How well do you know yourself? What do you consider yourself talented at? What dreams do you have?
These questions are ones that can easily put people on a thinking spree, but for the loan officers of Fundacion Paraguaya, these are the questions that they ask every day to the women’s committees with whom they work. A typical committee is made of around 12-17 women, and with such a large group, you are bound to see all kinds of personalities and a unique life story for each female member.
During the first few loans, the loan officer is the mentor to the group: she motivates the women to be entrepreneurial, to value their own ideas, and to understand the steps and start thinking about how to start a business, among other things. But as time passes, and the women repay and renew their loans, and start and improve their businesses, a mentor emerges from within the group and takes on the role of the committee president. Usually the president exhibits more security thanks to a higher than average education or income and this helps her lead others in the same route.
How to get Josefa to smile?
South of Asuncion in a town called Ita, at a sweltering 100 degrees F, Lucia Avaros, the national coordinator of the Microfranchise program, is trying to convince Josefa Torales, a 51-year-old woman, to become more independent. Josefa says that she has never had the need to work since her husband provides her with everything that she needs. But Lucia asks her, ‘then why are you part of a committee in order to take out a loan?’ Josefa confesses that her husband doesn’t always pay all the bills on time and that he sometimes doesn’t earn enough or spends part of it on drinking. Lucia reminds Josefa that if she did have her own source of income, she wouldn’t have to worry so much about the bills and could instead pay them on time — and maybe even have some extra pocket-money for herself. ‘Isn’t there anything you want for yourself?’ Lucia asks Josefa.
‘I would like to go to the dentist, because I have lost some of my teeth and I cannot chew properly,’ Josefa replies.
(This issue is actually a very common problem in Paraguay. Fundacion Paraguaya has a poverty index that measures a number of indicators as to the quality of life of their clients, and Josefa’s situation is a common one: many clients’ main problems are health and infrastructure related. Specifically, lack of vision and dental care and the lack of kitchen and bathroom facilities).
But to Josefa’s reply, Lucia has another counter argument, ‘I have a business proposition for you, Josefa.’
Lucia shows Josefa a vision kit that is offered by Fundacion Paraguaya as a microfranchise opportunity to sell eye glasses.
The vision kit has turned out to have a tremendous impact on its owners. It isn’t the typical business that everyone gets into, so there is not too much competition for customers, and there is a large demand of people who need eyeglasses but who either do not have the money to go to the doctor or do not consider it a priority. Lucia trained Josefa on how to offer a visual exam to others and provide her customers with the eye glasses they need. Hopefully, Josefa will soon have the extra money that she needs to go to the dentist and smile again.