Wherever I’ve travelled in the developing world it has never ceased to amaze me how food-vendors crop up on the side of the road, selling (and often whipping up) drinks and delicacies in front of my eyes. However, attractive though this proposition may be to the passer-by in need of sustenance, I can’t imagine that it’s much fun for the vendor who has to squat in the dirt, in the searing heat, from dawn until dusk to provide a pittance for themselves and their family.
So perhaps this is why one story from an Oikocredit social investment partner - FONDECO in Bolivia - resonated with me somehow. FONDECO receives investment capital from Oikocredit thanks to the latter’s individual and organisational investors, who in turn receive an annual return on their investment.
One of the projects which FONDECO identified as worthy of onward investment were groups of these female food-vendors in the Santa Cruz region, who had nowhere else to go to improve their situation and have historically been deemed “un-bankable” members of Bolivia’s shadow economy.
To counter this FONDECO set up the concept of a “Village Bank”, persuading women in the Santa Cruz district to form themselves into groups of 8-30 people comprising friends, family and neighbours. FONDECO then provides them with credit enough to each buy their own stall, as well as ongoing money management training. Furthermore, they help these women set aside 15% of their earnings as savings so that they can ultimately become financially independent.
Such is the sense of communal pride and solidarity amongst these groups of females that they ensure their loans are paid back on time, each time, even if it means one woman covering for another during periods of illness and incapacity.
The spirit of entrepreneurship seems to me to be an innate quality of Bolivian culture, alongside the entrenched desire for self-reliance evident in the resourcefulness of its 74% self-employed population and growth in middle classes. Indeed, the track record of success in investing in these financially excluded and peripheral groups (particularly females and remote rural farmers) has been such that these segments have begun to attract wider consideration for financial inclusion based on their ability to lift themselves out of poverty, through social impact investments provided by partnerships such as Oikocredit and FONDECO.
Keep following us here at the Oikocredit UK blog, or www.twitter.com/OikocreditUK and consider investing in these “people” instead of “big business”. Find out about how you can return on your investment at http://www.oikocredit.org.uk/why-invest.
In the meantime remember the wildlife too and meet my favourite exotic creature of Bolivia - the Taitetú - whom I’d have much preferred to see wandering around in his natural habitat…