HOW DID OPEN TO GROW HAPPEN? HERE IS WHAT OUR FOUNDER BOB BROWN HAS TO SAY.
I was inspired by the story of Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus who saw that low-income people had no access to credit as they lacked collateral. His solution of forming trust groups, with the group being responsible for repaying loans made by it to its members, was to me pure genius.
CHAPTER 1 – GUATEMALA
Following a year of studying microcredit and two years volunteering with a charity involved with microcredit, we established Open to Grow as a Canadian charity to provide micro-loans to low-income women in Central America. Our longer term goal was to add business training to the mix, as microcredit combined with business training is a very powerful agent for change.
In March of 2011, we were introduced to Bob Graham, one of the first individuals to bring microcredit into Central America. Over a 20 year period, Bob built the Katalysis Microfinance Network of Central America with over 180,000 borrowers and over $60 million in loan capital. In 2004, he started NamasteDirect which enables low-income women in Guatemala to make more money in their businesses by providing them with a business adviser, skills-building classes, and micro-loans.
At the end of 2011, Open to Grow entered into a collaboration agreement with NamasteDirect and its associated entity Fundacion Namaste Guatemaya (FNG). As part of an overall business development program, (BDP) we funded and co-managed the growth of the micro-lending activity while FNG provided group financial education and one-on-one business development consulting for each client.
During our time with Namaste, we made over $1.4 million in micro business loans to 3,500 women micro-entrepreneurs. Our payback rate was 96%. This has been an amazing experience and a great privilege to work with Bob Graham and his team.
The funding world of an NGO or charity is always challenging. In Namaste’s case, it has caused them to temporarily phase-down their operations.
CHAPTER 2 – NICARAGUA
At the end of 2017, Open to Grow re-deployed its funds from Guatemala to Nicaragua. Interestingly, Nicaragua is where we first got our feet wet in microcredit.
During the Guatemala phase-out period, we analyzed many possible MFI partners. Following negotiations and due diligence, we entered into a funding agreement with ADIM. We selected ADIM primarily because of its focus on poor women entrepreneurs. We began funding micro business loans with ADIM in November 2017.
ADIM was founded in 1989. Its managing director, Patricia Padilla, is one of the original founders. Back in 2008, ADIM was one of four MFIs that Karen and I interviewed when we were volunteers for another charity. We were pretty impressed then and more so now!
ADIM is a small, well-organized microfinance organization (MFI) with six branches and over 7,000 clients. Over 90% of its borrowers are women, many of whom are very poor. Our loans continue to be made primarily to poor women entrepreneurs organized in solidarity groups to help them grow their businesses.
The adventure continues, we know not where!