Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

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Meet Concepción

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

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

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2021 Achievements

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

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6 Holiday Gift Guides

Handmade by Friendship Bridge

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

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The Power of Seed Capital: Catarina’s Hardware Store

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

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7 Days of Innovation

Today is Colorado Gives Day, the state’s largest online community giving movement, uniting all Coloradans in a common goal to strengthen the state’s nonprofits by giving to their favorite charities online. You have 3,000 Colorado nonprofits to choose from this year. Why choose Friendship Bridge?

Over the past 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Friendship Bridge has made major adjustments to our regular operations in order to continue reaching our clients in poor, rural areas of Guatemala. Our staff innovated and created solutions quickly to provide financial and emotional support, as well as connect each client with remote education and health resources. We invested in new technology to support the need to communicate with clients from afar and create a more efficient way to do business.

In celebration of Colorado Gives Day, we’re hosting “7 Days of Innovation” to illustrate the various ways we’ve utilized innovative transformational change to connect with our clients, support their businesses, provide access to health services, and provide opportunities to build a better life.

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Giving Thanks on #GivingTuesday

Our goal is to raise $30,000 by midnight on Nov. 30 for Giving Tuesday. All gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar (up to $30,000) by a generous group of donors.

Giving Tuesday. It started in 2012 as a simple idea to encourage people to do good and has since evolved into a global movement inspiring hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity.

It’s a movement that harnesses the power of people and organizations alike to transform their communities, and, consequently, the world. A movement that encourages people to share their time, skills, voice, or money, not only on Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday following Thanksgiving each year), but every day. A movement that underscores the aphorism that no contribution is too small and that giving can take many different forms, including helping a neighbor, advocating for an issue, sharing a skill, or giving to an important cause.

As part of this year’s #GivingTuesday celebrations, Friendship Bridge has set an ambitious goal to raise $30,000 between Nov. 1-30. And thanks to our generous supporters, we are on our way to achieving this goal.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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A New Strategic Plan for Friendship Bridge

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

View Strategic Plan

What does Impact “Squared” mean?

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

New Client Segmentations

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

Who are “Dreamers?”

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

Who are “Entrepreneurs?”

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

Theory of Change

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

How Will We Serve Each Client?

Dreamers

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

 

Entrepreneurs 

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

Stay In Touch!

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

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Introducing our new program: Bridge to Success




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

Read the Press Release

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

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

– RUTH, Friendship Bridge Client

What is the Bridge to Success program?

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

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

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

A Key Component to Our Mission and Strategy

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

  • Increased resilience
  • Improved empowerment
  • Accelerated business development

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

Ready to Start!

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

Our 1st Workshop

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

How to Support?

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

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