Rise of the female Honduran entrepreneur
Marta Lopez bakes up to 100 items a day in a small clay oven. Higinia Reyes owns a corn mill. Remigia Dominguez is the head of a weaving co-op. All of these women live in rural Honduras and run their own businesses with the support of loans provided by the Adelante Foundation and Rotary International.
The rural villages of the Lenca Corridor in the western highlands of Honduras are home to some of the poorest indigenous people in the country. This is where the Adelante Foundation, a microlender, finds poor women who want to become self-sufficient business owners.
Adelante collaborates, through Rotary's global grants, with the Rotary Club of Real de Minas-Tegucigalpa (Honduras), the Rotary Club of Poway-Scripps (California, USA), and several other clubs from District 5340 (California, USA). With the help of Rotary, Adelante has been able to provide business training and 600 loans to its clients. The partnership continues to grow in the departments of Intibucá and La Paz.
"Not only did [Rotary's] support enable us to provide loans, [it] also went towards the development of educational materials and other costs associated with the biweekly education program that we provide to our clients," says Gina Cappuccitti, a social impact analyst at Adelante.
Adelante takes a unique approach to microcredit loans. Rather than lending to individuals, it offers noncollateralized group loans. Four to six women take out a loan together, and if one member cannot make a payment, the others in her group cover the shortfall. Group meetings and assemblies led by credit officers foster a tightknit community that provides mutual support and encouragement. The credit officers, who also provide business advice and training, are often from the same region as their clients, and they work to build good relationships with the borrowers.
"The community now has access to badly needed products these new businesses provide, plus employment opportunities when the businesses grow," says Win Cox, international service chair of the Rotary Club of Poway-Scripps. "And as repaid loans continue to be reissued, the money Rotary invested in this region will have a transformative impact in these communities and women's lives for years to come."
Cappuccitti says that Adelante staff sees its clients as female entrepreneurs who have few opportunities rather than labeling them as poor.
"We've recognized that prior to joining, the women we work with have not received the opportunities needed to fully realize their potential," she says. "And that opportunity, and the confidence that we place in them, is what makes the difference for so many of our borrowers throughout Honduras."
Cox, who has traveled to Honduras to meet with Adelante's staff and clients, says it has been both inspiring and humbling to see that the Lenca women can start sustainable businesses with as little as $50 each.
Cox's Rotary club has supported a number of microcredit projects, but this global grant project is the largest, and that's because of Adelante's verifiable results and willingness to work closely with both host and international clubs.
"Adelante has proven to be an excellent partner -- cooperative, credible, fiscally sound, culturally sensitive, and extremely knowledgeable about how to administer a microloan program in almost inaccessible areas of Honduras," Cox adds.