensure we selected the best candidate.

Friendship Bridge Ranked as the #1 Best Place to Work® for Women 2022 in Central America and the Caribbean

Great Place To Work® Recognizes Friendship Bridge’s Gender Inclusive Culture

 

Friendship Bridge ranks as the #1 Best Place to Work® for Women 2022 in Central America and the Caribbean, (multinationals category) as identified by Great Place to Work®, by surveying hundreds of employees of multinational companies in the Caribbean and Central America region. The organization asks employees about key factors that they believe create “excellent workplaces,” and analyzes the programs that allow for the development and growth of women. 

Organizations participating in the ranking process must have a female workforce that represents more than 30% of the total organization. At Friendship Bridge, 55% of the organization is made up of women and more than 50% of the leadership positions are occupied by women. Last year, 55% of internal promotions were granted to women. 

 “Friendship Bridge is characterized by empowering Guatemalan women and is proud to mention that it does so internally and externally, ensuring their welfare [and] growth, and impacting both their lives and that of their families,” said Victor Contreras, Director of Human Resources. “We are 100% committed to the well-being of everyone.”

In addition, Friendship Bridge’s has adopted institutional values, including: 

Respect, which promotes equal and fair treatment for all its employees, regardless of race, economic status, gender, religion or ethnicity 

Transparency, by committing to promote communication and honesty

Empowerment, by encouraging the participation of all employees in decision making and the creation of solutions for the benefit of their clients and the organization itself. Friendship Bridge shows interest and concern for the inclusion of women when hiring and promoting. 

The organization supports women in work/life balance, fully complying with their legal benefits, as well as making them participants in enjoying the benefits of the Labor Welfare Program—a set of practices whose objective is to improve the quality of life of its employees. Development Programs and Career Plans are also important practices within the organization that foster professional and personal growth for all. 

There are also inclusive policies, practices, and procedures to ensure equal rights and obligations for all employees, through the Internal Work Regulations and the Code of Ethics and Conduct. This aims to ensure that all employees, regardless of their position, promote an organizational culture based on institutional values, good practices, excellence in internal and external customer service, encouraging teamwork, honesty, professionalism, and quality in interpersonal relations.

“I feel empowered and appreciated! 55% of the organization is represented by women!”

–Ingrid Ibaté, Panajachel office

A Trademark for Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

Handmade by Friendship Bridge® Receives Registered Trademark Status

“Having an official trademark is something we’ve been wanting for quite some time now. This is definitely a brand milestone for Handmade by Friendship Bridge® and we’re extremely thankful to everyone who made this possible.”
– Maya Colop-Morales, Manager, Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

You may have noticed the “®” next to our name and logo at Handmade by Friendship Bridge®. Although it may seem like a small change, the “R” inside the circle stands for “registered,” and is, in fact, a very BIG deal for Friendship Bridge and the operations of our social enterprise. The federal trademark registration symbol shows that we now officially own our trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, and has major benefits as we continue to develop the brand of our artisan program and online store.

Handmade by Friendship Bridge® provides the artisan clients of Friendship Bridge with acquiring the skills, education, learning experiences, support, and technical assistance they need to reach their potential and independently sell their handmade products in local, national, and international markets. In 2021 alone, the program facilitated the sales of 4,700 products via its online store, resulting in $100,000 in sales. In this post, you’ll learn about the significance of this newly-granted trademark and learn about the origin story of Handmade by Friendship Bridge, a growing and wildly successful program empowering women in Guatemala to build a better life.

The Evolution of Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

Friendship Bridge has evolved substantially since our work started in Guatemala in 1998. We are continuously diversifying our loan products and programs to meet the ever-evolving needs of the women we serve, many of whom are living in poverty with limited economic opportunities.

In our quest to continuously improve, we discovered through surveys and research that our clients who primarily earned income through the sales of their traditional handmade products were looking for access to new markets in order to bolster their income. Many of the women who fell into this category simultaneously faced geographical and language barriers and/or did not have the business skills necessary to thrive in today’s marketplace. In response to this need, the Artisan Market Access Program was launched in 2015. The program was renamed in 2019, then rebranded and trademarked as Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

“Along with the trademark, in 2021 Handmade by Friendship Bridge®  implemented operational technologies such as an inventory and SKU system. These enhancements support our strategic plan of growth, allowing the program to grow and bolster market opportunities for clients in the program.”
– Nicole Eubanks, Chief Development Officer, Friendship Bridge

Handmade by Friendship Bridge® is a Microcredit Plus service of Friendship Bridge. Microcredit Plus collectively refers to the innovative and high-impact approach to poverty alleviation we use which combines the tools of microfinance, education, and preventive health services. Learn more about what Handmade by Friendship Bridge® does here.

Acquisition of the Trademark

By definition, a trademark is a legal protection given to any word, name, symbol, or design that is used in commerce to identify the product of one manufacturer from another. Trademarks are sometimes confused with copyrights; however, copyrights protect artistic endeavors like novels, works of visual art, short stories, characters’ names and fictional worlds, songs, code, and other types of creations that do not explicitly exist for commercial purposes. Trademarks protect intellectual property that does exist for explicitly commercial purposes, like brand names, logos, taglines, and slogans.

Furthermore, the name and logo must be registered separately—we have both a word (brand name Handmade by Friendship Bridge®) as well as a logo trademark. Trademarks can potentially last forever, but they do need to be renewed every 10 years.

It typically takes about six to nine months for the trademark to be issued after filing the application. In December 2021, we received the official Certificate of Registration for the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® trademark.

Benefits of the Trademark

Trademarks offer various benefits, many of which are interrelated. They enable businesses to:

  • build trust with consumers;
  • establish a consistent brand identity;
  • increase their brand recognition;
  • drive more traffic to their sites and amplify their social media presence.

They also enable businesses to further differentiate their brand from similar brands in the marketplace. We know that there are similar organizations in the marketplace; however, this trademark is a highly valuable asset that continues to set us apart. As the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® team continues pursuing partnerships, be they with corporations, non-governmental organizations, boutiques and stores, influencers, and other platforms; they hope to harness the trademark’s potential to strengthen the brand’s credibility and overall presence.

“At the end of the day, we hope that this will increase the visibility of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® and result in increased sales of these incredibly talented women’s handmade products. Every purchase directly impacts their lives, and seeing the excitement on their faces when we tell them about orders that just came in…it’s always priceless.”
– Maya Colop-Morales, Manager, Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

Sources:
How To Trademark A Logo

7 Reasons Why Trademarks Are Important to Your Business

Friendship Bridge Ranks #3 MFI in Latin America 

World’s First Microfinance Index Report shows Friendship Bridge Ranks #3 MFI in Latin America

Friendship Bridge is proud to be included in the world’s first microfinance social performance index, based directly on client interviews and customer outcomes. The newly released report, conducted by 60 Decibels, was developed in order to set a benchmark for what good, better, and best performance looks like within microfinance institutions*. Did our clients’ lives actually improve because of their involvement with Friendship Bridge, and in what ways? And, how does our performance compare to other organizations?

The benchmark is made up of responses from clients in five dimensions: business impact, household impact, access, financial management, and resilience. Here’s how Friendship Bridge performed when 17,956 clients were surveyed from 72 microfinance institutions in 41 countries.

  • Earned a 3rd place ranking among Latin American and Caribbean countries
  • Ranked 16th overall among clients from 72 organizations surveyed
  • Performed in the top 20% in the ‘Business Impact’ and ‘Household Impact’ dimensions
INSIGHTS FROM THE 2021 REPORT

Friendship Bridge is a top performer specifically in:

  • % of clients who say they do not have access to a good alternative, which in a competitive market like Guatemala, this sets FB apart from other providers
  • % of clients seeing ‘very much increased’ improvement in income [because of Friendship Bridge]
  • % clients increasing number of paid employees [because of Friendship Bridge]
  • % of clients ‘very much increased’ number of quality meals [because of Friendship Bridge]
  • % clients ‘very much improved’ ability to manage finances [because of Friendship Bridge]

We invite you to read the report to see Friendship Bridge’s ranking against other MFIs globally.

EXPLORE THE GLOBAL REPORT

* Microfinance institutions participating in the Index attend diverse segments with a variety of financial products, including savings, housing loans, and insurance in addition to working capital and other types of loans.

Insights from 60 Decibels

2021 Report from 60 Decibels

Friendship Bridge strives to be a learning organization that responds quickly to the evolving needs of the women we serve in Guatemala. In an effort to constantly improve and diversify our offerings and ensure we provide the most appropriate loan products and services to our clients, we continuously collect social performance data, which informs our strategic decisions. Our partnership with 60 Decibels, a global impact measurement company that quantifies social impact as well as provides benchmarks of impact performance, is an integral part of this process.

Following up to research conducted in 2019, 60 Decibels conducted a study between April and May of 2021 that provided us with invaluable insights into our clients’ perspectives, sentiments, and experiences with Friendship Bridge. A total of 203 clients participated in phone interviews in which they were asked questions related to their profiles and the impact Friendship Bridge has had on their life. The study highlights that the majority of clients have seen increases in their income, quality of life, ability to plan their finances, frequency of participation in important family decisions, and spending on home improvements since joining Friendship Bridge.

VIEW THE REPORT (ENGLISH) VIEW THE REPORT (ESPAÑOL)

Key Findings from the 2021 Report

94% of our clients reported earning more money because of Friendship Bridge.

When asked how they use this increased income, our clients said that they primarily use the money to cover household expenses, followed by investments in their small business. These results align with what we know: women invest the majority of their income back into their families and communities.

85% of our clients reported there were no alternatives available to them of comparable caliber to Friendship Bridge.

This emphasizes the strong value Friendship Bridge has for women in Guatemala and how our unique mix of loans products and services sets us apart in a saturated landscape of microfinance institutions (MFI).

46% of our clients reported never having used any of their loans to cover non-business expenses.

For those who did report occasionally using their loans for non-business purposes, the top expense was school. Even though the loans are principally meant to enable our clients to start, maintain, or grow their businesses, the women we serve are prioritizing their children’s education. Very few reported ever using the loan to pay off other debts, which reflects controlled over-indebtedness.

64 (excellent) is our Net Promoter Score® (NPS), a standard evaluation mechanism to client satisfaction.

The NPS is a widely used index that measures clients’ willingness to recommend an organization’s products or services. Anything above 50 is considered very good (64 is considered excellent). This score, along with the following words from a client answering whether she would recommend Friendship Bridge to others, attests to our clients’ sense of satisfaction:

“In many villages, there is a lot of talk about Friendship Bridge. What I like is that they give credit without so many requirements and they give it quickly.” – Friendship Bridge Client

Friendship Bridge Ranks #3 MFI in Latin America 

3 Key Takeaways About Friendship Bridge’s Impact in Guatemala

In addition to the above findings and statistics, we have identified three key takeaways from the report which underscore the connection between what we do and what matters to our clients:

  1. Improving Quality of Life
  2. Supporting Financial Autonomy
  3. Fostering Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

1. Improving Quality of Life

Of those surveyed, 97% said that the quality of their life had improved. Clients were asked to elaborate on their perception of participating with Friendship Bridge:

  • Among those who reported improvements in the quality of life, 36% reported increased income as the main driver of this
  • 31% talked about expanding or improving their businesses
  • 14% mentioned their ability to access a loan when they need it, a critical element to managing cash flow and their daily lives.

Among those who reported no change in perceived quality of life, the majority attributed this to declines in business, small loan sizes, and the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is an opportunity that they give you to succeed in your business, and there is a little more profit to use for your kids, too. From that loan you get benefits, you get your earnings from which you can afford the expenses needed.” – Friendship Bridge Client

Clients provided additional examples when reflecting on how their involvement with Friendship Bridge has improved their quality of life. Thanks to this involvement, they have been able to:

  • build a kitchen
  • construct a little house
  • allocate additional funds to cover family expenses
  • buy a motorcycle for transportation, rather than traveling by foot to sell products
  • cover school expenses

Exactly 42% of clients surveyed said their level of stress related to their finances has decreased thanks to Friendship Bridge. Another 43% said their stress level stayed the same, which is notable considering the timing of this evaluation was during COVID-19 and during a time when the country was virtually closed.

“My quality of life has improved because I was able to get out of a debt that had been causing me stress, and I can now move forward.” – Friendship Bridge Client

2. Supporting Financial Autonomy

Questions were included that aimed to gauge the potential financial resilience of our clients. When asked to imagine having to cover an unexpected emergency and come up with approximately $450 within a month, 22% of clients said that this would be “very difficult” and 44% “slightly difficult.

Assessing financial resilience also involves gauging clients’ ability to pay back their loans. Positively, the evaluation revealed that two out of three clients do not consider their loan payments a burden, and four out of five clients report never needing to reduce their household consumption to make a Friendship Bridge payment. 

Additionally:

  • 94% of clients say their ability to plan their finances has increased.
  • 84% have increased their savings balance. 

Clients were also asked to speak to particular financial goals they might have. One out of three clients said her top financial goal was to improve or expand her business, and 91% said that their ability to achieve their goal has improved thanks to working with Friendship Bridge. This perception truly aligns with our vision of empowered women choosing their own paths.

Along with mentioning their financial goals and the increased feasibility of these thanks to their involvement with Friendship Bridge, clients indicated their perceived fairness of the loans. Three out of four clients considered the cost of the loan to be “fair,” and more than three out of four “strongly agree” that they understood all the loan terms.

3. Fostering Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Again, this research was conducted in April and May of 2021, a time in which the effects of the pandemic were still fresh and relevant. We wanted to understand how the pandemic had impacted our clients. We learned that three in five Friendship Bridge clients reported that their household financial situation had gotten worse because of COVID-19, with the main reason for the decline being an interruption to their business model.

When asked about how they were able to comply with their financial obligations during the COVID-19 crisis, clients answered:

  • Use savings (54%)
  • Borrow from friends or family (15%)
  • Reduce household’s consumption of something (14%)
  • Sell an asset (8%)
  • Remittance support from friends/family abroad (6%)
  • Borrowed from somewhere else (2%)

The financial resilience of our clients was evident considering that more than half the clients reported having sufficient savings to draw from, despite the heightened economic hardships they experienced, to make the loan repayments during the pandemic. In fact, of the loans that we provided to more than 29,000 women during 2020, we had a noteworthy repayment rate of over 95%. This result, however, does help us understand that our clients are likely in a more precarious financial situation now than they were before the pandemic. Read: Our Response During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Final Thoughts

As a whole, there are many strong and favorable results within this study. But we know there are still improvements we can make to best support the women we serve. We invite you to learn more about our strategy for the next five years and how our work will result in a multiplier effect by serving two distinct client segments and opening new branch locations, thus exponentially impacting an even greater number of Guatemalan women, families, and their communities.

STRATEGIC PLAN (ENGLISH) PLAN ESTRATÉGICO (ESPAÑOL)

#BreakTheBias on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2022)

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The annual observance of IWD is March 8 each year, and all 31 days of March are dedicated to Women’s History Month. This year’s #IWD2022 theme is “Break the Bias,” a call-to-action to actively call out gender bias, discrimination, and stereotyping each time you see it. Our staff and clients are striking the official #IWD2022 pose by crossing their arms to show solidarity. Will you join us? Strike the IWD 2022 pose and share your #BreakTheBias image on social media, tagging Friendship Bridge on each platform and using #IWD2022 #BreakTheBias to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.

IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. This year, we invite you to celebrate the achievements of women with us at the following local and virtual events as we continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

Our Handmade Virtual Fair is right around the corner on Thursday, February 17th from 11:00am MST – 12:30pm MST. As an attendee of this online event, you will be able to virtually “meet” our talented and inspiring artisans. They will take you behind the scenes to show you their incredible handmade products so that you can learn about their techniques and see their skills in action. You’ll also have the opportunity to buy brand new arrivals at special, wholesale prices! Don’t miss out on this awesome event, hosted by Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

Photo by Carlo Novoa

We’re excited to be the guests of a Live Event on March 2, 2022, hosted by our partner and friend, Carlo Novoa, from Guatemala. Based in Los Angeles, California, Carlo was first introduced to Friendship Bridge through a mutual friend of a long-time supporter and Circle Volunteer. Now a salon owner, entrepreneur, licensed prayer coach/practitioner, and motivational speaker, Carlo hosts a weekly online Live Event called, “Wednesday Women of Power” on Instagram @litfromwith. The team at Handmade by Friendship Bridge is excited to join him again!

WATCH LIVE

Chief Development Officer, Nicole Eubanks (left), and Major Gifts Officer, Jennifer Thompson (right), at the Week of Women Kick-Off Event.

Week of Women is a local initiative designed to celebrate women across Colorado and shine a light on issues impacting women in Colorado by highlighting an entire week of programming and events taking place across Colorado by various organizations and community groups. Week of Women will run from March 3 to 13, 2022, and aims to inspire and connect women throughout Colorado to get involved in their communities and learn about issues affecting women. As part of Week of Women, CBS4 is hosting a comprehensive list of events on cbsdenver.com and will highlight those key events and organizations in the weeks leading up to the Week of Women. A robust television and digital campaign will be developed to promote the Week of Women and to recognize and celebrate the leadership role that women play in business, academia, government, community-building, philanthropy, and families. Catch us at the Kick-Off Event on March 3, 2022.

LEARN MORE

Denver-based choir Kantorei will be performing an exciting new project between musicians in Guatemala and the United States using poems of respected poet Humberto Ak’abal. Music will be performed by award-winning composer Jake Runestad for choir, string quartet, and marimba, the national instrument of Guatemala. Beloved Guatemalan, Ki’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’abal (1952-2019) was one of the most important poets in Central America. His poems explore the Guatemalan Civil War, the genocide of his Mayan peoples, the earth, spirituality, the importance of supporting indigenous culture, and have inspired millions across Central America and the world. Friendship Bridge invites you to attend one (or two) of their upcoming performances: Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 7:30pm @ First Plymouth Congregational Church and Sunday, March 6, 2022 at 3:00pm @ Wellshire Presbyterian Church. 

LEARN MORE

 

In commemoration of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, March 8, our team in Guatemala is hosting a special Facebook Live Event with our partners at Plan International, including a representative from our Customer Advisory Committee, to talk about how women break paradigms established by society in search of equality and empowerment.

WATCH LIVE EVENT

 

Also on Tuesday, March 8, the team at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® will share with you amazing and powerful stories from our empowered artisans in Guatemala.

WATCH LIVE EVENT

Major Gifts Officer, Jennifer Thompson (left), Chief Development Officer, Nicole Eubanks (middle), and Friendship Bridge Development Associate, Eleanor Ruth (right), at the WorldDenver Event on March 8, 2022.

Friendship Bridge is excited to participate in the in-person networking session of WorldDenver’s International Women’s Day Luncheon on Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in Denver, Colorado. The programming portion of the luncheon features a keynote by Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Humanitarian and UN Special Advisor. Get your ticket today and visit us at our networking table in the Bonfils lobby. WorldDenver is a nonprofit community organization that promotes a greater understanding of world affairs and cultures throughout the Denver Metro area, creating and implementing unique programs that connect Coloradans with experts, leaders, and ideas from all over the world.

WATCH RECORDING

Join women, donors, activists, and others working passionately to create change on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 from 4-7pm MST at the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, Colorado, hosted by Women Powering Change. This inspiring event brings together more than 1,000 community members, leaders, activists, volunteers, and philanthropists with more than 100 Colorado-based organizations to showcase what women are doing to catalyze social change locally and globally to create a better world. This will be an expo-style event where you can come meet community leaders and learn what is being done in Colorado. Be part of the conversations about sustainability, social justice, gender equity, and more. The event is free!

LEARN MORE

We are so excited to open the doors of our Friendship Bridge office in Lakewood, Colorado on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Guests will have the opportunity to:

  1. Shop our new and expanded Handmade by Friendship Bridge® showroom. All products were handmade by our talented artisans in Guatemala.
  2. Learn more about the launch of our new Volunteer Program and hear about how local Coloradoans are impacting the lives of our clients.
  3. Visit the beautiful display of museum-quality Guatemalan huipiles showcased in the office.
  4. Meet our staff in an informal open house and see our newly remodeled location.

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

 

Being of Service: Social Media Influencers Supporting Our Work

The influencers who highlighted Handmade by Friendship Bridge® to their social media communities last year (combined reach of 457k followers) were by no means obligated to do so. They were not going to get paid, nor were they going to receive commissions. They had no ties to Friendship Bridge, nor had they ever heard of the organization prior to receiving the initial email from the Handmade team. Still, they eagerly embraced the opportunity to partner with the program.

As was evident in their responses, they were thrilled, grateful, and enthusiastic about supporting the talented artisan women in any way they could. From Chicago to Los Angeles to Portland, Ginny, Janelle, Zeena, and Carlo each have their own, unique content and style, yet they share a passion for women’s empowerment and a desire to use their platforms to promote causes meaningful to them.

Read more about how the Handmade team established these relationships and what such a collaboration with Handmade by Friendship Bridge® entails.

 

From Market Research to Handmade Highlight

Influencer marketing made its debut in the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® marketing strategy in 2021; prior to that (and not counting the “indirect influencer marketing” that resulted from Bernie Sanders’ Swittens promotion), it had not been consistently utilized.

In the fall of 2021, the Handmade team conducted market research to identify potential social media influencers as well as small celebrities who might share values and/or support causes that align with what we do at Friendship Bridge. They then sent personalized emails to these individuals, introducing Handmade, explaining why we do what we do, and inviting them to join in this movement of empowering women.

In exchange and as a thank you to the individuals’ commitment to empowering women (this was also the subject line commonly used for the initial outreach emails), the Handmade team would send gift boxes with various handmade products, specially selected for each influencer. The influencer would then have the creative liberty to share the content however they saw fit. Some took photos, others created videos during their “unboxings” which they then promoted via social media stories. They showcased the products and information about Handmade as well as invited their followers to support the program and the inspiring women who make these products by hand in Guatemala.

 

Ginny Krosel

“Love all you do for the hardworking women of Friendship Bridge in Guatemala.” – Ginny

Ginny Krosel

Instagram @ginnypaxkrosel

ginnykrosel.com

The very first of our Handmade highlights in 2021 came from Ginny, a German teacher living in Chicago who creates content on lifestyle, motherhood, travel, hair, and more. On her website, she says, “Through my tips and stories, I hope to help just a few of you realize that you can dream bigger and make those dreams become a reality.”

Ginny not only highlighted Handmade back in 2021 and kindly told her teacher colleagues about Friendship Bridge and our mission, but she also did another awesome feature in January 2022!  

Janelle Mughannam

Coco Janelle

Instagram @cocojanelle 

TikTok

Twitter

fitwsis.com

The second Handmade highlight came from Janelle, an entrepreneur and influencer who is passionate about fitness and health and whose business, fitwsis (which she started with her sister) has the mission of guiding people toward a healthier lifestyle. She shares that fitness has made her happier, healthy, and overall motivated in life, and she hopes that these fitness plans help motivate others to stay on track and to live a healthier lifestyle. Her Instagram bio says “empowered women, empower women”, so the Handmade team had a feeling this would be a great match.

Zeena Aqel

Zeena Aqel

Watch the video here.

Instagram @zeenaaqel 

Our third Handmade highlight of the year came from TV presenter, Fitness Manager, and overall inspirational woman, Zeena Aqel. She uses her platform to speak up and advocate for what she believes in. Her Instagram bio also includes, “Empower women.” Zeena created a phenomenal video in which she introduced her 200k+ followers to Handmade by Friendship Bridge® – she provided details about the trainings and education the artisans receive, showed each of the unique gifts she had received, and reiterated her passion for women’s empowerment and encouraged her community to support these talented women.

Carlo Novoa

Carlo Novoa

Instagram @litfromwithin 

Watch the Wednesday Women of Power video with Maya here and with Indira here.

And last but not least, 2021 was the year in which Carlo Novoa, from Guatemala himself and currently based in Los Angeles, became introduced to Friendship Bridge via a mutual friend of a long-time supporter and volunteer of Friendship Bridge.

A salon owner, an entrepreneur, a licensed prayer coach/practitioner, a motivational speaker, a trainer for big corporations worldwide… and most importantly, a humble man with a deep commitment to his mission to “uplift, sustain, and maintain my fellow sisters and brothers, & remind all of us that we are all ONE #mytribe“. 

“The reason that I do this… what moves me the most is that it’s about empowering women. That’s the reason why I will continue to highlight the amazing organizations that you work for. It’s because when you empower women, women will, in turn, empower their village, empower their communities, and empower their families.” – Carlo Novoa

Maya, Manager of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® and Indira, Visual Design Coordinator of Handmade by Friendship Bridge® each had the opportunity and honor of participating in Carlo’s Wednesday Women of Power features (which are conversations about “… honesty, empowerment, vulnerability, courage, fear, trust, and everything in between”) in 2021.

Final Thoughts

Not only the Handmade team, but all of us at Friendship Bridge feel incredibly fortunate to have received the support of these inspiring, selfless, and passionate individuals. Their willingness to use their influential voices to elevate our message, to educate their followers about our mission and our work to empower women and eliminate poverty in Guatemala, truly means more than they know.

What It Means to be a Great Place to Work®


Play Video

Big news! Great Place to Work® has named Friendship Bridge one of The Best Places to Work™ for Women in Central America and the Caribbean in 2021. The award recognizes organizations whose female employees report that their workplace creates trust and supports their ability to reach their full human potential, no matter who they are or what they do. Friendship Bridge ranked second among 25 other multinational organizations that participated, including Belcorp Centroamérica and Novo Nordisk CLAT (Caribbean & Central America.)

Read Press Release

“This is an exceptional honor for us. The employee surveys prove that our impact extends beyond the reach of our client base. The women on our team are also telling us they feel supported and empowered. Even during this pandemic, we’re creating a culture of trust by providing secure jobs, a good income, and important benefits to our female staff.”

– Karen Larson, Friendship Bridge President & CEO

Altogether, Friendship Bridge has received the following rankings this year:

We are so incredibly honored to have received these awards and accolades. The recognition strengthens our ongoing commitment to creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.

But what does it really mean to be a Great Place to Work®? In this post, we’ll elaborate on a few of these workplace honors.

Definition of a Great Place to Work®

It’s no surprise that when the employees of an organization are happy, those whom they serve are happy too. Numerous studies have demonstrated this very link: happy and engaged employees better serve their clients, which leads to greater client satisfaction and loyalty. At Friendship Bridge, our employees have attested to identifying with Friendship Bridge’s vision and mission, and we know that, thanks to this mission-driven spirit, we are able to achieve the social impact we seek.

Let’s take a deeper look at The Best Place to Work for Women™ in Central America and the Caribbean recognition. This award recognizes organizations based on two characteristics:

  • Their female employees report that the workplace creates trust and supports their ability to reach their full human potential, no matter who they are or what they do.
  • They have practices that are fully committed to the development of women and enable women to enhance and strengthen their skills and abilities.

To establish these rankings, the Great Place to Work® institute analyzed confidential survey feedback from Friendship Bridge staff that took into consideration female employees’ daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of their leaders. The extent to which women are represented in the workforce and throughout management (taking into account industry trends) also factors into the rankings. To be considered, companies need to:

  • Employ at least 50 women
  • Have at least 20% of their non-executive managers be female
  • Have at least one female executive

CORE VALUES AT FRIENDSHIP BRIDGE

• Empowerment • Respect • Solidarity

• Participation • Quality • Integrity • Transparency

Friendship Bridge exceeds these minimum requirements across the 14 locations where operate throughout Guatemala. In fact, 96 of our 177 employees are women. Still, we know that gender equality goes beyond quotas. Aside from a sense of engagement with one’s work, and a feeling of support, trust, and respect – the culture itself should foster these sentiments. And at Friendship Bridge, this culture is driven by our core values. We know that unless we integrate these values into our work and create an environment where employees can benefit from these values, the aforementioned awards would not have been possible.

After all, what does a “great workplace” encompass? It is a place where employees feel empowered, they feel respected, they feel a sense of solidarity, they feel engaged to participate, they feel recognized, they receive appreciation for the high quality of their work and for their work ethic, they are treated with integrity, and they experience transparency in the workplace.

Meet Concepción

Great People, Like Concepción, Make Us a Great
Place to Work®

Being named a Great Place to Work® would not be possible without great people – talented, hardworking, dedicated to our mission, and from a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. One way we attract these great people to our organization is through partnerships such as the one we have with the MAIA Impact School, located in Sololá, Guatemala. MAIA, founded by Ted and Connie Ning (who also founded Friendship Bridge) is the first female, indigenous-led secondary school in Central America offering quality, holistic academic education to Guatemalan girls.

Our Talent School partnership with MAIA creates a direct pipeline for graduates to participate in our “readiness” program and to ultimately enter the growing workforce at Friendship Bridge. 

Friendship Bridge’s Education and Plus Services Assistant, Concepción, is one person who exemplifies the success of this program. Concepción is an indigenous woman of the Maya Tz’utujil ethnic group who grew up in the town of Santiago Atitlán. One of nine children, neither her father nor her mother received any formal education, and the highest level of schooling her siblings completed was the seventh grade. While her sisters dedicated themselves to embroidery as artisans, Concepción was accepted to the MAIA Impact School and even received a scholarship to attend. Particular stigmas around pursuing this kind of opportunity, however, meant Concepción did not have unconditional support, and she was discouraged by both neighbors as well as relatives:

“I had the opportunity to break stereotypes about what it means to have a scholarship,” said Concepción. “Many people said that having a scholarship is eating and living from the organizations. These paradigms initially caused my father to refuse to participate in the three activities at MAIA. But over time, he changed his mind.”

Concepción’s strong academic performance at MAIA enabled her to pursue a college degree in Business Administration. During her second year of studies, she applied for and was hired as an intern with the Human Resources department at Friendship Bridge. In this role, she received professional training and practical work experience, allowing her to become a full-time employee. She has now been an employee of Friendship Bridge for two years. Concepción feels grateful and proud to be able to participate in this impactful work and to empower women in Guatemala. She also values the comradery amongst the team, the doors this experience has opened for her, and the community of high-impact women with whom she works.

“Friendship Bridge gave me the opportunity to enter the work world and it gave me the space for a formal job as an indigenous woman. The organization contributes and cares about my professional and academic improvement.”

– Concepción

Read more about our Great Place to Work® designation here.

The MAIA Impact School partners with Friendship Bridge to give their students a path to quality employment.

 

2021 Achievements

I am always filled with pride at this time of year. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all we have accomplished together at Friendship Bridge. The year 2021 proved to be even more exceptional than we expected, given the difficulties of the past two years with COVID-19 and the way it has changed how we do our work. Because of that, I am even more proud of all we accomplished and the progress we have made toward creating opportunities that empower women in Guatemala to build a better life. Together we achieved an incredible impact, in the lives of our clients, our staff, and the institution, which is why I must share some highlights from this past year.

Credit

  • Served 32,310 clients, 2,393 more than in 2020.
  • Disbursed $20.5 million in new loans, 112% of our goal.
  • Portfolio quality results were outstanding, maintaining our position as one of the best in the region and industry with full-year write-offs of 2.5%, delinquency of only 0.27%, and client retention rate of 78.2%.

Operations

  • Expanded our operations by opening three new branch offices where poverty and migration is the highest (Santo Tomás la Unión and Camojá la Democracia and Chacaco)
  • Opened a Call Center with a newly installed PBX that allows inbound and outbound calls for clients with support in several languages, and routes callers to the appropriate area of the organization to resolve client issues faster.
  • Remodeled the Lakewood, Colorado office and added a beautiful showroom for Handmade by Friendship Bridge®.

Staff + Team

  • Friendship Bridge is a Great Place to Work!! Certified as a Great Place to Work® in Central America and the Caribbean 2021-2022.
  • Achieved 2nd place as a Great Places to Work for Women in Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Advanced our commitment to gender equality with 48% of internal promotions going to women.
  • Women made up 50% of all manager positions.
  • Friendship University, our internal training program, offered 14,097 total hours of staff training, with 4,179 participants and 56 training topics.

Social Performance

  • Third-party research by our partners at 60 Decibels revealed that:
    • 97% of clients said that the quality of their life had improved.
    • 94% of our clients earn more money because of Friendship Bridge.
    • 94% of clients say their ability to plan their finances has increased.
    • View the Report (English / Spanish)
  • Launched a special COVID-19 campaign to promote to clients the importance of getting the vaccine:
    • 8,251 clients, or 35%, have received the COVID-19 vaccine, 4,503 of whom received at least a second shot, significantly higher than the rates in the rural population generally.
    • Developed and shared throughout the country three videos to encourage clients and their children to get vaccinated in three languages.
    • 98% of staff in Guatemala are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Institutional Achievements

Agriculture

  • 15 demonstration plots allowed for 60 Agricultural and Livestock Production Field Schools with 450 clients, as part of our Women’s Agriculture Credit & Training program.
  • Two non-traditional crops were successfully introduced in the region: watermelon and oyster mushrooms.
  • Low-cost technologies were introduced to improve crop production: drip irrigation, injection system (Venturi System), mulch padding, and colored traps for the ethological control of pests.
  • Successfully launched the AVICOLA Pilot project, educating clients about the management and breeding of farm animals. A total of 384 clients were trained in the Nebaj and Quiche branches.

Agriculture Video

Health for Life

  • 75% of eligible clients utilized the Health for Life program vs a goal of 65% because health has become a priority since the pandemic and our committed team of nurses reached 91% coverage of the program.
  • 31% of our clients chose a Family Planning method.
  • Rolled out a mental health pilot program with expectations to expand in 2022.

Health for Life Video

Non-Formal Education

  • Resumed Non-Formal Education (NFE) sessions in the field, incorporating biosafety measures and technology tools for faster and touchless service for our clients.
  • 27,988 clients participated in NFE during the year.
  • Achieved a 72% knowledge retention rate exceeding the previous three-year average of 61%,
  • Launched the E-Learning pilot project to 154 clients in the Advanced Training and Non-Formal Education with plans to expand its scope in 2022.
  • Developed and launched the Blended Learning Methodology pilot, Puente de Aprendizaje, issuing iPads to clients for their use of this new methodology. Feedback was excellent.

Non-Formal Education Video

Bridge to Success

  • Launched the Bridge to Success program in August 2021. Through this program, Friendship Bridge is serving a new segment of clients, known as Entrepreneurs, who have growing businesses and can contribute to local employment and community sustainability.
  • Golden-Globe-nominated actress María Mercedes Coroy generously donated her time to be featured in our Marketing Launch Campaign (TV/Digital channels) commercials, as part of the new Bridge to Success program launch to help recruit women Entrepreneurs for the program.

Bridge to Success Video

Handmade by Friendship Bridge®

  • Sales at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® were $100 thousand with nearly 4,700 products sold. Clients in the program employed 106 people during the year and two new online stores were launched on Etsy and Shopify.
  • Handmade by Friendship Bridge® was awarded a $100 thousand Marilyn Lone Endowment for Artisans with Friendship Bridge in honor of Marilyn Lone, a talented artisan. Annual distributions from this $100 thousand endowment will benefit women artisan clients working with the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® program. The endowment will provide ongoing support and education so they can continue to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Because of you, Friendship Bridge is able to thrive and continue creating opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. On behalf of the entire staff, our Board of Directors, and all of our clients at Friendship Bridge, we are so grateful for your support.

 

 

 

2021 Achievements 2020 Achievements

6 Holiday Gift Guides

Handmade by Friendship Bridge

Gift guides. They showcase products, inspire shoppers, and ensure brands stay top of mind throughout the season. They promise to identify the perfect gift for everyone on a shopper’s list. They are curated, personalized, and seemingly timeless traditions in retail. Considering the ever-evolving world of retail and the ongoing shift from brick and mortar to click and order, such gift guides are continuing to gain popularity in e-commerce. It’s a gift guide, a gift of guidance, and, at the end of the day, an opportunity. An opportunity to both increase conversion as well as help shoppers make a decision. To create a more efficient shopping experience. To highlight best-selling products as well as introduce and generate interest in a brand and in the story behind it.

Handmade by Friendship Bridge is the Microcredit Plus program of Friendship Bridge which equips our artisan clients with the skills, education, and technical assistance they need to reach their potential and sell independently in the global market. The Handmade brand is only about two years old (the program was formerly known as the Artisan Market Access Program), and thus efforts to promote it, increase its visibility, and educate relevant audiences about its mission and work are ongoing. We are always seeking additional sales channels through which to promote the talented artisans’ unique handmade products and fortunately, these efforts are paying off. Just this holiday season, Handmade was featured in six different gift guides, thereby increasing sales, conversion, and overall brand awareness!

The 6 Gift Guides

Seadbeady’s Fashion & Lifestyle Blog

Handmade by Friendship Bridge artisan client, Micaela, had her Tikal Tote Bag with Leather Straps was highlighted in the “Where To Find 24 Great Gifts For Women.”

Chatty Patty’s Place

Magdalena’s Santa Catarina Agua Table Runner, Micaela’s Tikal Tote Bag, and Dominga’s Multicolor Shawl received highlights in this “Help Empower Women in Guatemala by Supporting Friendship Bridge” post from November.

HipLatina

A platform dedicated to highlighting the diversity of the U.S. Latina experience, it empowers and entertains by providing thoughtful, engaging content on the topics Latinas care about most. Handmade – and, specifically, Francisca T.’s Sunrise Shawl – were highlighted in HipLatina’s “Gift Guide: Indigenous Lifestyle Brands You Need to Shop” post from November.

Consumer Queen

A Lifestyle Blog. Handmade by Friendship Bridge, and, in particular, Ruth’s Alma Yoga Mat Carrier received a highlight in this “Holiday Guide: Christmas Gifts for Her” post from November.

Elevate Destinations

A dynamic travel company that plans unique, eco-luxury trips with a positive social impact, designed for families, friends, and organizations. Friendship Bridge, and a pair of Swittens, in particular, received a highlight in their “Holiday gift guide: Central and South America” post.

Marriott Bonvoy Traveler

An online travel and lifestyle publication featuring destination content. Handmade by Friendship Bridge received a mention in their “For Memory’s Sake: Support Local Artisans and Traditions with These 10 Travel Keepsakes” post.

From mentions to detailed descriptions about what we do at Friendship Bridge or at Handmade by Friendship Bridge, we are honored and humbled to be included on these diverse platforms and deeply thankful to be able to bring more sales to our artisans as a result. A heartfelt thanks to those who were willing to include Handmade in their guides.

And we are also deeply thankful to you. Thank you for supporting our talented artisans each time you purchase their unique handmade products. Thank you for spreading the word about Friendship Bridge to your friends and family. Thank you for keeping up with us throughout the year. Thank you for your support, for your commitment to women’s empowerment, for your desire to join us in our mission to create opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life. Wishing you and yours a peaceful, relaxing, and safe holiday season.

SHOP

The Power of Seed Capital: Catarina’s Hardware Store

Imagine you are here in Guatemala, in Catarina’s hardware store. It is a simple shop but full of activity, with customers coming in and out to buy supplies. If you were here, you would smell rubber and a hint of gasoline in the air, as Catarina happily chats with a customer, then completes yet another transaction. An order has just arrived from one of her newest customers, a wholesale buyer making a large purchase of sand and cement blocks. Catarina quickly gets to work to fulfill the order. “My community respects my work,” she says. “And many of them are our customers.”

Catarina’s store was not always so successful. Previously, she had only a few inexpensive items to sell. But little by little, the store grew more popular in her rural community of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, a municipality in the Sololá department of Guatemala. Although she was making some income from selling her handmade artisan goods, she needed just a little more capital to invest in her business so it could flourish and grow. This early funding, also known as “seed capital,” is a key component to the success of a business, but it is often a loan that banks will not risk lending, especially to a first-time, early-venture business owner like Catarina. Seed capital funds initial business operating expenses, such as special equipment, legal or marketing services, or even professional support. But for those without a proven track record of business success, the loan is often unattainable, even more so for women in rural Guatemala.

A Friendship Bridge client for about 15 years, Catarina was recently accepted into the new Bridge to Success program, moving her from the Dreamer client segment to the Entrepreneur group at Friendship Bridge. “My groupmates encouraged me to take this new step,” Catarina said. “I am moving forward.” Benefits of the new program include individual loans (as opposed to our traditional group lending model), a professional mentor, and advanced trainings focused on business strategy, planning, management, and leadership development. “It has been very interesting to move from a Trust Bank loan to an individual loan,” Catarina said. “The individual loan has helped me to invest in more inventory. And my mentor visits me once a week to hear about my progress and to see if I need any extra support.”

Previously, Catarina did not always have the products her buyers needed, but now she can offer a wider variety of products for wholesale, and her customers get them on time. This improves buyer retention and loyalty and, as a result, her customers continue placing bigger orders and buying more products. It is a virtuous cycle. “Ultimately, our income will help provide better opportunities for our children. This is thanks to the new financing and training received from Friendship Bridge.”

What is seed capital?

Seed capital funds a company’s initial operating expenses that are critical to its growth, such as special equipment, legal or marketing services, and professional mentoring to name a few. 

How to support.

We hope reading this blog article inspired you. Stories like Catarina’s are always inspiring because when women find their own solutions to poverty, they also learn they have a community of supporters who believe in them who know they deserve an early loan that will help them on their chosen path. Because of our donors, women like Catarina are positioned to learn, grow, and succeed. Because of this, Friendship Bridge is collecting donations through Dec. 31 that will be matched dollar-for-dollar (up to $50,00) by a generous donor. That means all gifts will DOUBLE in value if we can reach our $50,000 goal. \

What your donation can provide.

$100 supports an artisan with essential funding for business expenses, such as operations or product development

$350 the average loan issued to a first-time Dreamer client, allowing her to invest in her business so it can flourish and grow

$500 provides capital for agriculture clients to invest in agricultural technology like a ferti-irrigation system

$1,000 provides essential seed capital to a Bridge to Success program Entrepreneur client

$3,500 the average loan issued to a first-time Entrepreneur client, allowing her to expand her business in ways she never thought possible 

Donate Now