Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Faces of Empowerment – From Mom, to Wife, to Entrepreneur

Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina

“I was the oldest of 12 siblings, so I never went to school in order to help my mom at home. My mom and dad were merchants and traveled, so I kept the house. I met my husband at 14, and started my own home. Now I have four children and we all work at our tailor shop primarily making jean pants. I also started a small grocery store. I used the profit from the grocery store to send my children to school. When I found Friendship Bridge, I got the capital I needed to expand the grocery store as well as my tailor shop. Friendship Bridge has made a great impact on our family because the loan was not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of our family business.” – Doña Catarina

Faces of Empowerment – Thanksgiving: I have my health!

“I began my first business at 16 years old, selling food on the street. I married at 17 and had my first child at 18. I have a total of nine children, but three have died. I fought for their lives, but due to lack of access to health services, I couldn’t save them. After I found Friendship Bridge I gained access to preventive health services, and it saved my life. After my pap smear, they detected cervical cancer. Since I knew I was dying there was no reason to seek treatment. I felt extremely sad. My nurse, Rebecca, changed my mind. Rebecca is not my daughter, but she is my life-giving angel. I’m so grateful to Nurse Rebecca, my Facilitator Gloria, and the support they gave me. They always told me,‘We fight together, and we’ll win together.’ Now I’m here talking about my victory. I want other women to hear my story. It could save their lives. It’s our job to make the decision to defeat sickness; if I can do it, another woman can do it too.”
-Maria, Friendship Bridge Client

Faces of Empowerment – Building a Business

“My parents separated when I was six months old, and neither one of them wanted to care for me, so my grandparents took me in. Even in their impoverished state, they gave me what I needed, and I attended school to the fourth grade. I know how to read and write. Now I’m married with three daughters, and my husband and I repair furniture and upholstery. Now with my loan from Friendship Bridge, we have begun building furniture and selling it. With our savings, one day, we will build our own home.”  -Lucrecia, Friendship Bridge Client

Más que un microcrédito: Por qué la lucha contra la pobreza requiere más que un préstamo

Doña Herminia, cliente de Puente de Amistad, elabora hilo de algodón cerca de su tienda en  San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala.

GARY CARRIER / HARRISON PHARAMOND

Las microfinanzas hoy en día son un sector de $92 mil millones, con más de 100 millones de prestatarios en más de 75 países en todo el mundo. Pero las microfinanzas no son una panacea contra la pobreza; y las antiguas creencias de que con el microcrédito se podría salir de la pobreza, han sido desbancadas.

El microcrédito por si solo puede proporcionar a los prestatarios, especialmente a las mujeres, más libertad en sus decisiones, y puede también minimizar el impacto de eventos inesperados como enfermedades, pérdidas de cosechas, o muerte de ganado. Pero la realidad es que el acceso a créditos asequibles y de confianza es sólo una parte importante de un conjunto más amplio de recursos requeridos por las personas que viven bajo el umbral de la pobreza.

MCE Social Capital, una empresa de inversión de impacto social sin fines de lucro con sede en los Estados Unidos, entiende que el simple acceso al crédito no es suficiente para romper el ciclo de pobreza para la mayoría de las familias. Sin embargo, esto no nos impide invertir en instituciones de microfinanzas (IMFs). Creemos que las IMFs que se enfocan en las mujeres y las personas que viven en zonas rurales están en una posición única para ofrecer servicios adicionales que aborden la pobreza de manera integral. Esas IMFs comprometidas a ayudar a sus clientes a lograr una mejor calidad de vida a menudo complementan los microcréditos tradicionales con otros servicios adicionales para generar un impacto sostenible en la vida de sus clientes. MCE utiliza un modelo único de garantía de préstamos para dar crédito a las IMFs que ofrecen estos “servicios adicionales”; así como a las pequeñas y medianas empresas (PyMEs) en en países en vías de desarrollo alrededor del mundo.

Combinado con el marcado enfoque para favorecer a las mujeres y los clientes que viven en zonas rurales, MCE mantiene su compromiso de invertir en las IMFs que tengan estos servicios adicionales (a parte del crédito) integrados en su ADN. De hecho, el 81 por ciento de las 53 IMFs actualmente en nuestra cartera ofrecen al menos un tipo de servicio adicional al crédito. Estos servicios pueden variar desde productos financieros adicionales o personalizados como ahorros, seguros y préstamos para energía verde; a productos no financieros como servicios de salud, programas de educación financiera, capacitación para el empoderamiento de las mujeres, servicios legales y asistencia técnica.

Uno de esos socios es Puente de Amistad, una organización sin fines de lucro que promueve el uso de servicios adicionales en Guatemala; creando oportunidades que empoderan a las mujeres guatemaltecas para crear mejores futuros para ellas mismas, sus hijos y sus comunidades a través de microcréditos, educación y servicios de salud. Puente de Amistad combina pequeños préstamos con educación informal sobre una variedad de temas, incluyendo habilidades comerciales, derechos de la mujer y salud. Cada año, aproximadamente 30,000 mujeres se benefician de estos programas, y al mismo tiempo el programa de microcrédito de Puente de Amistad mantiene una tasa de repago de préstamo de más del 97 por ciento.

Uno de los clientes de Puente de Amistad es Ixoq Aj Keem, una cooperativa textil tradicional de 20 mujeres mayas ubicada en el pequeño pueblo de San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala. Herminia Catarina Ramos Hernández, presidenta de Ixoq Aj Keem, se dedica a fomentar el desarrollo socioeconómico e intelectual de su comunidad mediante al uso de las tradiciones de sus antepasados ​​para crear productos textiles de alta calidad.

Ixoq Aj Keem es parte del Programa de Acceso al Mercado Artesano de Puente de Amistad, que apoya a los artesanos en toda Guatemala con entrenamiento diseñado para prepararlos a acceder a nuevos mercados, especialmente al mercado global. Puente de Amistad brinda un apoyo inigualable a través de sesiones de capacitación mensual y llamadas semanales con mentores, durante las cuales Ramos Hernández tiene la oportunidad de compartir sus experiencias, desafíos y motivaciones con otras mujeres empresarias, así como analizar las operaciones de Ixoq Aj Keem.

“En el último año que he estado en el programa de artesanía con Puente de Amistad, Ixoq Aj Keem ha logrado muchas cosas, incluyendo vender productos a los Estados Unidos,” dice Ramos Hernández. “Las organizaciones que nos ayudan, como Puente de Amistad, son muy importantes. Con ellos, no debemos tener miedo del futuro de nuestros negocios . . . Las mujeres aquí pueden continuar avanzando en sus trabajos, administrar sus propios proyectos, tiendas y otras actividades. Podemos avanzar juntos.”

Se necesita más información al respecto, pero la evidencia inicial sugiere que tanto las IMFs como sus clientes se benefician de la provisión de estos servicios adicionales. Esto también es evidente en varios estudios de casos recientes, incluido un estudio de 2014 sobre el impacto de los servicios no financieros en el rendimiento de las mujeres empresarias en Nigeria, que concluye que el crédito combinado con la capacitación empresarial tiene una “relación positiva significativa en los ingresos, activos y ahorro de las emprendedoras”. El estudio enfatiza los beneficios adicionales de las reuniones de la red en las que los empresarios pueden “compartir experiencias que mejorarán su desempeño comercial.” Otros estudios han concluido que las IMFs no sólo están bien posicionadas para proporcionar capital financiero a quienes lo necesitan más; sino también para promover el emprendimiento exitoso a través del desarrollo de capital psicológico y social con la provisión de apoyo comercial y oportunidades para la interacción social.

Para las IMFs existe evidencia de que la provisión de servicios adicionales, si está efectivamente integrada en las operaciones de la institución, puede llegar a mejorar la calidad de la cartera al mismo tiempo que mejora el impacto social de las IMFs. Investigaciones también han demostrado que la provisión de estos servicios puede facilitar tasas más altas de reembolso y retención de clientes. Ramos Hernández e Ixoq Aj Keem son un ejemplo de los beneficios de los servicios adicionales al crédito, que agregan valor real a la colaboración de Ramos Hernández con Puente de Amistad a través del intercambio de conocimiento, experiencias y la oportunidad de conectar con mujeres empresarias con motivaciones similares.

La industria microfinanciera ha entrado en una nueva era. Los días en los que el microcrédito era proclamado como la panacea contra la pobreza mundial ya pasaron; pero la historia del impacto de las microfinanzas en la lucha contra la pobreza global no ha terminado. Las organizaciones que entienden las necesidades y limitaciones de las comunidades empobrecidas y que complementan este conocimiento con una combinación de servicios financieros y servicios adicionales no sólo están preparados a generar un impacto sostenible en las familias a las que sirven; sino también a determinar la reputación de todo el sector. Con una tasa de crecimiento mundial estimada de 10 a 15 por ciento para 2017, y tasas de crecimiento similares en 2016 y 2015, está claro que el sector microfinanciero está aquí para quedarse. Pero su reputación todavía está bajo vigilancia. Las IMFs, los financiadores, y otros actores que apoyan el sector, como los inversores de impacto, comparten la responsabilidad de garantizar que las microfinanzas se conviertan en la fundación de la lucha contra la pobreza y no una oportunidad perdida.

Si la historia de Ramos Hernández sirve de alguna indicación, somos conscientes de que este objetivo está a nuestro alcance.

 

Faces of Empowerment – Generational Change

“My grandmother, my mother, and I never went to school, but I’ve always looked for opportunities to grow. In my grandmother’s day, no one would give loans to indigenous women in rural areas, but I have a loan today, and I can access working capital to weave. My two daughters have attended school, and I want them to continue studying to prepare themselves for a better future. I cannot read or write, but my oldest daughter is helping me with my business since she has finished high school. I dream that both my daughters reach college. Thanks to my business, I’ve given formal education to my daughters and I’ve built my own house. I’m very happy. I feel prepared for new challenges.”
– Santos, Friendship Bridge Artisan Client

Faces of Empowerment – The Power of Education

by Rachel Turner

For the following nine weeks, Friendship Bridge is proud to present the photo series, Faces of Empowerment.  The women you will meet in this series are strong, smart, and determined to better their futures.  Welcome to the first photo of Faces of Empowerment.

“Each month after I come home from the Friendship Bridge education session, I talk to my daughter, Yani, about what I’ve learned. It’s exciting to pass on to my daughter what I’m learning about how strong and capable women are. Before I came to Friendship Bridge, I always heard that men know more than women, but Friendship Bridge has elevated us women and encouraged us by teaching us that men and women have the same value, and they should have the same rights. We are to be equally valued. This is the lesson I’ve remembered most and the one that I teach my daughter often.”
-Doña Arasely, Friendship Bridge Client

Friendship Bridge clients continue along their monthly journeys, making loan payments and receiving monthly Non-Formal Education lessons on the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.  The Cada Mes Club, our monthly donors, follows this journey closely. The Club’s support is integral in providing this life-changing education. This quarter, we’re teaching clients how to manage business logs.  Click here to learn how to join the Cada Mes Club.

A Day in the Life of Silvia – Friendship Bridge Artisan Client

Who Celebrates the Dead?

Indigenous women talk while preparing to decorate their family tombs in honor of All Saints’ Day in Panajachel, Guatemala.

 

by Hannah Perkins
Photos by Rachel Turner

Every fall children in the United States can’t wait to dress up as their favorite princess, ghost, or goblin to roam the streets in search of the best candy on the block – but October is not just a time for trick-or-treating. For many Latin American countries – including Guatemala – it’s also a time to celebrate their deceased.

A little boy flies a kite during All Saints’ Day while his family decorate and paint the tombs in Panajachel, Guatemala.

The Day of the Dead is an old Mexican holiday tradition adopted around 3,000 years ago that combines Mexican indigenous customs with European traditions. It also coincides with the Catholic holiday, All Souls’ & All Saints’ Day. The Day of the Dead is a day that is acknowledged internationally. The celebration was originally a harvest celebration for the Aztecs, structured around the end of the summer, signaling an end to the farming season. Today, the celebration only lasts for a couple days (starting on November 1), and All Saints’ Day in Guatemala is specifically celebrated on November 1st.

Musicians walk through the cemetery with incense, playing music to wake up the spirits in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Families clean the tombs, paint them, and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Walter Rodriguez paints a tomb during All Saints’ Day in Panajachel, Guatemala.

During ancient times, people from many different ethnic groups all had one thing in common – a belief in the afterlife. People were buried with their favored items throughout life, and the tombs were often constructed beneath family homes so the deceased loved ones would remain close to their families. The Aztecs believed in levels of heavens, and the type of death determined which level one would enter in the afterlife. Warriors who died in battle, women who died during childbirth, and victims of sacrifice achieved the best level.

Families walk through the cemetery in Panajachel, Guatemala.

Today, All Saints’ Day honors the dead and their lives with festivals, parties, food, and drinks. The most familiar symbol of this festival in Guatemala are giant kites that fly overhead while families visit cemeteries to eat together, clean and paint the tombs, decorate with flowers and food, and enjoy time with family. The celebrations are a way to assure the dead are not just mourned by sadness. This type of celebration honors and remembers their lives in a fun and positive way. All Saints’ Day recognizes that death is a natural, human experience, which is not one to be afraid of. It shows the dead are still a part of the community once they have passed.

So next time you’re out trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, or celebrating at harvest festivals, remember your loved ones who have passed. Reflecting on old memories to celebrate the dead could be a new way to think about death and Halloween celebrations in a more positive way.

Go on an Adventure While Volunteering

Reblogged via Fearless & Framed

Balancing being a mom of three girls and growing a business makes for a pretty busy life.

But this summer I found myself with a unique opportunity – all three of my girls, 10, 12 and 14, were going to be away for 3.5 weeks at sleepaway camp. This was going to be the longest stretch of having no children around since I became a mother over 14 years ago.

I knew I wanted to have an adventure and find a way to volunteer. I have enjoyed tremendous growth in my photography business in the last couple of years. And as a way of giving thanks, I wanted to take my freedom and volunteer my photography services to a worthy cause.

So, with those two principals as my guidelines, I started looking for opportunities.

Instead of trying to find established volunteer jobs, I reached out to my friend Alicia who is involved in the non profit world. I told her I wanted to volunteer in Central America at an organization that focuses on women or children. I also wanted to find an organization with enough infrastructure that I would feel safe while I was working with them, but small enough that they would benefit from my willingness to volunteer my photography services.

Alicia immediately had a couple organizations in mind when I gave her my criteria. We quickly narrowed it down to Friendship Bridge  a non-profit that provides micro-loans, business education and health education for low-income women in rural Guatemala.

Alicia wrote an introductory email for me to Friendship Bridge explaining my background and the volunteering I was looking to do. The folks at Friendship Bridge were immediately receptive to the idea.

I told my contact at Friendship Bridge that I wanted to do documentary photography of their clients so they could use the photos for promotional use and fundraising. They loved the idea!

Soon after, we were agreeing on dates and making a travel plan.

Before this trip, I really didn’t have any Spanish-speaking skills. So I decided to start my Guatemalan adventure by signing up for a week of immersion 1-to-1 Spanish classes at the school Tecun Uman  in Antigua, Guatemala. In addition to having a Spanish tutor for four hours a day, I also chose to live with in a Guatemalan home instead of a hotel while I was in school. Shortly after I confirmed my travel plans, my husband decided to join me for the week of Spanish school.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting us into when I signed up for school and the homestay, but I have to say it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. While I am certainly not fluent in Spanish in four days, I can have basic conversations and get around the country by myself with my limited vocabulary. And the homestay totally exceeded our expectations! The Mayan housekeeper cooked us an amazing three meals a day. And we loved getting to know our host and practicing our Spanish skills.

After a week in Antigua, my husband went home and I was off to Panajachel, Guatemala, to work with Friendship Bridge. Marta, the Friendship Bridge communications coordinator, contacted the clients she wanted me to photograph, organized the itinerary and hired a driver for us. Marta also went with me to visit all of the clients and acted as translator. Friendship Bridge scheduled us to visit two clients a day for four days (the fifth day of the week during my trip happened to fall on a national holiday, Military Day). Since I spent about 6 or 7 hours a day in the car with Marta and our driver, we had wonderful long chats about Guatemala, Mayan culture, and the role of women in Guatemala. I learned so much! And I had a great time photographing the country side out my window as we drove through amazing, picturesque landscapes and colorful little towns.

I met amazing women my week working with Friendship Bridge. I photographed Trust Bank Repayment meetings, where women who receive loans come together once a month to discuss their businesses, receive business and health education, and make payments on their loans. I went to women’s homes and saw where they run their businesses. I photographed weavers, farmers, tortilla makers, and small store owners. And sometimes I even got to meet their families.

I am so thankful for the opportunity Friendship Bridge gave me to meet some of the beautiful women who benefit from their charity. My experience learning another language, living in a Guatemalan home, and using my photography skills to help others was truly life changing. One of my goals is to schedule a volunteer trip at least once a year. And now I know exactly how to do it! Identify the charity I want to work with, reach out and make myself available, and make it happen!

Click here to see photos from Susan Ryan Kalina’s documentary in Guatemala.

 

Meet Our New Country Director

Friendship Bridge is pleased to announce our new Country Director, Heidy Garrido.

Heidy came to Friendship Bridge with significant experience in human resource management, employee and client training, as well as the development and mentoring of micro, small, and medium businesses. She has spent much of her career with the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala mentoring both in the private and public sector. Most recently, she was head of corporate social responsibility for a public utility.

Heidy started working with Friendship Bridge in 2010, when she was with the Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala.  “The way to achieve an ideal society is to make one,” said Heidy. “I knew that working with an NGO like Friendship Bridge would be challenging and satisfying since I could make a contribution to the development of society as well as to the empowerment of Friendship Bridge employees.”

Over the years, she worked with Friendship Bridge as a mentor and trainer on numerous projects.  Heidy finally joined Friendship Bridge full-time as the Director of People Services in January 2017, during a time of much transition within the organization.  Since then, she has made many positive changes, not only in the Human Resources and Education departments, but also leading our Guatemala operations as the Acting Country Director since August.

“Heidy’s passion for the work of Friendship Bridge is evident in all that she does, and it is contagious to all around her,” said CEO & President Karen Larson. “Heidy’s strong commitment to both the financial growth and social impact of Friendship Bridge makes her a perfect candidate for this position.”

Heidy has worked throughout Guatemala; has a keen understanding of our clients’ needs; and recognizes that strong internal systems, along with well-trained and motivated employees, are keys to success.

“Everything depends on how well we learn to motivate people and how we cope with pressure,” said Heidy. “This is my passion – I’ll take it!”

Heidy is most motivated by the mission and vision of Friendship Bridge. “We will carry it to the hearts of every employee, stakeholder, and volunteer so that we can continue to make significant contributions towards the betterment of our clients’ futures,” said Heidy. “This means a lot to me, not only professionally, but personally. I get to serve with passion and happiness.”

Empowered Woman, Agent of Change

by Tyler Clark

I walked out of the Guatemala City airport and scanned the familiar mass of people and color. Edgar, a trusted taxista, was on time as usual, leaning casually against the railing. He caught my eye and off we went, ascending Westward from the congested city and into the highlands where farmers carve a hard, peaceful living from the steep hillsides. We passed iconic, wildly-decorated chicken buses, landslide blockages – a consequence of widespread deforestation – and makeshift, tin-roofed homes clustered together as if to defend against the harsh economic and socio-political reality around them.

Guatemala enjoys a stunning natural landscape, rich volcanic soil, and the largest economy in Central America. Yet the distribution of wealth and consumption is profoundly lopsided. 79% of Guatemala’s indigenous majority lives below the poverty line and more than 50% of children under 5 are chronically malnourished. The national government, embroiled in serial corruption scandals, is unable to extend basic social services to the remote rural communities that represent half the country’s population.

Five years ago, I heard about Friendship Bridge, a non-profit microfinance organization that uses its loan fund as an economic engine to provide women in Guatemala with social services like education and preventive women’s health care in communities where governmental programs fall short. Not long after that, I met Karen Larson, President & CEO of Friendship Bridge, at a pull-off near a sweeping section of highway. Client meetings were the agenda of the day which, I assumed, meant visiting small businesses near a town center somewhere. Karen hopped out of the car and approached a hand-built kiosk where she was greeted with hugs. These women, who walk narrow paths down the maize-covered mountainside to sell snacks and sundries to travelers, were the clients.

I’d passed this particular spot frequently while working for an impact-first agricultural lender but had never stopped, much less internalized the daily reality of these entrepreneurial women selling their wares by a remote roadside. This woman’s business earned $1-$4 per day. Her first language was Kaqchikel, though she’d learned enough Spanish to describe her goods and complete transactions, and she had less than 3 years of formal education. In addition to her loan, she also had access to small business training and periodic mobile clinic visits made possible by Friendship Bridge partner, Maya Health Alliance. It was clearly apparent that she was empowered and blossoming as a microentrepreneur and stabilizing force for her household.

Over the past four years as a board member, it’s become clear to me that this woman wasn’t a hand-picked, feel-good example. She’s simply one of the 25,000+ women that benefit from this unique model every year. The 2014-2016 Client Outcomes Report includes some exciting findings from a recent evaluation of Friendship Bridge’s field work. 90% of the clients have provided more or better food for their families, 88% reported stable or increased incomes, and 70% have increased savings. The longer a client is with Friendship Bridge, the better off she and her family will be.

In light of the systemic development challenges facing Guatemala, I’m encouraged by the outcome of this report. It’s a small but important leading indicator on the potential for empowered women to effect grassroots change. I hope you enjoy it.

Tyler brings extensive experience in social enterprise, impact investing, and development finance, most recently through a new venture in the conservation finance space. Formerly, he was the global head of Advisory at Root Capital – a nonprofit social investment fund that invests in small and medium agricultural businesses – where he was responsible for operations in 30+ countries across Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Tyler holds an M.A. in leadership and a B.A. in international business from Bethel University.

Her Legacy Lives On

by Brandi Mason

In August, Friendship Bridge lost one of our most dedicated supporters, Judy Snyder. Judy served as Circle Leader of the Boulder Circle in 2015. She was passionate about the wellbeing of our clients and a strong advocate for Friendship Bridge’s Legacy Circle.*

Judy first learned about Friendship Bridge in 2013 when former Board President, Sandy Younghans, met her at a Boulder Community Foundation event. The two hit it off, and after a breakfast meeting to learn more about our mission, Judy decided to take a trip to Guatemala to meet our clients. Fellow Boulder Circle Co-Leader, Rachel Bloombaum, said, “I felt an immediate connection when I met Judy down in Guatemala on an Insight Trip in spring of 2014. She expressed so much empathy for Friendship Bridge clients and their challenges, and was so pleased to find a cause she could support and an organization she could believe in. I miss her can-do attitude and her steady support for the activities of the Boulder Circle.”

The legacy of Judy Snyder now lives on through the Education Endowment of Friendship Bridge. Through her retirement fund, she left a generous gift to the organization, which is now invested in our Education Endowment, a fund that provides education resources to thousands of clients. Her legacy will ensure the financial strength and future of Friendship Bridge to create opportunities that empower women to build better futures.

The Friendship Bridge community has lost a strong advocate for women’s empowerment, but Judy’s legacy and “can-do” attitude will live on through our clients for generations to come.

*The Friendship Bridge Legacy Circle honors those who have made a planned gift to Friendship Bridge through their will, trust, or beneficiary designation (retirement account or life insurance). Legacy Circle members are recognized and honored through invitations to special VIP events, regular program updates from our President & CEO, and recognition in the Friendship Bridge annual report. If you have included Friendship Bridge in your estate plans or have questions about doing so, please contact Brandi Mason at 303-674-0717.

 Through volunteering with Deutsche Bank’s Social Investment Funds Group in 2007, Brandi was first introduced to microfinance and served on the Board of Directors for the Microfinance Club of New York.  Brandi has fundraised in paid and volunteer positions for multiple organizations including The New York Botanical Garden, Boulder County AIDS Project and the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.  She is originally from St. Louis, Missouri and holds a B.A. in International Affairs from George Washington University. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two young daughters.