Christine Marquez-Hudson, Mi Casa’s Executive Director, recently traveled to Buenos Aires as part of her Livingston Fellowship, a leadership program funded by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. Here she writes about her experience visiting with a nonprofit called Mujeres 2000, which provides micro loans to low-income women to start a business:
Microfinance is a strategy toward economic development and poverty reduction that has been proliferating across the globe. Here in the U.S. it’s an important tool to get small businesses started—especially among low-income entrepreneurs. During my visit, I observed a class at a local church/community center attended by three women. One operates a kiosk out of her home; another was launching a home-based beauty shop; and the third sells clothes. They are learning about fixed and variable costs and how to budget. Afterwards, the instructor, Horacio, and I took a walk around the neighborhood. It’s a poor community with few employment opportunities, and Horacio explained that most of the women are single, and all struggle to find work and care for their children. Self-employment is a way for women to make an income with a flexible schedule and even work from home.
I asked what made the Mujeres 2000 program successful. “Mutual responsibility,” Horacio replied. To access their first loan, women go through an enterprise design phase where they develop their business concept. Next, they form a group of five and each woman receives a loan based on her business model and is responsible for repaying her portion. However, the group assumes joint liability for all five loans, and a member can only obtain new credit if all members return at least 80% of the original loan.
This solidarity model is fascinating – people coming together to support one another’s success has profound implications for social, economic and personal development. What I saw in Argentina also taught me about shared leadership – everyone has something to offer, everyone contributes, and everyone benefits. These concepts of shared responsibility and leadership are ideas I plan to explore here at Mi Casa in order to strengthen our programs and maximize our positive community impact.