Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Weekly Town Meeting: The Value of Solidarity and Community in Microfinance.

By Kim Groves

Each week, the women borrowers and staff who make up the En Via program, come together to mark and administer the progress and growth of the lending network. This weekly town meeting is an important time. The women come to make payment on their loans, to receive loans, and to find out about new programs and updates.


It is essentially a time for everyone involved to catch up with the happenings of the past week. For the groups of borrowers, it can be an opportunity to discuss the progress of their individual loans and to share and suggest strategies. For En Via staff it is a space in which to explain loan processes, check in with the women, and maintain the transparent and inclusive nature of the program.

At this past week’s meeting we were delighted to welcome a significant number of new members into the program, presenting them with their diplomas from the completed business course, as well as their very first interest free loans. I noticed that the women were just as proud to receive recognition for completing the course as they were to invest in their own projects and businesses.


I sat with one woman of this new intake and helped her fill in the form needed to receive the loan. She could not read or write, but she knew exactly the amounts of the different products that she was going to invest in to sell at her market food stall, down to the last peso and kilogram of potato. As I noted it all down for her, her borrowing group were nodding in approval and support at her shoulder.


The beauty of the program is the way that it relies so much on the existing and developing relationships within the town. I never can quite remember who is whose cousin, and who is whose sister-in-law, but the entire program is a complicated web of social connections. This is what makes us strong. As a microfinance organisation we run an economic program, but more than that we are a social entity. The social trust that has grown within the communities is incredibly important to us. It is a trust that has led us to meet new women, and to be invited to work in new communities.

Older women, and young, new members, and founding members, they make up a group that is dynamic and forward moving. Each woman has a different background, as well as different goals and motivations, and as we work alongside them we see how they support each other’s successes.


If a child is sick, we see other women step in to deliver loan payments on behalf of the occupied mother. If a woman can’t make a meeting or weekly payment we see members of their group presenting a minimum payment to cover them. Some women help others to get started in businesses, others lend a hand to open shops or mind stock, and all know that they have support from many sides.

Something I value in my work with En Via is the sense of solidarity that I feel among these incredible women. It is a solidarity and strength of community that I believe everyone can feel part of when they visit our program and meet the borrowers on our tours. And even though you are not physically present at the weekly meetings, you, our friends and supporters, are actually part of it. You are a valued part of our community, and I hope that this solidarity is something that we can all take with us wherever we go, to foster and grow in our own homes and towns all over the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day: Working to Include Women Every Day.


By Kim Groves

 In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. Since then it has become a day where we can formally acknowledge the achievements, sacrifices and contributions that women have given to the world. It is a day to be proud and to celebrate the work that has been accomplished in women’s rights. It is also a day to recognise how much more we need to do to achieve women’s empowerment as well as harmony and mutual respect between the sexes.


As a not for profit microfinance organisation, Fundacion En Via lends to women with the belief that women invest in and plan for the futures of their families and positive development of their communities. As women, often indigenous, living in a regional area of Mexico, they can often experience unjust marginalisation from what is considered the main stream. They are dignified women, hardworking, and capable, and they make up vital parts of their communities. We endeavour to provide them with something that every woman in the world is entitled to; a chance at independence, empowerment, and a success story of their own writing.

Carlos Hernández Topete, En Via’s Executive Director, recently shared what International Women’s Day meant to him. What he said has really resonated with me. “It is a reminder that we should recognise women every day. They are half the talent and half the intelligence in the world. Imagine all of those women whose voices are not heard. We do not benefit from their input or from their thoughts. Their energy and potential is wasted”. For Carlos, and for all of us at En Via, it is important to work hard to include women every day, in every part of our society and life. Because what many people do not realise or acknowledge is that the empowerment of women benefits everyone.

With the aim of including the voices of women on this special day, and every day, I take pleasure in introducing you to some inspirational women who are working within the En Via program as borrowers and investors in a better future.


Amelí has been with the program since August 2011. She runs a small business selling potato fries and hamburgers in Diaz Ordaz, a small town in the Tlacolula Valley of Oaxaca. She is generous enough to offer her home as a place where all participating women in the town, and all those interested, can come to talk about their experiences and move through the process of receiving microloans.

Amongst the chatter of the group this week I asked her what she considered the best thing about being a woman. She quickly replied, “being a mother”. Her son, Axel, of 2 years and 7 months, was in her arms. I looked at them together, and I believed her.

When I asked her if she had advice or a message for other women, the positivity of her answer delighted me. She encourages women to animate! And to motivate! To get involved in programs like En Via, and to work towards having something for themselves, be it a business, a project, or an art. “To have something that is theirs”.


In another village called Tlacochahuaya, just a little way from Amelí’s, a woman called Soledad is growing something truly beautiful. This week she has received her very first interest free loan from En Via which she used to buy tools to work her small patch of land where she is sowing vegetables with her husband Mario.

As she showed me the patch of chard she was growing, I asked her what was the hardest thing about being a woman? She considered the question for a moment; “It would have to be maintaining a marriage”. And what is the key to harmonious relations between men and women according to Soledad? To have good character, and lots of love! She then told me that if her voice was louder, if women like her could change the world, she would prohibit drugs and alcohol that cause so much pain in many of the towns in the Valley, and help all those that are lacking and in need. She is 25 years old and I believe that she has already changed the world just by being herself and being brave enough to try.

There are scores of individuals and organisations in the world, both governmental and non-governmental that are working hard, each in their own ways, to bring about empowerment and recognition for women and a better future for all. Today, March 8th, we embrace all of them as well as all of you, our friends and supporters who have made our particular work in Oaxaca, Mexico, possible. Our hope is that International Women’s Day can be a reminder to us all to include women in everyday and in every part of this society that we continue to share and build together.