July was a difficult month for our our partners in Colombia. The very nature of microfinance means that the clients we serve are often in insecure circumstances either because of national issues beyond their control, or personal issues. Microfinance is not for the faint of heart. It’s not cheap. It’s not easy. It’s not fast. And it is risky. However, it’s the only type of charity that runs on a business model and can recover after hard times.
A Tense Peace
The Colombian economy has been affected by dual threats of inner tensions and outer burdens. Many are struggling with the reality of former FARC rebels (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, responsible for the displacement of millions and deaths of hundreds of thousands of others) attending Congress for the first time in July after the end of the 53-year-long civil war. The outgoing Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for fostering the historic peace agreement, and part of the peace deal promised FARC representatives 5 seats in the upper and lower chambers of Colombian parliament – despite FARC political candidates winning only 1% of votes.
Many in Colombia feel the peace agreement has been too soft on the rebels. A Washington Times poll found 70% of Colombians disapproved of the leniency and immunity set for the guerrillas. Colombia recently elected a new right wing president, Iván Duque, with 54% of the vote, however when President Duque announced a review of the peace agreement, many parts of the country returned to violence and uncertainty.
A Flood of Refugees
In addition to national tensions, it is believed more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have left their country looking to escape an inflation rate the International Monetary Fund says will hit 1 million percent by the end of the year. Fleeing to all the neighboring countries in the hemisphere, the exodus is putting a lot of pressure on local economies and communities. The sheer number of refugees threatens to overwhelm social safety nets and undermine the peace process that promised to bring badly needed services to marginalized areas of Colombia.
Our partners in Colombia are three organizations that together, cover our financial and non-financial services such as training and product development. OICCF manages all financial processes such as the loan program, while AGAPE and INVESTING HOPE FOUNDATION provide expertise in whole-person care through training and the development of targeted products and services.
AGAPE is currently in the process of updating all training materials and internal process related to HR.
It is also developing innovative Community Economic Development programs thanks to the provision of funds from local donors and parterships (details follow).
2. Investing Hope Foundation
IHF provides low income youth and adults with tools and training to help them thrive economically and spiritually. In partnership with Opportunity International Canada, they are currently in the process of forming 40 Adult Savings Groups and 40 YES Club Children’s Savings groups in and around Bogota.
OICCF is in the process of finding new shareholders for the organization. Negotiations are in development and a final decision will be announced in the new year. OICCF continues to serve clients in all branches, but due to the current capital levels and economy’s slowdown in Colombia, the loan portfolio has maintained the same levels during the last 12 months. Portfolio at risk greater than 30 days has increased in general in Colombia and OICCF has also been impacted by this loan portfolio deterioration, reaching an 8.25% ratio. The team has focused its efforts in collection initiatives to bring it below 8% by the end of the year.
Despite all the challenges, OICCF have been able to maintain financial sustainability and grow its savings more than 20% during the year, reaching a total of 7,110 loan clients and 46,812 saving accounts holders.
AGAPE has taken on the leadership of Education Quality in Colombia, providing technical assistance on “pathways to excellence” for Education Finance clients. AGAPE helps form clusters of school administrators and teachers who then self-assess and work towards improving the quality of the education they provide for their students. They also offer training on special interest topics.
Currently, Opportunity International works with 27 partners in 17 countries around the world providing access to education for 2.3 million kids and improving conditions of schools for learning.
- In Colombia, 414 schools have School Improvement Loans to improve infrastructure.
- AGAPE also developed an innovative Community Moms Program funding mothers who start preschools in their homes.
- Currently, parents have accessed 491 School Fee Loans covering the education costs of approximately 1,525 kids.
- 13 youth are accessing College/Vocational Loans to pay for continuing education.
Self-Help Savings Group
Investing Hope Foundation and AGAPE promote savings by offering Self-Help Saving Groups. These Groups offer very poor communities a way to begin saving and learning basic financial literacy skills before moving into individual savings and/or a small business loan. A group in a community self-select and then go through a training process. They agree to save $1-2 every two weeks for 8 months. The savings are put in a lock-box, and after 1.5 months, the members can start borrowing the money at the market rate as needed. All decisions and rules are managed by the group. The long-term goal is to teach people how to save and eventually give them access to a safer place to put their money by helping them open savings accounts. For many, Savings Groups are the first step towards financial inclusion, and the beginning of their personal financial history in the formal banking sector.
Together, AGAPE and OICCF have 47 Savings Groups with 748 clients and a total group savings of $24,311.
Investing Hope Foundation (IHF) is currently establishing 40 Adult Savings Groups with approximately 14 members in each group; and 40 Children’s Savings Groups with approximately 68 members in each group.
Club Children's Savings Groups are intended to provide support and to encourage healthy savings practices among children who have no practical experience with money. Children are in grade-appropriate groups (mainly through schools), and do not make loans to one another.
Currently, IHF has 200 adults saving in 16 groups with total groups savings of $22,068. While 696 children are participating in 54 Yes Clubs with total group savings of $8,448.
Transformational Training Update
From the very beginning in 1971, AGAPE’s programs have been focused on providing wholistic transformation. On top of microfinance product support, the kind of training they give covers the whole gauntlet - financial literacy, personal and spiritual workshops, leadership, women’s empowerment, technical assistance in home construction, as well as education and community development. In the last year, AGAPE has broken new ground in an innovative project providing water filters and safe home (sanitation, roof, flooring) training.
IMPACT: As of August 2018, AGAPE has trained a total of 658 clients. Due to the transition process of OICCF, AGAPE has had to put the training of OICCF clients on hold, however, Loan Officers continue to provide training to clients, especially in topics related to consumer rights, ways of submitting complaints, etc.
"Improvement In Quality of Life" Programs
HOUSE OF MY DREAMS: AGAPE has been extremely pro-active in seeing client difficulties as an opportunity to innovate. The widespread level of sub-par housing and unhygienic sanitation practices among clients led AGAPE to develop a program called “The House of My Dreams”. It includes a Home Improvement Guide given to all clients containing information about how to draw up a home renovation plan, things to consider regarding the foundation, beams, columns, walls, doors, windows, electric installations, disposal of black and grey water, septic tanks, kitchen, bathrooms, roof and floor.
The technical assistance guides clients into making the smartest and most cost effective changes they can make to their home to increase its safety. A total of 71 clients in the cities of Cartagena, Carmen de Bolivar and Bogotá have received technical assistance on how to use their $350 housing loan for the greatest impact.
W.A.S.H. and T.A.N.D.A.S Projects
Wanting to strengthen its Improvement in Quality of Life programs, AGAPE added a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH) and a Domestic Water Treatment and Safe Storage program (TANDAS in Spanish).
In 2017 they also developed a strategic alliance with a local organization called the Canadian Association for Participatory Development (CAPD). Together, they implemented a pilot program providing WASH and TANDAS training to 167 OICCF Trust Group clients (see photo above right), and also taught them how to build biosand filters. The project was implemented in various communities in Northern Colombia including the city of Cartagena and communities of Turbana and Maria la Baja in the Department of Bolivar. AGAPE is actively seeking funding to offer more water training as this is a very pressing need that can make a massive difference to health and safety in poor communities.
Community Economic Development Projects
As a charitable organization, it is always wise for AGAPE to diversify funding sources as a means of financial stability. Working in partnership with other organizations has also been the perfect marriage of like-minded Christian organizations utilizing each other’s strengths for the benefit of some of Colombia’s most needy populations. In the last year, a Colombian donor has provided funding for AGAPE to develop innovative programs in areas of need; in addition, several local churches, foundations and schools receiving EduFinance Loans have all approached AGAPE for training in their area of expertise.
1. Partnership With Maranata Foundation
While urban communities require help safely storing and utilizing water, Colombia’s rural indigenous populations need assistance accessing water at all. In partnership with the Maranata Foundation, using AGAPE staff expertise, wells will be dug and 16 water filters installed for 70 members of the indigenous community Jiw, in the southern central department of Guaviare.
2. Partnership With The Evangelical Covenant Church of Colombia
In an effort to empower victims of domestic abuse to become financially independent, the Covenant Church of Colombia developed a program with AGAPE to provide training in Financial Literacy with an emphasis on savings in 6 cities across Colombia.
Bogota: A project was initiated to train 40 women who will become leaders in their communities and form Savings Groups. These women leaders will then reach another 800 women who may have been a victim of abuse and give them the opportunity to join a Savings Group. Savings Groups not only provide financial safety nets, but more importantly, act as a support group for what is a very widespread but isolated and traumatized population in Colombia.
Medellin: Working with 6 Covenant Churches in Medellin, AGAPE is providing training on how to form Savings Groups. The plan is to form 30 Savings Groups benefiting 450 members of the church. Unfortunately, the project has slowed due to violence in the region. 45 community leaders have been shot here in the last year. Local groups say community leaders who speak out against rights abuses and activists campaigning for land rights are targeted by organised crime groups who see them as a threat to their economic interests.
ECC & Foundation Pacto Belen: Supported in part by the Evengelical Covenant Church, the Foundation Pacto Belen is a Refuge Center in the coffee region of La Vega (outside Bogota) for 20-25 vulnerable boys aged from 7-12 who have been apprehended from their mothers living in high risk environments. Run by an entrepreneur with a heart for the poor, the Foundation has a coffee production plant it runs as a means of funding the home. AGAPE staff (those who work with Roof and Floor Loan clients) provided technical assistance guiding the Foundation in the efficient and effective construction of a coffee dryer facility and the renovation of the machinery room.
AGAPE also provides spiritual training for the boys and staff through biweekly devotionals and a biannual youth bible study camp.
3. Partnership With Mision Integral SER
Misión Integral Ser is a center housing 25 underage mothers. AGAPE will be offering training to inspire and empower the women to build their own businesses so they can support themselves and their children. They are also facilitating seamstress training as there are many opportunities for women to become a “satellite garment maker” in Colombia. A satellite garment maker can work for a textiles factory, but from home (or the women’s centre). They are paid based on what they produce. The goal is to provide these women with 6 months of training as well as 6 months of support to help them connect with potential employers.
4. School Partnerships
One of the Education Finance Schools receiving loans from OICCF is the School FECI Nueva Vida in Soacha, the Department of Cundinamarca. This school is receiving technical assistance from AGAPE’s roof and floor team to renovate floors, roof, bathrooms and helping them bring the infrastructure up to safety code. The school has 300 students who come from vulnerable families.
Another school AGAPE is supporting is run by Foundation UNYDOS. AGAPE is providing technical assistance for the renovation of the school, as well as training for 40 children and youth who attend the school.
For more information, or if a project listed has piqued your interest and you are interested in supporting it, click here to read more about our goals in Colombia.
Colombia - General Fund
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