Whole Planet Foundation is excited to announce a new partnership with microfinance partner Friendship Bridge, or Puente de Amistad, in Guatemala.
Over the course of the next three years, Friendship Bridge will receive $300,000 from Whole Planet Foundation to support its new branch in Huehuetenango. There is an unmet need in the country, especially in the most rural areas that other microfinance organizations have steered away from due to the higher operating costs required to reach these communities. Providing services to these women requires additional expenses due to the logistics of attending to these communities that limits the funds available to provide loan capital.
WPF support will enable Friendship Bridge to lessen that gap and help meet the needs of women in difficult to reach, rural areas. Over the course of the project, Friendship Bridge plans to serve more than 2,300 women in the region.
In Guatemala, there are a significant number of microfinance institutions (banks, NGOs, credit unions etc.) who provide access to finance to the country’s poor. However, the majority of these institutions serve primarily urban and peri-urban communities, and many of these communities are in fact saturated with microfinance institutions and their advertising programs. Due to the visibility and prevalence of these institutions, over- indebtedness can be a significant issue if an organization does not implement certain safeguards (credit checks, limiting the number of loans a potential client can have, pre-credit training, etc.). Friendship Bridge protects its clients against over-indebtedness through thorough credit analysis and background checks, ongoing monitoring of clients’ credit scores, and providing training modules on how to borrow responsibly.
In rural areas, access to finance remains a challenge. Rural areas remain harder to serve in terms of cost and logistics. Despite the inherent challenges, Friendship Bridge is committed to providing socially responsible finance and expanding its reach into rural areas.
Friendship Bridge’s mission is to create opportunities that empower Guatemalan women to build a better life.
Friendship Bridge began its work in Vietnam by providing medical education and shipping of medical supplies to impoverished populations in war-ravaged areas. In 1994, after deciding to focus on a more sustainable solution to poverty reduction, Friendship Bridge shifted its focus from medical supplies to microcredit. In 1998, Friendship Bridge expanded its work to Guatemala, another country impacted by war and extreme poverty, by offering limited opportunities to women. Friendship Bridge shifted out of Vietnam and began focusing solely on a Microcredit Plus program in Guatemala. By 2003, almost 3,000 clients were borrowing from Friendship Bridge in Guatemala. By 2006 the number tripled to 9,000 clients, and by the end of 2016 they had reached more than 29,000 women through their Microcredit Plus program.
Friendship Bridge’s Microcredit Plus program provides loans for women to support their businesses and education to strengthen and teach their clients on diverse topics including financial literacy, women’s rights and health.
On average, a Friendship Bridge client is a 38-year-old woman, has had approximately three years of formal education, participates in the informal economy, and cannot read or write. The majority of clients have limited fluency in Guatemala’s official language, Spanish, and instead speak one of 24 indigenous languages. The average client’s household earns between $1.11 and $4.49 a day, which may be categorized as “poor, extremely vulnerable or vulnerable” according to the Grameen Foundation’s PPI.
Each client participates in a Trust Bank Loan, which is Friendship Bridge’s primary loan product. The average new Trust Bank loan is $318 and is repaid over a 12-month period. Over the years, Friendship Bridge has introduced new loan products tailored to meet its clients’ needs. Clients with a strong repayment and attendance history are eligible to access these additional products:
- CrediSalud enables clients to purchase efficient, clean-burning stoves that replace open fires in the home. This product saves clients an average of $37 per month in fuel, and reduces health conditions associated with smoke inhalation.
- Crediescolar provides for the costs associated with school enrollment, such as uniforms and school fees. In 2015, 86% of clients used the loan to continue their children’s education, and 14% used it to enroll a student for the first time.
- Rapidito is a small, fast loan product that allows clients to cover unexpected expenses or to take advantage of business opportunities. Rapidito often enables clients to purchase or produce additional inventory for holidays when the opportunity for commerce is high.
- Paralelo provides additional capital for clients who have good credit history and business potential in order to further grow their businesses.
Friendship Bridge continues to innovate and adapt its services and loan products to meet the needs of microcredit clients. Its Microcredit Plus program combines small business loans with basic non-formal education in tandem with opportunities for more advanced trainings and mentorship tailored to clients’ individual experiences and aptitudes.
In 2015, Friendship Bridge introduced a mentorship program and its Artisan Market Access Program. The artisan program provides the opportunity for existing clients to receive technical and business skills to access new local, national and international markets. As part of this program, Friendship Bridge has created an online store as a means to assist their clients in reaching new markets. Friendship Bridge has worked with these clients to refine their products to ensure they are market ready. To visit the store and browse the beautiful products, click here!
Also in 2015, Friendship Bridge introduced its women’s preventive health program, Salud para la Vida. It is designed to specifically counter the healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala. This service provides the opportunity for clients to receive free or low-cost preventive health services and screenings in their communities.
To learn more about Friendship Bridge’s work in Guatemala, please visit their website: www.friendshipbridge.org.