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Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is Nov. 19

Entrepreneurship: the development of new businesses to meet the needs of the population, allowing for productivity increases that lead to greater levels of employment and growth of the economy.

Today is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day recognized by the United Nations to economically empower women and alleviate poverty worldwide. The organization that spearheaded this day, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO), states, “When women are elevated financially, communities and countries prosper. It builds a global blueprint to alleviate and eradicate poverty.”

We could not agree more.

At Friendship Bridge, we see every day that when the women we serve in Guatemala experience success, they invest beyond themselves and give back to their children and their communities. But we also see how gender inequality remains a significant limiting factor in women’s ability to thrive economically. Across the globe, women still participate in paid economic activities less often than men.

Entrepreneurship by both men and women is vital to Guatemala’s economic and social development, and it will be a priority in the country’s quest to prosper after the pandemic. By definition, entrepreneurship involves the development of new businesses to meet the needs of the population, allowing for productivity increases that lead to greater levels of employment and growth of the economy. Still, the ability for such businesses to emerge in the first place, and then thrive, is dependent on the environment they are in. 

Entrepreneurs in Guatemala face widely-known structural challenges, like:

  • lack of formal education
  • poor access to capital
  • lack of accessible information (e.g., business skills)

But women entrepreneurs experience some or all of these additional limitations:

  • social norms and practices inherent in a culture that is still characterized by machismo (e.g., lack of autonomy, lack of access to collateral)
  • limited legal provisions in place to prevent the discrimination of women (e.g., equal access to financing, labor)
  • lack of adequate public policies
  • lack of investment supply
  • limited access to networks
  • gender-based violence against women, and more

Despite these obstacles, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Guatemala. One in six Guatemalans is an entrepreneur, according to a report from the World Economic Forum, and the country ranks fourth in the top 50 with the greatest number of women entrepreneurs. Harnessing their motivation and innovation, however, can only be achieved through a conducive environment, one in which these determined individuals have access not only to the necessary financial resources but also to the knowledge required to start, manage, and scale their enterprises successfully.

Bridge to Success

In order to support the motivations of our women entrepreneur clients, Friendship Bridge launched the Bridge to Success this year. This unique and comprehensive program, backed by a $1 million, will empower more than 1,000 additional women entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala by 2025 and provide them with:

  • Intensive business development trainings
  • Individual loans and other seed funding
  • Technical assistance
  • Connections to peer networks
  • Access to new markets

Additionally, some market insertion services are offered, such as brand generation, formalization services, business networks, fairs, and awards recognition.

“The new Bridge to Success program will be excellent. I will invest my loan more securely because I know there will be buyers and connections. This will bring more orders and more work.” – RUTH, a Friendship Bridge client, pictured right

The program was formally rolled out in August of 2021 and has already hosted business training workshops in the following locations: Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, Santo Tomas la Union, and San Marcos. It is expected to expand to all Friendship Bridge branches in 2022, and grow significantly over the next five years. This will result in increased income for these entrepreneurs and employment generation in Guatemala’s rural communities, where it is most needed; these are also the main success indicators of the program.

The combination of intensive business and leadership training with personalized support, both in terms of financing and technical assistance, tailored to the needs of each entrepreneur, is what makes this program unique in Guatemala and what differentiates it from other alternatives. And we expect the impact to extend beyond one Entrepreneur client and will reach their families and a larger community.

The impacts we expect to see for Entrepreneur Clients:

  • Create jobs and quality employment
  • Increased income and/or assets
  • Contribute to community sustainability
  • Increased leadership at home, in her business, and in her community

Women are important agents of change, and harnessing the potential of women entrepreneurs – and the noteworthy entrepreneurial spirit amongst women in Guatemala – will be crucial for the sustainable and inclusive recovery of the country’s economy post-COVID. On this special celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, we remember the value and importance of having programs that help to improve the living conditions of communities and families in developing countries like Guatemala, providing tools and opportunities to the most economically vulnerable sectors.

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Caroline Rodriguez: Another Unforgettable Insight Trip

“Our Strategic Plan felt very alive.” – Caroline Rodriguez, Friendship Bridge Board Member

Taking in majestic, breathtaking views of Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanoes. Riding in tuk-tuks (open air taxis) and lanchas (water taxis) to get from point A to point B. Admiring Day of the Dead decor. Shopping in bustling, colorful markets. Indulging in delicious Guatemalan foods. And, most notably, visiting Friendship Bridge clients and seeing first-hand how they are building better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

These are just a few of the memorable moments shared between the participants of this year’s Insight Trip a few weeks ago. Insight Trips are hosted by Friendship Bridge to give our supporters the opportunity to meet the women we serve and see the impact of our Microcredit Plus programs. The experience never fails to leave a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to attend. The culture, beauty, and uniqueness of Guatemala are unforgettable.

Caroline Rodriguez, who has served on Friendship Bridge’s Board of Directors for six years, documented her trip, recounting the details of the sights she saw and the moving stories she heard each day. We invite you to read the documentation of her journey. She kindly has given us permission to use her content for this piece. Slight edits have been made for clarity.

Cayala, a very upscale outdoor mall. Beautiful architecture and art, shops, and restaurants.

Day 1: Oct. 25, 2021

Six years serving on the Board of Directors of Friendship Bridge, making annual visits to Guatemala. But this is the first time I have spent quality time in Guatemala City, visiting museums, mercados, and textile shops. Things that impressed me: every place we’ve been, from the Grand Central Market to the upscale Oakland Mall, has had a consistent protocol in place for using hand sanitizer and performing temperature checks before admitting people to public places. Even Uber drivers are following the safety protocols and almost all businesses are open, some even thriving, contrary to the belief that businesses were closing due to the pandemic. Restaurants give you bags in which to store your mask while you eat. There seems to be a consistent behavior of sanitizing hands, mask-wearing, and maintaining a physical distance. Cleanliness standards are high and restrooms for handwashing are easily accessible. Great job, Guatemala for encouraging these great hygiene and safety habits!


Day 2: Oct. 26, 2021

Last day in Guatemala City: We visited the zoo, garment district, the National Palace, the Cathedral, and enjoyed delicious typical Guatemalan foods. Our Insight Group is now complete. Everyone arrived, and we are ready for our journey to Panajachel and Lake Atitlan.

Learn More about Insight Trips


Day 3: Oct. 27, 2021

The trip to Panajachel from Guatemala City is always a long one. Photos always help capture the amazing experiences and sights from the day’s journey. Our first stop was at a tiny village named Vuelta Grande, located in between Guatemala City and Antigua. We visited Maria, a Friendship Bridge agriculture client who grows a variety of flowers and fruits. She and her two sisters manage the family farm and travel to Antigua to sell in markets there. The ladies were eager to show us their crops and expressed gratitude for the training and support of Friendship Bridge that they receive in addition to the loans for their agricultural activities.

Next stop: Xeatzon, another tiny mountain village near Lake Atitlan. Here we witnessed a Trust Bank meeting. This is a monthly gathering of a group of local women clients in which they get trained on various topics and make their loan payments. Our Friendship Bridge staff Facilitator does a fantastic job of teaching subjects that are relevant to the women’s business and economic conditions. This month’s lesson: the concept of budgets. With the help of visuals and interactive facilitation, clients learned about income versus expenses, the importance of saving for emergencies, and the evaluation of the impact of cost reduction. The meeting was efficient. The lesson and loan payments took less than an hour total. Great job Friendship Bridge Operations teams!

Above: Seven clients make up this Trust Bank; they co-guarantee each others’ loans as a form of social capital.

Day 4: Oct. 28, 2021

Waking up to Lake Atitlan and volcano views is truly magical. Our group is bonding, sharing meals and personal stories. Today’s highlight was our trip from Panajachel to Quiche to visit client Fermina. Fermina is a 29-year-old single mom who found herself in need of additional income during the pandemic, as her main business took a dip. She told us about her experience, and about how she took advantage of an online training offered through Friendship Bridge on new businesses. Fermina learned how to make special decorations and thus started another small business focused on popular home goods and decor for the various cultural holidays, rituals, and celebrations in Guatemala. We met her mother, Gregoria, and 7-year-old daughter, Diana. Three generations working together on the core business of spooling natural dyed thread and weaving.

These ladies were so proud to show us their kitchen, and little Diana demonstrated the spooling technique. Fermina told us that Diana attends school, which is on break at the moment. They graciously served us the seasonal drink of corn atole as well as corn cakes! Such warm, hospitable ladies. After this filling snack, we had the energy to shop in the famous Chichicastenango Marketplace. The market was busy, not to mention challenging for the first-timers among us when it came to responding to the aggressive vendors trying to sell their products. We survived and left with stories to tell and memories to cherish from extraordinary experiences in the Quiche and Chichicastenango departments.

Day 5: Oct. 29, 2021

Ruth showed us her supply room. She explained how she uses her loans to buy corte (fabric) from local weavers, as well as huipiles (the very detailed woven and embroidered blouse panels that she uses for many different designs)We were impressed with her supplies – until she brought us into her sewing room. Woah! A mini factory here.

Friday! First, we traveled to rural Solola to visit an artisan client, Ruth. Ruth is in her 16th loan cycle with Friendship Bridge. The first things one notices upon entering her home are the slab floors and cinder-block walls. It is a home much larger than average. There is enough space for a sewing room, pattern room, and supply room. She is truly an entrepreneur, supported in her business by both her entire family, as well as others. She makes clothes for local Mayan women, combining traditional corte and huipil pieces with modern beads, embroidery, and other trims.

Ruth has established a business that is large, in comparison to the average business of our 22,000 clients. Her husband, daughter, and son are all very proud of Ruth and the very impressive workspace they have in their home. Ruth spoke to us with such poise about her personal journey. She is a member of Handmade by Friendship Bridge and develops and sews beautiful products through this Microcredit Plus service of Friendship Bridge. Our group took great joy in purchasing items directly from her! And so can you! Read her story here and discover her products at the online store.

Left: This is Miriam. She’s amazing! A rising star artisan and businesswoman. Two years ago I saw these Frida beaded earrings while on a trip in another country. I sent a pic to Maya, our Handmade by Friendship Bridge Manager, who showed the picture to Miriam. About two weeks later, Miriam found me on Facebook and showed me a prototype… and the rest is history!

We returned to Panajachel to visit our office. There, we reunited with some clients I had known from years past: Miriam, Lidia, and Angelina. I love their artisan work, and so did our Insight Trip group. Lots of purchases from these artisans! TukTuk rides up and down Calle Santander, the main drag in Panajachel, gave our group a taste of this treasure of a tourist spot. Our evening ended with a fabulous dinner at Hotel Atitlan. Beyond the delicious food we laid our eyes on our first Ofrenda (an ofrenda is the offering placed in a home altar during the annual Day of the Dead celebration). The hotel staff were busy putting the finishing touches on it. Dia de los Muertos is upon us.


Day 6: Oct. 30, 2021

The Lake has been teasing us for days. Finally, we get to take a water taxi across this magical body of water to San Juan La Laguna.

We were given a presentation from the daughter of one of our clients who was practicing her English. We learned the whole process, from planting, to harvest, to fermentation, to roasting, and finally the many ways a cacao bean can be used in products.

Next stop: more learning, as we visited a client, Elena, who gave the group a presentation of natural dyes. After the presentation, she walked us down to a storefront where she and her Trust Bank of 12 women weavers sell their products. These women fill the store with a variety of products they make themselves by spinning cotton, dying thread, and weaving the threads. You really can appreciate the time, many steps, and the precision of designs these artisans dedicate to each product. They each take turns operating the store. Very impressive group. And of course we shopped ‘til we dropped!

As I reflect on all the women we met this week on this Insight Trip, my perception is that they have made it through this global pandemic resiliently. They vocalized gratitude for the support they received, enabling them to conquer a tough year. Despite it all, they are optimistic, continuing to dream for themselves and their children. It’s been wonderful to spend time with Marta Julia, Friendship Bridge Communications and Public Relations Coordinator, who has helped us see and understand how our staff has weathered these last 18 months, supporting our clients in rural Guatemala. They are my superheroes. Amazing work, Friendship Bridge staff.


Day 7: Oct. 31, 2021

Happy Halloween! We said goodbye to the magical Lake Atitlan and the town of Panajachel and made our way to Antigua. We broke up the long drive with a visit to Iximche, the first Guatemalan City and a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archeological site in the western highlands, now known as Tecpan. It was the capital of the late post-classic Kaqchikel Mayan Kingdom. It’s always a mind-blowing experience for me to realize a civilization of people who once lived on these grounds 600+ years ago. 

We made it to beautiful, calm Antigua. It was good to see this gorgeous city again, although COVID restrictions have definitely prevented the usual All Souls Day, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos festivities. Despite the restrictions, this charming Spanish colonial town surrounded by volcanoes never disappoints.


Day 8: Nov. 1, 2021

Our final day as an Insight Trip group in the beautiful city of Antigua. Our Historico Hotel Eterna Primavera and the delicious Bistros embody the charm this town is known for. A little more education was on the itinerary today: a visit to the old textile museum in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, not far outside of Antigua. What a great museum and demo of weaving techniques. Great way to spend our morning, sharpening our groups’ eye for the mass textile shopping back in Antigua’s artisan markets!

Thank you again to Caroline for allowing us to accompany her and the others on this Insight Trip. We are incredibly thankful for your generosity.

Meet Jamie Alpert: Friendship Bridge Donor + Volunteer

We are pleased to congratulate Jamie Alpert, the winner of our special, Health for Life donation prize for our Health for Life Challenge 2021! Every donor who gave to this year’s campaign was entered into a drawing and one person was randomly selected to win a 2 Night Stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and a $75 Visa Gift Card. Learn more about Jamie and why she is so passionate about our work at Friendship Bridge.

Q&A with Jamie Alpert

Tell us about yourself! Where do you live, work, and what do you do for fun?

I live in Golden, Colorado. In Genesee, actually, just down the way from Laurie Dolian. Laurie has been quite active in Friendship Bridge, and in addition to being a former board member, she has been instrumental in getting at least four more women on our street to join Friendship Bridge. Last year during September in order to support Health For Life, the Genesee Circle broke up into pods, and I chose to learn to play pickleball. It was the perfect activity during the summer of COVID-19. We could play outside and still be safe. It may have saved my sanity! In addition to pickleball, I love to read, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.

How did it feel to be selected as the winner of our drawing?

What a thrill it was to be chosen as the winner of the Stanley Hotel drawing! This summer, my husband John Brown and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a dinner out.  We didn’t get away, as it seemed like everything was booked up early, but now we will take a belated anniversary trip. We’ve never stayed at the Stanley before, so this will be a treat for us.

How did you hear about Friendship Bridge and why did you get involved?

I learned about Friendship Bridge from Laurie Dolian. I was a Spanish teacher at Cherry Creek High School for over 20 years. When I retired and moved up to Genesee full-time, Laurie pointed me toward Friendship Bridge. It was a natural fit. I have always loved Guatemala and had even studied there for two weeks one summer during my teaching years. I believe it’s very important to support the most vulnerable – and that would be the women of Guatemala.

Why did you decide to donate to this year’s Health for Life campaign?

With COVID-19, more than ever, we believed that helping those in need was crucial. We’ve supported Friendship Bridge for the Building Bridges Gala, the Emergency Food Relief Program, the Health for Life Challenge, and on Colorado Gives day. It seems that we like to donate just about quarterly, which makes it easy to help out. Women’s health is important, so that makes it a perfect match.

How are you involved with Friendship Bridge?

I am an active Circle Member and a former Circle Leader. Plus, in 2017 a number of us from our Circle participated in an Insight Trip to Guatemala. What an impactful experience it was to meet some of these entrepreneurs who are supported by Friendship Bridge! And I also love to talk to my friends and family and tell them about what a great organization Friendship Bridge is.

Why is our mission important to you?

I love the fact that by supporting these women, we are helping them build a business and thus, helping them to support their families. These women invest 90% of their income in their families and communities, and they help their kids stay in school longer. Plus, these women are role models for their young daughters.

What do you wish people knew about Friendship Bridge who do not yet know about us?

Migration to the US is something that impacts all of us. The people who trek to the US in search of a different life often risk all sorts of danger (rape, robbery, death.) Organizations such as Friendship Bridge offer these women a chance to improve their lives and those of their families.  Through microcredit loans, education, and now Health for Life, the women in Guatemala are offered a chance to provide for their families, learn how to run a business, and become more resilient. This empowerment of women is something I want to support. Wouldn’t everyone?

Thank you, Jamie!

Why Manuela Got a COVID-19 Vaccination Shot

In the highlands of Guatemala where Manuela lives, most conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine is fueled by rumors. Some people claim the vaccine will leave you with only two years left of your life and others claim it robs women of their ability to have children. But Manuela knows the rumors are false. As a Friendship Bridge client and Health for Life participant, she received numerous phone calls during the height of the pandemic from our facilitators who taught her how the virus spreads and what safety precautions she and her family needed to take. “Friendship Bridge called me many times repeating the health measures against COVID-19,” Manuela said. “This has helped me not to forget to wear my face mask, to wash my hands constantly, and to maintain social distance. I use these tips in practice every day.” 

In August, she met in person with other Friendship Bridge clients during her monthly Trust Bank (group loan repayment) meeting, where she learned that the vaccine was safe and it would help prevent her from getting sick. Just a week after her training, she got her first COVID-19 vaccination shot. “Nobody forced me to get vaccinated,” she said. “I did it because I wanted to and because I want to stay longer with my family. Currently, the disease is attacking stronger and that is why we must take care of ourselves.” 

For millions of indigenous women like Manuela, inadequate healthcare and misinformation about preventable diseases affect their daily realities. Misconceptions and lack of access to culturally appropriate services can limit their potential and prevent them from building a better future for themselves and their families. Our Health for Life program is designed specifically to counter the healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala so they can take ownership of their health and make educated decisions. 

To address COVID-19, Friendship Bridge is teaching all clients about the importance of getting the vaccine during their monthly Non-Formal Education sessions. We are handing out flyers that address commonly asked questions and we provide a specific phone number that allows women to reach a staff member at Friendship Bridge who can address their doubts. If clients are interested in being vaccinated, Friendship Bridge can help with the registration. And we are so proud to announce that 92% of our staff in Guatemala have received at least their first vaccine since we were designated as front-line workers. 

Support Health for Life

After a year of operating under constraints such as lockdowns, travel restrictions, and reduced capacities, Friendship Bridge is experiencing a 27% increase in participation in our domiciliary Health for Life program clinics, and fields more questions than ever regarding preventive health services. Additionally, misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has become widespread and access is unattainable for individuals with literacy limitations and lack of internet access, both necessary for registering for a vaccine on the government website in Guatemala.

With the re-opening of markets and the beginning of a tiered vaccination effort in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge is aiming to not only regain full nurse and health program capacity in 4 of our branches but also to help facilitate a rebound for our clients by providing COVID-19 vaccine education and registration assistance.

Your support will allow us to continue this important work in rural areas of Guatemala as we prepare to expand our services to reach an even greater number of women with our products and services. All funds will support us in reaching more women like Manuela with COVID-19 vaccine education programs and support with registering and receiving a vaccine. Every gift provides potentially life-saving services, just like the ones Manuela received. 

Learn More

A New Strategic Plan for Friendship Bridge

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

View Strategic Plan

What does Impact “Squared” mean?

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

New Client Segmentations

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

Who are “Dreamers?”

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

Who are “Entrepreneurs?”

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

Theory of Change

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

How Will We Serve Each Client?


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



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

Stay In Touch!

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

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Introducing our new program: Bridge to Success

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

Read the Press Release

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

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

– RUTH, Friendship Bridge Client

What is the Bridge to Success program?

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

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

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

A Key Component to Our Mission and Strategy

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

  • Increased resilience
  • Improved empowerment
  • Accelerated business development

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

Ready to Start!

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

Our 1st Workshop

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

How to Support?

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

Donate Now

Celebrating Women’s Achievements

How We’re Celebrating this March

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

Virtual Sale: March 8-12

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

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

Facebook Live Health Event for Clients: March 8

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


Coffee Chat with Friendship Bridge

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


Thank you, Charity Navigator

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

Stay Connected!

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

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2020 Achievements


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

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


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

Virtual Insight Trips to Guatemala: 2020


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

Reconnecting with Clients: August 27, 2020

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


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

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


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

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

Marcela’s Beautiful Textiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Estefana and The Blessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to Know Her: Angelina Roquel

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

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Angelina, tell us a bit about your childhood:

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

How did you learn to work with beads?

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

How did you learn to create your beautiful handmade baskets? 

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

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

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

How does your husband feel about your small business?

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

What are your dreams for your children? 

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

How did Friendship Bridge come into your life?

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

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

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

What was your favorite part of the artisan training? 

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

How is COVID19 affecting your business?

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

What are your dreams for your business? 

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

Angelina’s Best Selling Products

Twilight Multicolored Playful Necklace

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

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Forest Flower Necklace

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

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View All of Angelina’s Products


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

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