Bank-O-Mat Under a Hot Tin Roof: Making Non-Profit Microfinance Sustainable
Bump-duh-duh-thump-thump, Bump-duh-duh-thump-thump, Bump-duh-duh-thump-thump WHUMP!!!
So goes the rockin’ and rollin’ commute to remote villages along dirt roads – speckled with basketball-sized boulders, and craters large enough to swallow a small man (that’s where the “WHUMP!” comes in).
Maneuvering these roads with a grin and gusto are FUDECOSUR’s dedicated loan officers: Geiner Gonzáles Marín, Gerardo Barrantes and Danny Zuñiga. Our destination for each turbulent trip is one of FUDECOSUR’s 45 village banks – which provide the only source of much-needed credit most clients have ever had. THANK YOU to all Kiva lenders who help make this possible!
As we zig-zag along winding roads trying to avoid the mammoth “WHUMPS!”, we run into traffic. Blocking our path is a fearless bull unspooked by our roaring engine. He stares us down as if to say: “This is my road, buddy, and I refuse to moooooove”. As we inch forward, gently nudging his bum with the bumper, he finally decides to amble on. Then our ascent is blocked by a bulldozer shoveling landslide debris off of the road.
While we wait, I savor the warm sounds of humming insects, and whispering laughter from palm leaves rustling in the wind. I take in the views of lush, green valleys and farmland terraced along the hills and rising mountains. Coexisting with carefully planned crops of fire red coffee beans, sugar cane, corn, and legumes, are patches of wild, unclaimed land full of sweet lemon trees (yes – the lemons here are sweet), bright fuchsia bananas (which are mostly eaten by the birds) and miniature yellow bananas (which humans find sweet and delicious). Wild avocado and coconut trees can also be found, and like the sweet lemons and baby bananas, they are free to those who wish to indulge. Have I landed in Heaven??
Our vehicle lunges forward, and I’m whisked out of my glassy-eyed daydream of staying here forever. We pass pristine waterfalls tumbling down the mountain, across the road, and down into whitewater rivers which snake through the valley below. Aaah… slipping back into my daydream again… I’ve grown so accustomed to the rhythm of the roads that the “Bump-duh-duh-thump-thump” now serves as my lullaby.
WHUMP! We arrive at the village bank.
Perched on a verdant plot of land amidst pastures of feeding cattle, or rising food crops stretching toward the sun, are many of FUDECOSUR’s village banks. Some village banks are simple one-room structures with a burning tin roof shading us from the elements. Other village banks operate out of a farmhouse kitchen or living room. All village banks are a part of FUDECOSUR’s mission to bring financial support to the doorsteps of disenfranchised populations.
Due to the isolated nature of the farming communities we visit, most residents have never had a savings account. The absence of national banks in these remote areas has excluded much of the agricultural sector from financial savings and borrowing opportunities. In order to qualify for a loan, national banks often require costly cash deposits – which most farmers can’t pay, since they rarely have savings accounts. Without access to savings accounts, farmers often purchase a pig or a cow with remaining cash. These animals serve as the farmers’ insurance plan, and are sold when large sums of money are needed for emergencies (such as unexpected medical expenses). While farmers are able to subsist without access to credit, it is extremely difficult, at best, to increase living standards or to recover from natural disasters (such as floods or blight) or major health emergencies.
Filling this vast credit void is FUDECOSUR (Foundation for the Development of Southern Communities) – A non-profit microcredit provider, dedicated to empowering Southern Costa Rica’s agricultural sector.
Besides providing loans for expansion of crops and livestock, FUDECOSUR also provides Family Well-Being loans, which cover medical, educational and home renovation expenses. Such loan diversification ensures that struggling farmers are not forced to sacrifice one essential need (such as money to purchase seed and fertilizer) for another (such as money to pay for life-saving medical treatment).
To facilitate easy repayment based on agricultural development and sales cycles, FUDECOSUR offers loan terms of up to 3 years, with annual rather than monthly principal repayment terms. Loan terms are also restructured to help borrowers overcome crop and cattle losses from natural disasters (such as floods and blight), and financial losses due to health emergencies.
To ensure credit services are easily accessible, affordable and sustainable, FUDECOSUR literally brings banks to remote villages in need. Leveraging dedicated volunteer networks, existing social infrastructure and building facilities, FUDECOSUR maintains low operational and servicing costs, and minimal environmental impact, while building community cohesion, and opportunities for community members to thrive.
How The Village Banks Operate: Volunteer Power!
FUDECOSUR’s Village Banks (also known as Credit Committees) are run by 5-7 dedicated volunteers, who are elected every 2 years by members of their community. Partnering with FUDECOSUR’s loan officers, Credit Committees are responsible for disbursing loans to borrowers and collecting loan payments.
As farmers with intimate knowledge of the land, and personal experience with members of their community, Credit Committees are also charged with deciding which business proposals are most apt to thrive from a micro-loan. If an unprofitable business proposal is presented (such as planting crops in areas not conducive to successful crop production), the hands-on farming expertise of Credit Committees is leveraged, to help prospective borrowers come up with alternative proposals, which will generate positive growth, and help borrowers thrive.
Where The Village Banks Operate: Mi Casa Es Tu Casa!
To ensure zero resources are spent on office construction, rent or maintenance, Village Banks operate out of existing community structures, such as a tin-roofed central market shelter, or the homes of Village Bank (Credit Committee) members.
And, since Village Banks operate in villages where borrowers reside, clients avoid costly money and time expenditures, required for travel to distant towns or cities (where national banks reside). In short, the proximity of the village banks to clients ensures unprecedentedly easy and consistent access to credit services.
When The Village Banks Operate: After The Cows Come Home!
To accommodate the demanding work schedules of agricultural borrowers, Village Banks meet every 2 weeks, on recurring set dates (i.e.: every first and third Tuesday of each month). Bank meeting times start in the late afternoon (2pm, 3pm or 4pm) to allow borrowers to meet essential crop cultivation and livestock care demands. As such, borrowers are able to access credit services without sacrificing critical production tasks and wages.
At each meeting, debt principal and interest payments for existing loans are collected, while money for new loans is solicited and disbursed.
After the 3-4 hour bank meeting ends, we bid warm farewells, with new loan profiles and hopes for better futures in hand (thanks to the generosity of Kiva lenders).
By the time the loan officer and I reach home (FUDECOSUR headquarters in San Isidro), a 10-13 hour day will have passed.
Once I reach my cozy, tin-roofed apartment, echoes of “Bump-duh-duh-thump-thump WHUMP!!!” serenades will lull me to sleep, and ring out again at the start of my next adventure.
- Village Banks BY Farmers FOR Farmers: A Micro Credit Labor of Love
- Jungle Journals – Adventures in the Wilds of Región Brunca
- More Than Microfinance – FUDECOSUR’s Free Community Development Courses
How YOU Can Help:
- Lend to a Kiva entrepreneur today!
- Apply for the Kiva Fellows Program!
- Join the FUDECOSUR lending team!
Julie Kerr is Kiva Fellow serving in San Isidro, Costa Rica. She currently supports FUDECOSUR (Foundation for the Development of Southern Communities). FUDECOSUR is a non-profit microcredit provider, dedicated to empowering Southern Costa Rica’s disenfranchised agricultural sector.