Empower women. Eliminate poverty.

Recent Posts

Zika Virus, a Reminder for Women’s Empowerment

by Jessica Kutz, Friendship Bridge field intern

As the magnitude of the Zika virus increases, we are left with a question: What do we do now? In the case of women in the United States that means visiting your local gynecologist, deciding on a contraception option, and being thankful you don’t live in Central America.Grupos de Chupol 053 (2)-4

Why thankful? Because many women in Central America face numerous obstacles to controlling their reproductive health. The two main barriers are a culture of discrimination toward women and lack of access to adequate healthcare and contraception. This means that battling Zika and taking the correct precautions isn’t necessarily an option for most women in Central America

With a strong patriarchal culture in countries like Guatemala, women have few choices in regard to their reproductive health. Husbands often feel that they should be in control of their family size, and therefore they restrict whether a woman is able to use contraception. There is also a widespread sentiment that women are being unfaithful if they feel the need to use contraception, and this can anger husbands. Unfortunately, anger usually translates into domestic violence. In fact, gender-related violence is at an all-time high in Guatemala, which ranks third in the world for femicide – defined as “the murder of a person based on the fact that she is female. ”

In addition to this inherent discrimination against women, healthcare access is also a major challenge that disproportionately affects women, particularly those in rural communities. Staff in health clinics do not generally speak the local Mayan languages, making health education and access to resources particularly difficult for Mayan women who speak one of Guatemala’s 24 indigenous languages. As a result of this lack of education and access to women’s healthcare, Guatemala also has the lowest contraception usage rate in all of Central America. Guatemala was one of five countries that actually ran out of contraception in 2015.

This is why Friendship Bridge believes so strongly in working solely with women, especially indigenous women in rural communities. Friendship Bridge aims to empower women through microcredit, education, and health services. In particular, our Salud para la Vida program for women’s preventive health is overcoming obstacles like those mentioned above through health education and access to culturally sensitive preventive health services for our clients. Salud para la Vida provides women with family planning options, which allows them to take control of their reproductive rights. We are ensuring our clients are empowered to remain in control of their health when health crises like Zika hit.

 

2015 Highlights

Happy 2016 from all of us at Friendship Bridge! We are excited for all that’s in store this year for Friendship Bridge and thankful for all that you helped us accomplish in 2015. With your support, last year we disbursed $14.1 million in small loans to nearly 30,000 clients! Here are a few other exciting achievements from 2015._MG_3443

  • Piloted new Salud para la Vida health program, serving 1,116 clients with preventive health services and providing health education to nearly 2,800 clients. An astounding 69% of eligible clients opted to access health services.
  • Opened a new branch office in San Marcos, creating employment opportunities for 9 new staff members and adding 1,152 clients.
  • Delivered 189,000 hours of Non-Formal Education, 848 hours of Advanced Education, and 100 hours of mentorship and leadership training.
  • Maintained industry-leading loan repayment rate of 98.4%.
  • Offered 2,170 CrediEscolar loans to help clients support their children’s education.
  • Launched new initiatives for our artisan and agriculture clients – we’ll share more about these initiatives this year!

Our Microcredit Plus program continues to grow as we add Plus services and additional products beyond standard microloans. Clients who access these Plus services and additional products are less vulnerable to poverty, and our survey data shows that the longer a woman is in our Microcredit Plus program, the more likely she is to exit extreme poverty. In fact, 95% of our clients feel their income has increased or stabilized, and feel that their income is providing them a sense of security from life’s uncertainties.

Thank you for being a part of this exciting work. Through our Microcredit Plus program women’s lives are truly being transformed as they are creating better futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Non-Formal Education: The Impact of Chronic Illness, Preventing Breast Cancer, and a Positive Community Identity (Winter 2015)

A special thanks to our Cada Mes Club – Friendship Bridge’s monthly donors – for supporting our clients on their monthly journeys.

Each month the members of every Trust Bank travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting places to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education lesson in their native languages on one of the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.

October – The Impact of Chronic Illness

Dealing with chronic illness is not something a woman does on her own, despite how much she might want to. Chronic illness has consequences that ripple beyond the affected person. The sick person consumes resources, but can no longer contribute financially. She loses the ability to take care of others, and she feels anxiety and sadness that are shared by those who care about her. To illustrate this concept, one woman was asked to walk a crooked line by herself, and then again with the aid of one, and then another woman, as a demonstration of the need for support when making a tough journey, as illustrated in the photo below. This month’s lesson emphasized the importance of personal health and educated the women on the risk factors that contribute to diabetes and heart disease. Based on these risk factors, each woman was asked to rate her commitment to a healthy lifestyle and to determine changes she might make to improve it.

November – Preventing Breast Cancer

After learning the prior month how chronic illness impacts those you love, November’s lesson focused specifically on breast cancer, a disease often preventable if caught early. Because the first sign of breast cancer produces no symptoms that can be seen or felt, the women received instructions on self-breast-exams and were reminded that self-examination is a form of empowerment that allows a woman to take charge of her own health.

December – A Positive Community Identity

Socialization in our families, schools, communities, and government defines the way we think, feel, and act. Women naturally acquire a different identity than men. December’s lesson encouraged the women to identify the messages they have received in these spaces over the years and to challenge those that are negative. The women spent time reworking the negative messages so that they promote personal development instead. To celebrate Christmas, the lesson ended with the creation of an ornament made of felt.

 

  • IMG_1216
    Cada Mes member Kathie Younghans (center) attended the recent Insight Trip in October and participated in one of our Trust Bank meetings. In this photo, Kathie is demonstrating the need for support when making a “tough journey.” Of the experience, Kathie says, “Learning to accept help is one of life’s lessons and it is then followed by gratitude.”

    Empowering women leads to more children in school

    Women are changemakers. When women are empowered, the impact extends to their families, their communities, and even their entire regions and countries. Earlier this month we shared Ana’s story – how she was empowered through Friendship Bridge loans and education to create a better future. But not only is her own future more hopeful, but with her newfound confidence and resources, Ana is empowered and equipped to change her family’s future.

    IMG_8813

    Ana’s success means better outcomes for her two children, Abner (age 15), and Nicolle (6 months). “I want my kids to live well. I want them to succeed and I want to be a good example to them,” Ana says.

    Ana’s son Abner (pictured at right) says his goal is to finish his education. He says he wants to follow the example his mother has set – of hard work and providing for her family. “I want her to feel proud of me, as I do of her,” Abner says.

    Friendship Bridge’s Non-Formal Education program emphasizes family care topics like keeping children in school. These trainings, along with Ana’s increased business income, have motivated and allowed her to keep Abner in school. He is currently in 8th grade, which is remarkable considering only 60% of children in Guatemala finish the 6th grade. With his education, Abner will be equipped to realize his own dreams for his future. As far as making his mother proud – well, Ana practically radiates pride when she talks about her son.

    Friendship Bridge recognizes that education is a critical component of breaking the cycle of poverty, especially for indigenous populations in rural areas. To empower our clients to keep their children in school, we offer a CrediEscolar loan to offset the costs associated with school enrollment – such as uniforms, school supplies, and other fees.

    Last year, more than 1,000 students were supported with Friendship Bridge CrediEscolar loans. Clients who took out the loans say they would have had to sacrifice in other areas if they had not received the loan. Remarkably, 26% of the clients who invested in education through a CrediEscolar loan had no education themselves, but through this loan are making a commitment to their children’s growth and education. From 2013 – 2014, school enrollment of our clients’ dependent children between ages 7 and 13 increased 17%. You can read more about the impact of CrediEscolar in our 2014 Impact Report.

    We invest in women because they reinvest 90% of their income back into their family – prioritizing things like health and education. Investing in women and providing them loan options that fit their individual objectives means children like Abner stay in school and entire families and communities enjoy better futures. Investing in women means investing in generational change.

     

    Support children like Abner in November and double your impact! A longtime supporter of Friendship Bridge believes so strongly in the power of our work that he has offered a challenge gift of $30,000 if Friendship Bridge can raise more than $30,000 in new or increased gifts through November 30th. Can you help us unlock this challenge gift by giving today?

    A letter from our CEO: With you on our team, women are being empowered

    Dear friends,

    Imagine you are with me in Guatemala, in Ana’s house. It is a simple home, and today it is brimming with activity. Ana is busy cooking at her stove with her 6-month old daughter bundled on her back. Her 8th grade son Abner is just getting home from school. If you were here, you would smell hints of garlic and onion wafting through the room as Ana prepares traditional Guatemalan tamales to sell during the busy holiday season ahead. “My stove will be working hard for the end of the year,” Ana says, smiling.

    Friendship Bridge client Ana invested in a clean burning, efficient stove. This stove has produced positive health outcomes for her family and her children, and it has also helped her grow her business.Like you, Ana dreams of a better future – education for her children, growing her business, and perhaps even going back to school herself. She says before she became a Friendship Bridge client those dreams seemed far-fetched, but with your support, she is now achieving them. “Four years ago I had less business, and I wanted to have more goals to improve myself. Friendship Bridge has taught me to be an entrepreneurial woman….They opened the door for me to improve my business. Friendship Bridge gave me confidence.”

    Ana and her family’s lives have changed dramatically since her first loan four years ago, and the investment in her clean stove through our CrediSalud program has led to even more positive change. Ana saves significantly on firewood and her family’s health has improved. This allows her to devote more time to her business and her son to dedicate more time to his schoolwork. Remarkably, this stove is making Ana’s dreams more attainable.

    I hope reading this story makes you as proud as I am. Stories like Ana’s always make me think about you, because as a supporter of Friendship Bridge, you are empowering women to find their own solutions to poverty – which can be as simple as a new stove! With you on our team, clients like Ana are positioned to learn, grow, and succeed.

    Will you make a special gift to Friendship Bridge today and stand in solidarity with these inspiring women? Your gift is critical as we expand to reach all of our 22,000 clients and equip them to become as empowered as Ana. Each gift will provide additional Plus services, like Ana’s stove loan, which have been measurably proven to empower our clients and decrease their vulnerability to poverty. You can read more about our impact and our Plus services in our recently published Impact Report.

    Thank you so very much for empowering women to create a better future for themselves, their families, and communities.

    Unidos en el empoderamiento de mujeres – United in empowering women,

    Karen Larson
    President & CEO

    P.S. Double your impact! A longtime supporter of Friendship Bridge believes so strongly in the power of our work that he has offered a challenge gift of $30,000 if Friendship Bridge can raise more than $30,000 in new or increased gifts through November 30th. Can you help us unlock this challenge gift by giving today?

     

    Our Leader Clients: Lorena

    Leaders: The highest stage of development on our Client Continuum.  Leaders are women who are not only experiencing empowerment, but are using it to inspire institutional change in their communities. These women have the business skills to innovate and run larger businesses, and may be searching for expanded markets. They dream big and believe that with the right training and financial products, they can achieve their goals. 

    At age 40, Lorena is an unstoppable force. As a Friendship Bridge client, Lorena quickly demonstrated leadership and business skills and was elected president of her Trust Bank. Her determination and grit come from a lifetime of fighting the odds stacked against her.

    Although her family was poor, Lorena fought to advance to the 9th grade. When her mother became ill, Lorena had to stop attending school and support her family. She married at age 19, but her husband was an alcoholic who avoided taking DSC06733responsibility for their five children.

    Summoning up her courage and determination, Lorena worked several jobs to support her children’s education. She took the advice of a neighbor and started a new business selling sausages. The business was immediately successful and demand for her products increased. Needing to expand her business, Lorena approached Friendship Bridge for a loan. With her loans she began to diversify her products and began to sell sausage, ham, cheese, and refacciones, or snacks. Thanks to her business success, all of her children remain in school. Her oldest is finishing a degree in law and the others are in high school.

    Because of her leadership abilities, Lorena was selected to participate in Friendship Bridge’s pilot mentor program, where she learned skills to build her business and have impact in the community. “After the training, I have increased self-confidence and a clearer vision for the future,” Lorena said.

    Lorena now has a better understanding of her business margins, how to increase customer service and satisfaction, and how to market to more customers. Lorena also feels more organized after working with the mentor and can better carry out her business plan.

    Lorena participates at a high level in her community. When a disease broke out in nearby communities, she was proactive and made arrangements with a Guatemalan congresswoman to have vaccinations given in the communities to cure and prevent the illness. Lorena is committed to being a change-maker in her community and her country. She is dreaming big and achieving her goals.

    Our Entrepreneur Clients: Otilia

    Otilia - Entrepreneur client. Otilia produces jams and jellies using her own award-winning recipe. She has been invited to present her products at fairs in Guatemala City and Los Angeles, California. The middle stage of development on our Client Continuum. Entrepreneurs are often women who are beginning to experience higher levels of social and economic empowerment and are creating a vision for what they want. They tend to invest their earnings into home improvements and are beginning to save so they can better weather economic and health related shocks. As entrepreneurs, they are growing their businesses, engaging the community, and may even have the ability to hire others.

    Otilia is a woman driven to overcome any obstacle. Born into a large family, Otilia was abused and neglected by her father, who didn’t allow her to attend school. Otilia was determined to build a better future for herself, so she moved to a more urban area in search of a job and a chance for an education.

    Otilia married and had five children, but her husband was financially irresponsible and struggled with alcoholism in the early years of their marriage. In order to provide for her children, Otilia started a business selling snack items. Unfortunately the profits were small. Through the support of her Friendship Bridge Trust Bank, Otilia attended Advanced Education and Technical Training and learned about canning vegetables and making jams. Inspired by what she learned, Otilia developed her own jam recipe, which she called “Canned Margarita.” Her first sales were extremely successful, and nearby shops and bakeries quickly began placing orders.

    Following her business success, Otilia hired two employees. She has attended several fairs for entrepreneurs in Guatemala City and has been invited to share her story and her products at a fair in Los Angeles, California. Otilia has received numerous honors and diplomas for her business success. To Otilia, though, the success she is most proud of is being able to send her children to school. Her oldest son is currently pursuing an engineering degree, and her other children are in secondary school.

    Otilia reflects often on her achievements and is thankful to Friendship Bridge for enabling her to grow as an entrepreneur. “My clients drive me to progress as a businesswoman. It is very satisfying to me when high profile people buy and enjoy my products. My children are also proud of me, and they are advancing their education. I have learned so much – to be organized with my time, to manage my budget, and to send my children to school. This is all thanks to the training I received from Friendship Bridge.”

    Otilia belongs to three community groups and is often invited to share her experiences at meetings. She is also serving as an example to her sister, who has recently exited an abusive relationship. Otilia is always looking for new opportunities and knocking on new doors. She is proud of the success she has achieved, but she is looking to grow even more. Otilia is on her way to becoming a Leader.

    Head to our YouTube channel to watch Otilia share her story.

    To learn about the first level of development on our Client Continuum, read last week’s blog about Cruz, a Dreamer client.  Next week we will be featuring a client at the highest level of development on our Continuum.

    2014 Impact Report – Expanding the Bridge: Opening Pathways of Empowerment

    IR coverThis month we published our second annual Impact Report, a document that shares a variety of results from our Microcredit Plus program – some suggestive, some positive, and some from which to learn. This document guides our strategy toward fulfilling our social mission of empowering impoverished Guatemalan women to create better future for themselves, their families, and their communities through microfinance and education.

    In 2014, our results show Microcredit Plus is increasing the agency of our clients. With increased agency our clients know what they want, believe they can achieve it, and are able to take action to realize it. Read our online report to learn more about outcomes related to our clients’ capacity over financial decisions, for economic change, and to aspire for a better future.

    A few highlights from the 2014 Impact Report:

    • 90% of clients report taking on a leadership role since becoming a Friendship Bridge client
    • Clients who invested in clean stoves through Friendship Bridge’s CrediSalud loan saved $37/month (72%) in fuel expenditures each month. These clients also saw several positive outcomes related to health and children’s school attendance.
    • More than 1,000 students were supported through CrediEscolar loans for education. From 2013 to 2014, clients’ enrollment of dependent children between ages 7 and 13 increased 17%.
    • Clients who utilize a Plus service such as Advanced Training, CrediSalud, or CrediEscolar experience more positive change in their poverty status.
    • 95% of our clients feel their income has increased or stabilized. Over half report they have either started saving or increased their savings.

    These outcomes from 2014 are shaping our strategy as we moves forward with our Social Performance Management goals. Our results are leading us to understand poverty with a wider lens – one that encompasses more than just financial outcomes. We are excited to see positive results as clients utilize our Plus services and participate in our program through multiple loan cycles. As we learn from our findings year-to-year we will be increasingly able to expand the bridge and open pathways of empowerment to even more women.

    Read the full report here.

    Our Dreamer Clients: Cruz

    Dreamer: The earliest stage of development on our Client Continuum. Dreamers are often new to the Friendship Bridge program. Most of them are just beginning to experience increased confidence and family decision-making. Their priorities are usually beginning to shift from basic survival to education for their children and healthier standards of living. Not surprisingly, one of the first things they do with their earnings is provide better nutrition for their families and put their children in school.

     

    IMG_5534Born into a poor family of 11 children, Cruz did not have many aspirations for her life. Her father struggled with alcoholism and did not support the family, so rather than attend school, Cruz had to work every day in the fields to ensure her family had enough food to eat.

    Cruz’s life followed the typical pattern of a Guatemalan woman, and she married young, at age 18. She had seven children, but two died very young. Because she had not attended school, Cruz learned to weave in order to support her family, like her mother had done. “I had to accept learning my mom’s job, and now it has become my business. I am grateful for my mother’s teachings. She fought very hard for me and my sister to become good weavers.”

    However, in order to give her daughters a chance for a better future, Cruz needed more capital to grow her business. She heard about Friendship Bridge from two women in her community who were Friendship Bridge clients, and she applied for a loan and joined a Trust Bank. In addition to her loan, Cruz says the monthly Non-Formal Education sessions have been very valuable, and she has especially benefited from trainings on health, hygiene, family planning, self-esteem, and wise investing.

    With her Friendship Bridge loans, Cruz has been able to grow her small weaving business and send her five daughters to school. She is proud of giving them a chance at a better future, and Cruz says her experience with Friendship Bridge has brought her much satisfaction and joy. “Thanks to my small business and my loans, I am improving my quality of life,” she says. Cruz is also proud that she and her husband have been able to build a larger home to create more space for their family and her business.

    “Friendship Bridge has been instrumental in my journey to create a business and generate income. My entire family has benefited from my loans,” says Cruz. The loans and the education Friendship Bridge offers have increased Cruz’s confidence as a woman and given her more hope for her future, key characteristics of our Dreamer clients.

    A new experience, a new chapter – The experience of a Friendship Bridge Intern

    By Nicole Brajevich, 2015 Marketing and Treasury Intern

    This year I had the honor and privilege of working with Friendship Bridge as both Marketing and Treasury Intern. I am entering my second and last year as a graduate student at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, where I am studying Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration with focuses in International Development and International Administration. I am also in the process of receiving a Global Business and Corporate Social Responsibility certificate.

    I was introduced to Friendship Bridge in March 2015 through a course at the Korbel School. As part of the curriculum, students acted as consultants to NGOs of their choosing in the Denver community. I chose Friendship Bridge because of my interest in poverty alleviation, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, Latin America, and because I wanted to learn more about the microfinance industry. Friendship Bridge was the perfect fit.

    My DU consulting group researched peer-to-peer (P2P) crowdfunding for Friendship Bridge. My subsequent internship continued this work by assisting with the crowdfunding campaign that launched September 1st. Within a few short meetings, we had determined a focus for the campaign – Friendship Bridge’s pilot healthcare program Salud para la Vida (Health for Life). I learned a lot about the healthcare program through this campaign and a lot about my own preventative health. The statistics behind the campaign really struck me: “cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in Guatemala” and “64% of indigenous women reported that they did not wish to have children in the next two years, yet only 10% have access to contraception.”

    Marketing intern standing in front of a crowdfunding thermometer.

    Nicole standing next to our crowdfunding thermometer — we exceeded the $25,000 goal and raised $30,000.

     

    In addition to helping with the crowdfunding campaign, I uploaded and organized thousands of photos to an online database so Friendship Bridge could easily find appropriate photos for each blog post, annual report, appeal, and social media post. Looking through these photos gave me a better understanding of the work Friendship Bridge does in Guatemala. Many clients looked happy and empowered, some were hard at work, and others were meeting with their Trust Banks. Many lives have been changed through Friendship Bridge and I cannot wait to see how Salud para la Vida will continue to have an impact on the lives of many more clients.

    In my role as Treasury Intern, I assisted with several projects. First, I researched the current economic and political environment of Guatemala for the purposes of preparing two items: a “State of Guatemala Report” for the CEO to share with the Board of Directors and an economic indicator monitoring process that will help the Finance Committee better understand currency exchange risks. Second, I utilized the MIX Market financial and social performance database to benchmark Friendship Bridge against 18 other Latin American MFIs. The data will be shared with Friendship Bridge’s Board and utilized in other ways within the organization. And finally, I researched other Latin American Kiva field partners for the purpose of monitoring and potentially improving Friendship Bridge’s performance. Overall, my work has helped Friendship Bridge better understand the environment in which it operates.

    I believe Friendship Bridge is a model for what people should think of when the term “microfinance” is mentioned. I saw this at their 25th Anniversary Gala, during which the support and passion of 300 guests illuminated the room. Friendship Bridge does more than just hand out loans; they are improving the lives of many Guatemalan women through various programs, training, and education through their Microcredit Plus program which touches on all sectors of life. It takes a team to get where Friendship Bridge is today and passion, inclusive consulting, and listening to what their clients want is key to their success.

    Friendship Bridge is making a difference, and they let me help them make a difference. My internship was not just “busy work,” but work that was used and distributed throughout Friendship Bridge. I learned more than I could have ever imagined and I felt like I made an impact. As I begin a new chapter in my education, I will take with me all the knowledge and success I have learned here. This was a dream internship and I hope to continue making a difference in our world.

    Non-Formal Education: Budgeting, Saving, and Reflecting on Sexual Rights (Summer/Fall 2015)

    A special thanks to our Cada Mes Club – Friendship Bridge’s monthly donors – for supporting our clients on their monthly journeys.

    Each month the members of every Trust Bank travel, most likely by foot, to their designated meeting places to make payments on their loans and receive a Non-Formal Education lesson in their native languages on one of the four pillars – women, family, business, and health.

    Guatemala_25_03-2

    July – Budgeting

    A necessity when developing a successful business is creating a budget to manage cash flow. Our clients identified the expenses and incomes of a fictional Guatemalan woman who needs wood for her stove, receives money from her sister in the U.S., sends her son to school with a new notebook, buys bananas for the chocobananos she sells at the market, and picks up a pair of shoes for her daughter. The women then practiced tallying the expenses and incomes in separate columns so they could subtract expenses from revenue. A discussion about which expenses would be considered an investment (an encyclopedia or a trip to the movie) rounded out the meeting.

    August – Saving

    Piggy-backing the prior month’s lesson on budgeting, in August our clients considered what to do with money left over after expenses are paid. To bolster the idea of being ready for the unexpected, a list of 10 events such as weddings, disease, school, and old age were presented in a big chart. The women were asked to place markers on the events that cannot be expected. Each woman went home with a piggy bank she made from a plastic bottle – cap for a snout, tail glued on, slot cut in the top.

    September – Sexual/Reproductive Rights

    Ensuring that our clients are aware of their right to autonomous control over all matters relating to sexuality, including health, childbearing, and consent was the goal of this lesson. In an effort to encourage personal care, the women began by assessing the main parts of the female body and commenting on why each is appreciated. For example, “My hands allow me to greet and caress.” Next the women reflected on the various messages they may have received about their sexuality via family, school, and the media. Some messages included: only the woman is responsible for her sexual health, a discussion on sex refers to couples only, family planning is wrong, and a gynecological visit is required only once after the start of menstruation. Lively discussion due to differences of opinion was expected and encouraged.

    Here are a few client reactions:

    • FELICIANA CANO GRAVE DE OSORIO“I chose the figure of the breasts because it is an essential part at the birth of a baby, and this is the best food that our children receive since they come to earth. I have heard about breast cancer, so that it is good to do checks ups.”
      - Feliciana, age 68

    • “The topic about savings is extremely important to implement, and it is much better if we include our children, sEUGENIA IBET MERIDA VILLAGRANo they can grow with this habit.”

      - Eugenia, age 32 (pictured with her sons and her piggy bank)

    Leaving no one behind: Sustainable Development Goals

    by Dana Bruxvoort de Andres, Jeanne Crump, and Nicole Brajevich

    More information about Friendship Bridge’s social performance will be published in October 2015 in their Impact Report.

    _MG_5287 (2)-3

     

    Today marks the beginning of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs have had mixed results – they’ve spurred many successes, but there remains many areas of growth. As the international community reflects on these eight goals and focuses on a new set of (SDGs), Friendship Bridge has also been reflecting – on the ways our work fit into the framework of the MDGs and how we can contribute to the areas of global development that need more growth through the SDGs. Below are the eight MDGs and how our work has supported each.

    1.) Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger – The majority of Friendship Bridge clients surveyed have reported their microloan helped them buy more or better food for their family. Clients who access Plus services through our Microcredit Plus program are 4% better off in our poverty index.

    2.) Achieve Universal Primary Education – Our CrediEscolar loan provides the funds needed to pay for expenses associated with children’s schooling, thus keeping our clients’ children in school. 26% of clients who accessed this loan had no education themselves, but are now supporting their children’s education.

    3.) Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women – Our monthly Non-Formal Education sessions include topics on women’s rights and empowerment. One of our clients said that although women in past generations have been marginalized, “Now I ask for or demand what is mine by my rights and those of my children.” With each loan cycle, clients are 19% more likely to report taking on a leadership role, indicating increased agency.

    4.) Reduce Child Mortality – Healthy behavior and family nutrition is a part of our Non-Formal Education curriculum. Our CrediSalud loan helps women purchase clean burning wood stoves, which has proven to reduce children’s health problems related to smoke inhalation and burns.

    5.) Improve Maternal Health – A new health services program provides STI screening for pregnant women as well as counseling about and access to family planning methods.

    6.) Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases – In 2015 we began piloting a preventative health services program that will give our clients access to testing and follow-up support for HIV/AIDs, cervical cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, and diabetes.

    7.) Ensure Environmental Sustainability – We’ve developed a pilot Agriculture Farm to Market Access program to offer more sustainable and efficient production methods to our agriculture clients.

    8.) Global Partnership for Development – We partner with local Guatemalan organizations (experts in their fields) to provide services like healthcare, Mentorship, and Advanced Education to our clients.

    The MDGs boast remarkable gains – such as halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, drastically reducing child mortality, and halving the number of out-of-school children. But despite these gains, more growth needs to be seen in areas such as gender equality, women’s and children’s health, and access to family planning. These are just a few of the areas that this next set of goals – the Sustainable Development Goals – will focus on. Our work involves many of those areas through the reach of our Microcredit Plus program.

    We lend only to women, and we’re advancing gender equality by providing women access to financial services, increasing their agency, and encouraging them to aspire for their futures. Our vision is to see empowered women eliminate poverty. In addition to financial capital, we promote gains of social and human capital through our Microcredit Plus program so women are holistically empowered to create better futures. 90% of our clients report taking on a leadership role in their Trust Banks, families, or communities.

    We’re also advancing health and access to family planning through Salud para la Vida, our women’s preventative health program launched in 2015. Salud para la Vida is designed to counter the specific healthcare challenges our rural, indigenous clients in Guatemala face. Through this program our clients receive health education and can access preventative health services such as diabetes and hypertension screenings, breast and cervical exams, Pap smears, and access to family planning methods.

    “Leaving no one behind” is the goal for the SDG agenda. As the international community embarks on another 15-year journey toward achieving the 17 SDGs, we’re committed to do our part in making sure no one gets left behind – especially women.