Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Thanks for making our 25th Anniversary Gala a success!

Thanks for making our 25th Anniversary Gala a success!

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. At Friendship Bridge we celebrate women every day – women as mothers, sisters, wives, and entrepreneurs. This Mother’s Day, consider honoring mothers in Guatemala with a gift to Friendship Bridge. Your Mother’s Day gift is investment that will change lives and empower more women and their families today and in the future.

A couple weeks ago on April 23, Friendship Bridge celebrated women in a big way at our 25th Anniversary Gala. 330 Friendship Bridge supporters joined us to celebrate our past and look forward to our future. You can enjoy photos from the event by clicking on this link. The evening commemorated the foundation built by Friendship Bridge founders Ted and Connie Ning, as well as all of our past board presidents. We were also excited to welcome, from Guatemala, Friendship Bridge Communications Coordinator Marta Julia Ixtuc and Facilitator (Loan Officer) Sara Par to this year’s Gala (both pictured above, in yellow and orange). Sara serves over 560 clients and manages a portfolio of $157,000 with a repayment rate of 99.75%.

We raised over $125,000 at this year’s Gala. In order to reach our $25,000 matching grants we need to raise an additional $5,000. Would you consider partnering with us this Mother’s Day to reach this goal and empower more Guatemalan women — most of them mothers —  to build a better future for themselves, their children, and their communities?

Thanks for your part in making our past 25 years impactful and inspiring.

A Look Inside Our Guatemalan Insight Trips: ‘Enchanting, Colorful, Mysterious’

By Jody Nolan, February 2015 Guatemala Insight Trip Attendee

Guatemala is a magical place.  It is enchanting, colorful, and mysterious – in that Latin American surreal way.   It is a land of contrasts that range from the looming backdrop of the steaming volcanoes of Antigua and the indescribably lush and stunning colonial Lake Atitlan region to the complexity of pigments and designs woven into the garments still worn by the thousands of Mayan descendants in every village.   When you combine this astonishing physical and cultural landscape with the mission of Friendship Bridge (FB) – which at its core aspires to educate, give back, and explore – you have ensured an experience that will live forever in your heart.

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Friendship Bridge clients at a Trust Bank meeting
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Stunning scenery of Lake Atitlan

 

 

I signed on for my Insight Trip very late in the game- only three weeks prior to departure date.  I knew peripherally a few of the women who were already going on the trip. They belonged to the Oconomowoc Circle, one of the 12 groups of volunteers across the country who provide their time and talents to supporting FB.  I had seen the lovely “swittens” (mittens made from old sweaters) they make to support FB’s mission, and I knew from past experience that for me personally, my most memorable travels have incorporated a charitable component.

Friendship Bridge is an organization with a stunningly strong and organized infrastructure.   Their mission is sound and inspired, and their support staff is stellar – both in Guatemala and in the Denver offices. I don’t think there was anyone in my group who was not astonished at how well organized every detail of our Insight Trip was. And all of the women on this trip were interesting, friendly, committed, and fun to be with.

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Insight Trip Attendees

 

 

A sampling of fond memories….. riding in cattle trucks and by tuk-tuks; the incomparable textiles – (gotta see ‘em to believe ‘em); the gratitude expressed to us by the women who are served by FB and witnessing the training and support they receive monthly; our accommodations in Panajachel overlooking Lake Atitlan; Marta Julia’s smile and sense of humor; huevos bien divorciados; the sense of rich yet turbulent history that fills the air; meeting and making new friends.

-Jody Nolan, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

Friendship Bridge Development Director Participates in ‘Reconceptualizing Development’ Panel

Friendship Bridge Development Director Participates in ‘Reconceptualizing Development’ Panel

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

Friendship Bridge was honored to participate in a March 31st panel at the Posner Center for International Development’s Global Poverty Post-2015: Reconceptualizing Development. Sponsored by IDEX Young Professionals Group of Denver, the panel’s goal was to discuss what we can — and are continuing to do — to alleviate poverty worldwide in a post-Millenium Development Goal (MDG) era.

Michael Allen, Friendship Bridge’s Development Director, spoke on our targeted strategies of using microcredit and education to reduce poverty among the 23,000 Guatemalan women and families we work with daily. When asked which MDG we aligned with most, Michael said number three: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. He described how our Microcredit Plus model incorporates not only access to credit, but culturally sensitive and highly effective education programs that empower women through business development and entrepreneurial skills training.

Michael continued, explaining that through Friendship Bridge services, our goal is to see empowered women eliminate poverty. By empowering women and providing tools for economic improvement, we have also worked to achieve other MDGs, such as number two: Achieving Universal Primary Education. Our CrediEscolar loans are specifically available to women who may need assistance paying for their children’s school fees and uniforms. Data has shown our loans have made it possible for children to remain in school longer. In many cases, girls are taken out of school first if families need an extra work hand. If our clients’ incomes remains stable, all children will receive primary education, and hopefully continue to secondary and tertiary levels.

In a concluding question, the panelists were asked what they thought the international development community could be doing to improve its poverty alleviation impact. Michael pointed to Friendship Bridge’s hyper local focus — a very decentralized approach — of improving lives. He described our new Mobile Health Services program that will provide indigenous, rural Mayan women vital and preventative services where there previously were none. He urged the development community to 1) rethink traditional approaches and boundary lines, and 2) foster collaboration to offer more comprehensive and actionable solutions.

The Posner Center is a collaborative and highly productive space, housing over 60 development-oriented businesses and organizations under one roof. The Posner Center’s goal is to “spur innovation by enabling groups to cross-pollinate through the exchange of ideas, the overlap of programming, and the generation of more comprehensive and lasting solutions to global poverty.

Other panelists included Steve Voyen from Children’s HopeChest, Gwen Vogel from SalusWorld, and Rhiannan Price from aWhere. Each brought insightful and diverse views from the development community. Here’s to a world in which we’re all working to achieve the same goals.

 

Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Boldness for change: Education and healthcare for women and girls

Last week, 15-year-old Emelin from Guatemala spoke to the United Nations about her efforts to improve health and education for women in her rural community. When she first approached the mayor of her town two years ago and asked him to find ways to help girls stay in school and access better healthcare, he laughed and said Emelin was wasting his time.

Emelin didn’t think it was a waste of time, and neither do we.

Emelin and her friend Elba began to work with the organization Let Girls Lead, where they were taught about self-esteem, human rights and community organizing. They used these skills to bring positive change to their village.

Eventually, their mayor couldn’t help but pay attention and sign legislation to fund education and healthcare efforts for girls.

We here at Friendship Bridge also believe education and healthcare are foundational to the empowerment of women and girls. One way we promote this is through our CrediEscolar school loans. This loan product provides mothers with quick loan capital to pay for any costs associated with their children’s education – such as tuition, uniforms, or school supplies. Our social performance measures have shown that the longer a woman is a client of Friendship Bridge, the more likely she is to enroll in the program, thereby keeping her children in school.

In addition to offering our clients solutions for their children’s education, we also provide non-formal education to the more than 22,000 women we serve. This education is delivered through our hardworking loan officers. Our non-formal adult education program helps our clients build their confidence as they learn practical life skills such as maintaining healthier households and building stronger businesses. We also have an advanced education program that trains women to diversify their revenue by introducing new products into their businesses.

Like Emelin, we recognize a gap in healthcare services for women in Guatemala. We’re responding by piloting a new health services project this year. Our market research found that Guatemalan women often lack access to health information and don’t trust healthcare professionals. We’re partnering with Maya Health Alliance to provide our clients with important health information and bring quality and culturally sensitive/appropriate healthcare directly to their communities through mobile health clinics. These services will always be provided by female medical staff and in the Mayan dialect of the client.

We applaud Emelin for her boldness to promote change for girls in Guatemala. Our hope is that the combined efforts toward empowerment of women and girls in Guatemala will spark transformative social change.

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

Child Migrant Crisis isn’t over – What is Friendship Bridge doing?

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

Although not even a year has passed, the 2014 Central American child migrant crisis has nearly been ignored in recent media. Some might assume the U.S. government and border control have since “taken care” of the issue. But the unfortunate fact remains that children are still fleeing Central America every day – either from staggering gang violence, a lack of economic opportunity, poverty, or in hopes of reuniting with family members residing in the United States. In 2014, the U.S. government reported catching 47,000 unaccompanied minors crossing into the US – 24% were Guatemalans.

Yet, this number only reflects those who were detained at the border. Hundreds or thousands more migrant children could have crossed the border successfully, only to end up in the hands of traffickers or in vulnerable positions of exploitation by smugglers. Many girls become victims of sexual violence and rape. Others could be exploited as laborers, since many children may not have family to provide shelter and stability once they arrive. Moreover, those detained and deported may face an even more dangerous road once they return to their home countries, as many are dropped off at airports or bus stations in major cities and are again prime targets for coyotes, smugglers, and traffickers.

Our staff at Friendship Bridge is deeply concerned and saddened by these events. In 2014, we responded to the crisis through our client education program — by spreading the truth about the dangers of this treacherous journey to more than 22,000 Guatemalan women. Our education manager in Guatemala incorporated information on the crisis in the August 2014 education session, including statistics of the children who had already been detained, the dangers of physical assault, sexual violence, and the risks of being abducted, kidnapped, or even killed.

We know the more economic opportunities we can provide and create for our clients in Guatemala, the less need there will be for this dangerous migration. We will continue to help build strong and sustainable businesses that provide a better livelihood for our clients and their families. In turn, this will help ensure children remain in school and work towards breaking the cycle of generational poverty.

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

International Women’s Day: #MakeItHappen

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

On Sunday, March 8, countries worldwide will celebrate International Women’s Day: A global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. This year’s theme is ‘Make It Happen,’ celebrating women’s achievements and making a call for greater equality in the workplace, arts and sciences, and greater equality as entrepreneurs and business owners.

At Friendship Bridge we celebrate the achievement of our inspirational clients every day. We couldn’t be happier to share in this international day of awareness by recognizing the amazing rural Guatemalan women we work with – women working toward equality, opportunity, independence, and a future in which their lives and incomes are stable. These strong and exceptionally hardworking women fight against generational poverty with the microloans and educational training services we provide. They are able to start and expand small businesses and transform their lives into a vision they control.

Women worldwide have incredible potential to create and participate in new market economies, run businesses, become leaders, and stop the cycle of oppression and violence so many millions of women experience daily. We wholeheartedly continue to believe in our vision: A world in which empowered women eliminate poverty. Today we’d like to let our clients know they’ve inspired us and many others  in their dedication and determination to create a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Please consider joining our cause to help make global change for women a reality.

 

Is Microfinance Really Working?

Is Microfinance Really Working?

by Jeanne Crump, Social Performance Intern

The microfinance community has long been asking the question: Is microfinance working? To answer the question succinctly: No. Data has shown that access to microloans alone does not lead to a substantial increase in annual income for clients. But when loans are combined and offered with Microcredit Plus services, there are positive and transformative results.

Friendship Bridge’s (FB) Microcredit Plus program provides small business loans and basic education based on a group lending model in which clients form Trust Banks, ranging in size from 7-30 members, co-guaranteeing each other’s loans. Because of our long-term relationship with clients, we’re able to offer specific products that meet their needs – such as our Mobile Health Services program that provides preventive and persistent health education and screenings and our Credisalud project which provides our clients with parallel loans to purchase ventilating stoves. Results from our Credisalud project showed not only an improvement in our client’s health from the replacement of wood burning stoves, but also a 50% savings in fuel costs each month.

In 2014, our clients logged 201,349 hours of non-formal training, which included monthly trainings on topics ranging from health to self-esteem to business management. In 2012 we introduced the Advanced Education Program in response to a desire for additional skillsets from our clients. This program offers technical and advanced business training – including learning how to produce new and high quality products, critical business and financial skills, and best practices in marketing their products. Courses include, among others, pastry making, canning and preserving, candle making, sausage making, floristry, and soap/shampoo making. Friendship Bridge covers the cost of the training and arranges all logistics and transportation to the facility.

Education has proven to be the true catalyst in our clients’ progress. We have found it is fundamental to helping clients gain empowerment and achieve financial stability. A study conducted by practitioner and researcher Chris Dunford for the Freedom From Hunger Evidence Project found: “To impact household poverty levels, the program must include integration with nonfinancial services, such as immediately useful, basic business management education and linkages to suppliers and markets.”

Yet, measuring outcomes and results of Plus services may be as equally important as providing them. In 2011, Friendship Bridge began implementing a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation program that has provided insights into our client’s performance and program effectiveness. This formalization of Social Performance Management (SPM) includes ongoing robust data collection systems and is integrated with our daily operations. SPM is a management system that sets clear social objectives, monitors and assesses progress toward achieving those objectives, and uses the information to improve overall performance toward achieving our mission.

Measuring social impact has provided us with data allowing us to see positive association between the number of loan cycles a client has with FB and her poverty likelihood. We have also seen stability or improvement in economic well-being in a sample of clients.

We discovered the key to most significant advances was social empowerment. Social empowerment manifests through self-esteem, increased opportunity, and self-actualization – having a vision for the future and a belief one can achieve it.

Empowerment also leads to the desire and will to learn new skills and abilities, increasing a woman’s support network and improving her health. In a recent Huffington Post article by Rosario Perez, President and Chief Executive of Pro Mujer, Perez states, “Women want more than a mere transaction. They seek a relationship based on mutual trust and respect that recognizes their capabilities and supports them on their journey towards greater agency and empowerment.”

Our microcredit services allow our clients to expand an existing small business or start a new one, keep children in school, and provide opportunities for a healthier lifestyle. It is our Microcredit Plus services that allow our clients to grow, learn, and develop skillsets for transformative, impactful life changes.

International Day of Social Justice

International Day of Social Justice

Today is the International Day of Social Justice. Social justice can mean a lot of different things. To our fellow microfinance institutions, justice means giving people the financial resources to lift themselves out of poverty. We here at Friendship Bridge believe in a microcredit plus model, meaning we believe social justice for the poor should also include education, skills training, and access to healthcare. For us this means meeting women where they are at and giving them resources to find their own solutions to poverty…solutions that will give them and their families opportunities and hope for their futures. We believe every individual should be able to have that kind of hope.

Our social justice focus is microcredit, but others who are committed to social justice fight to promote education or health, to end exploitation, or to end violence. Some individuals are devoted to bring social justice to their own hometowns and others are advocating for justice globally. Each cause, each country, each individual is worth our efforts.

Today we stand united with any individual and organization devoted to social justice. How are you committed to social justice?

From the Field: Kiva Intern Remembers Fondly Her Time in Guatemala

Antigua

Brilliant blue skies

By Amanda Schweikert, former Kiva intern

Back here in snowy Colorado, looking back at my four-month experience in Guatemala brings back fond memories of brilliant blue skies and warm people. The most vivid memories are not of life-changing events or the powerful nostalgia for the comforts of life back in the United States. What stick out in my mind the most are the at-times monotonous aspects of day-to-day life walking the streets of Panajachel, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells. The tuk tuks wind in and out of traffic and pedestrians at lightning speed, stray dogs dart across streets, chicken bus drivers load people in while yelling names of nearby destinations, women sell bananas and hand-woven textiles on the touristy streets and vendors tempt locals with fried chicken and french fries out of food carts. My daily trips to the bustling market, packed with overflowing piles of colorful fruits and vegetables surrounded by the smells of raw chicken, are thrills themselves. I learn that bargaining is truly an art. Riding on chicken buses is the definition of adventure, cramped between strangers, exchanging smiles at the craziness around us.

Guatemala to Amanda

Volcanoes looking over the lake

I recall the mosquito-bite covered legs, the spider as big as the palm of my hand crawling uncomfortably close to my pillow. I was tested during the constant autumnal rains during which I found myself trapped in a coffee shop for four hours, unable to escape, as the streets became overflowing rivers. Then I was spoiled with the color-drenched dusks in November during “sunset season” and the 70 degree temps in the middle of December. Waking up to the sight of the Atitlán, San Pedro and Tolimán volcanoes looking over the lake, protecting nearby inhabitants, gave me comfort. Realizing their permanence made the difficult days a little more tolerable and the good days all the more magical.

Above all, what I treasured and what I will try to carry with me is the warmth and spirit of the Guatemalan people. The people I met during my experience genuinely cared to listen and welcomed me into their homes without hesitation. The passion and drive of the businesswomen I met through my Friendship Bridge fellowship inspire me and further fuel my passion for non-profit work. Before leaving Guatemala in December, I received valuable advice from a mother of a student at the multicultural academy at which I taught, a woman I am fortunate to call a friend. She told me, “Lay one stone ahead of you at a time.” Making sure to plant the next stone firmly in the ground, I am looking forward to the next adventure and what I will discover along the way.

Amanda Schweikert was a field blogger providing Kiva reports for Friendship Bridge. She also taught part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Global Partnerships Brings Supporters to Guatemala Through ‘Impact Journeys’

This past November, a Friendship Bridge investor, Global Partnerships, brought a group of their supporters to experience firsthand the exciting work we’re doing with our Guatemalan clients. On this ‘Impact Journey,’ the group attended two trust bank meetings where our clients met to repay loans and to discuss topics on managing earnings and responsible borrowing practices. The group was able to listen to client stories and experience the inspirational efforts made each day through our credit and educational services. Global Partnerships Donor Relations Office, Peter Solar, gives us some great insight and feedback on the trip in his recent blog post ‘Traveling with purpose:Witnessing impact in Guatemala.’ To learn more about Global Partnerships and their Impact Journeys, you can also visit their website.

From the Field: Atitlán Flower Trust Bank

Microloan Stove

Santiago across Lake Atitlán.

Microloan Stove

Members of Atitlán Flower Trust Bank.

By Amanda Schweikert, Kiva intern

I arrive by boat to the town of Santiago on Lake Atitlán in southern Guatemala. Santiago is a remarkably beautiful town set in a valley nestled between volcanoes, currently covered in an early morning fog. Making my way uphill and into town, I feel very comfortable as if I have been in this place many times before though it is my first trip here. In this picturesque municipality, ten women come together as part of the Flor de Azucena Atitlán, or Atitlán Flower Trust Bank. The group is made up of passionate, exuberant businesswomen that take pride in their Kakchiquel Mayan traditions while making use of modern conveniences to run their businesses and improve their lives.

The members run diverse businesses: from selling cosmetics or fresh fish to producing artisanal textiles. Each woman of the Trust Bank has two children on average and varying years of schooling, from no formal education to receiving a degree to teach primary school. During their monthly meetings, the women receive informal education on diverse topics such as health and wellness, business management and strategies to improve their sales in order to improve their self-esteem and run their businesses effectively. This month, before receiving their new disbursement of Kiva loans, the women discuss the details of the loan. They all agree to pay on time and to support each other in their business ventures.

The members of the Atitlán Flower Trust Bank are thankful for the generosity of Kiva investors. With the help of people worldwide, the women are able to work towards a brighter future for themselves, their families and the community of Santiago Atitlán.

Amanda Schweikert is a field blogger providing Kiva reports for Friendship Bridge. She also teaches part-time at the Lake Atitlan Multicultural Academy.

Giving Provides Opportunities for Grateful Clients

Petrona tablecloth

Petrona is an artisan weaver with five children – she shows a tablecloth she will set at market.

Giving is empowering and so is gratitude. In the case of Friendship Bridge clients, gratitude is the experience of being thankful for the opportunities that develop and resources that help them achieve their dreams.

On December 2, following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday will celebrate generosity on a global scale and encourage giving to benefit others. For assisting our clients in Guatemala, your act of giving could be as simple as contributing on the Donate section of the Friendship Bridge website or donate on the Friendship Bridge crowdfunding site, http://empowerwomen.causevox.com/. You could also set a 24-hour goal for December 2 and create a personal fundraising page (it’s easy – go to Sign Up in the right corner of the page, write why you want people to give, and invite your friends and family to donate)!

Giving Tuesday BannerWhen you give, you are helping clients like Petrona Churunel Noj, a 32-year-old mother of five boys who produces handmade fabrics to sell at market. Her weaving artistry with a backstrap loom creates shawls, tablecloths and blouses as well as other finished products. She lives in Chuacruz in the western highlands of Guatemala.

Petrona was unable to attend formal school, but with her Friendship Bridge loan and involvement in the Trust Bank Girasoles Chuacruz (“Sunflowers of Chuacruz”), she receives non-formal education to improve her business and reach her goals. Now she has a variety of materials to weave and is meeting the demand of her local and national clients.

The quality of her life has improved, and she is passing achievement along to her children by using a “Rapidito Escolar,” or school loan, to support her children’s education. The loan helps Petrona with school fees for three children already attending classes. Petrona can buy new shoes for her kids to walk to school and uniforms. She truly values this product because it provides both necessary and extra items that help her children develop fully and reach for better opportunities. Petrona and her husband, a laborer, plan to provide education to all five children.

Petrona is excited for the year-end holidays as she expects to sell more during this time. This will allow her to make money to prepare for the new school year starting in January, 2015.

Your generosity and support will help Petrona and thousands of other entrepreneurial women in Guatemala care for themselves, their families and communities. Please consider giving on December 2, or before year-end.

 

Petrona weaving

A colorful tapestry woven by Petrona, who has local and national clients in Guatemala.