South America – a continent much in need of responsible, impact investment to help previously financially excluded people reach economic self-reliance. It is also the focus of my recent travels to see the grassroots work of Oikocredit’s South American partners in this space…
…And, of course, it is also currently the frenzied hub of the FIFA World Cup!
So as I head to Oikocredit’s AGM in the north of Peru this weekend, I find I can’t leave behind my experience last month of our work in Bolivia, until I have shared one more (very topical) grassroots story that touched our hearts over there.
It is the story of micro-creditor, Don Yucra Felix Cardenas, and his wife, Victoria, who produce 24 football tables each month, using recycled car parts to create their brightly-coloured figurines.
Whilst I’m hopeful that ‘World Cup Fever’ will boost his monthly production still further, I also know that it hasn’t always been like this for Don Felix.
Coming from an impoverished background, Don Felix’s father saved money to send his son to Military School in the hope of a better life for him. Don Felix graduated from school armed with the art of self-discipline and a thirst for learning a trade, and went to work for a friend who owned a small business making football tables in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Tragically his friend died five months later, leaving Don Felix with a new skill but no income. In a tiny, poorly equipped outhouse on the outskirts of Cochabamba, he put his embryonic abilities to the test, building his first four football tables by hand.
Satisfied that he had the basic craft skills required to create a business of his own, he went in search of finance. Since he had no collateral, and only limited trading experience, no institution was prepared to back him until he came across FONCOM, a microfinance partner of Oikocredit. FONCOM listened to Don Felix’s plans and granted him an initial micro loan, in addition to helping him build a small ‘fit-for-purpose’ studio.
Thirty years on, with continued support from FONCOM (a permanent credit line of $25,000) and his FONCOM credit officer (who has his own FEYUCAR (FElix YUcra CARdenas) football table), not to mention “word-of-mouth” accolades from satisfied customers all over Bolivia, Don Felix is still going strong.
Today he is supported by a small team comprising his wife Victoria, his children, and a few accomplices who divide and conquer the workload between them. And he has the objective of one day exporting to Peru and Ecuador, in the unflinching belief that “Football tables from China and Brazil are worth nothing compared to mine”.
So I say, ‘Good luck Don Felix! I hope this year’s World Cup brings you everything you want in terms of good results for Bolivia in the football…and also in football tables…
And, no doubt, I shall likewise feel the football frenzy in Peru next week, where the areas covered by Oikocredit’s AGM will include visits to some of our partners in Peru; the subject of Social Performance Measurement; the dual financial-social investment model & money cycle, and many other areas beside…