In my site, I always walk past a set of colorful, quirky clay piggy banks of all sizes in the park. The artisan? Abigail. She’s a strong, charismatic woman with high-set cheek bones.
I asked her about her red hat that said “Pro Mujer” on it. She smiled as she described the ways in which this microfinance organization gave her the technical training to paint and sell the piggies. Pro Mujer Nicaragua was established in 1996 as the organization’s first expansion outside of Bolivia.
Pro Mujer today serves women across 11 municipalities all over Nicaragua.
“Hablemos un poco” (Let’s chat for a bit), she said, right before my interview.
Which microfinance organizations have you worked with?
I worked with Pro Mujer first, then Leon 2000. It was the only organization that came to my town. I didn’t know of any others organizations at the time. I worked at first with Pro Mujer in 1998 because I wanted to learn about artisanry. They came and trained me on 18 different painting techniques. Pro Mujer also trained me on small-business management and entrepreneurial administration. My boss ended up nominating me to lead a group of 14 women. The women ended up electing me each year as their coordinator, and I named my group Artesanas Reales. I received prizes for my leadership.
I worked for 6 years on my own, and then I joined León 2000, another private microfinance organization, to work with other women and to save even more money. With them, I achieved my goal of saving money after two years.
Why do you think your group re-elected you?
I worked hard and we paid things on time. Every 15 days, we would get together and I would collect the money they owed. We would pay it back to Pro Mujer over a 6-month period. We would not only get together to get things done, but we would also have a good time. We would have small parties where we would dance and everyone would bring food. It was a good time!
What was the interest rate of the loan you took with Pro Mujer?
With Pro Mujer, we had a choice of paying back our loans over a 4-month period or 6-month period. I preferred the 6-month period because that gave us more time. Pro Mujer charged us a 2% interest rate. If we paid back the loan in time, we would get reimbursed 1% of the loan. If we didn’t, they would take another 1% of the loan. I sold pottery from my house, and sometimes we would go sell at different craft fairs in places like Managua.
Who do these organizations lend Money to?
Mostly groups of women, so that we can work and support one another. There was one man in our groups, each from Pro Mujer and León 2000. There wasn’t any tension between themselves and the women. They integrated themselves just fine.
How did your groups promote trust between their members?
[Financial] problems were solved thanks to the caja chica (“small box”). We would all pitch in, say, $2 every two weeks. If anyone got sick or anything, then we would all take out the money to help cover that person’s costs. No one ever used the funds though, so we got them back.
How did loans impact your life?
My time with Pro Mujer was unforgettable. I was able to be a leader and I was able to visit beautiful places. I benefited economically, morally, and physically. The loans allowed me to de-stress and to feel happy. Receiving the loans was great for my health and self-esteem.
How have the loans affected your family relationships?
I’m separated from my husband, but he has helped support my children’s educations. I have 3 daughters and one son. One is married and the rest are studying. I’ve lived my life, so my priority is that my children can continue to go to school. My husband has always supported me. We talk on the phone every day. I’m glad he helps my daughter with University costs in Managua.
As we finished up the interview, she said “A trained woman needs to value herself”.
In Abigail’s case, she has been fortunate enough to have had a stable family situation throughout her life. Microfinance not only brings economic benefits, but it can also boost self-esteem. I’m happy that Abigail’s experience has been a great one, and that Pro Mujer has opened doors for her.This isn’t the case for everyone.
What are the pros and cons of microfinance as a development tool? Why is gender even a factor when talking about microfinance?