Accion Ambassadors Blog

Experience the power of financial inclusion


Paraguay vs. India: the Dutch perspective

When I was living and working in Chandigarh (India) for a few months back in 2011, I was also writing a blog series ( in which I kept track of the competition I started against India and its people (I am very competitive). Every time I got frustrated with something ‘typically Indian’, India would score a few points. Every time I managed to turn a negative situation into something positive or I did something out of my comfort-zone, I scored a few points. In the end I won, of course, but it was a tight game!

Looking back at my recent stories as an Accion Ambassador and comparing these with the ones from India, I feel I have been very informative about what I’ve learned about microfinance, but not so much about the cultural differences I have been experiencing. I consider myself to be more mature now than in India and the Paraguay experience has been mainly professional, whereas in India partying was definitely a central theme as well. Reading the last sentence aloud makes me realize I am also more boring now. Anyway, for the readers that need a break from the microfinance stories (I am one of them), here is a little sneak peek into three different cultures from a Dutch perspective.

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The loan officer’s story

“Our job is about more than just giving out loans. We get involved in the women’s business, family, goals, and dreams.”

This is a loan officer speaking.

Actually, loan officer is not entirely correct. Within Fundación Paraguaya, there are basically two job positions responsible for the contact with the client. There is the Oficial de Crédito; the loan officer responsible for individual loans, and there is the Asesora de Comités; the loan officer responsible for women’s solidarity groups (“comités”). In solidarity groups, borrowers usually receive individual loans, but they are organized into groups whereby group members are jointly liable for each other’s loans.

In this case, it was an Asesora speaking. Continue reading


Poverty and the Pope in Paraguay

Against all odds, the sun is shining brightly. There is a feeling of excitement hanging in the air – excitement, but also pride. The few cars in the street are being redirected by police and army officials. The many people, however, are allowed to pass through unobstructed on their way to the absolute highlight of the year while helicopters circle above the crowds. Avenida Mariscal López is filled with tens of thousands of people on both sides of the street, wearing yellow and white t-shirts and waving the national flag. Flanked by my fellow international interns, we pick a relatively quiet spot and get to know each other a little bit better in the two hours of waiting that follow. After all, it is only day two of this new adventure on the other side of the Atlantic. Continue reading

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Community Banking: Risks and Repayment

Community banking, explained beautifully by Charlene Nemson, is supposed to be one of the safest ways to lend money. In Paraguay, where financial inclusion is very uneven, this type of product was only offered by foundations and NGOs until a couple of years ago. As the market is becoming more competitive, the banks and the financial institutions, or financieras, try to innovate to accomplish their goals.

One of the financieras that incorporated this product to their portfolio was Financiera el Comercio. Traditionally, this type of product does not incorporate other types of guarantees, just the joint guarantee from each of the group’s members. Their word is usually enough. However, the alarming growth of the non-performing loan (NPL) ratio in the last couple of months, particularly in the cities, has led to the Financiera’s overhauling of its processes.

This product should teach people to invest and save and become more accurate with finance. The idea is that once people get financial aid, they can develop their business and eventually earn their own personal loans. In the last couple of years, accentuated competition has brought money into communities traditionally excluded from financial services–but the informal economy in Paraguay is very important, and it has proven difficult to create healthy financial literacy around that. As a result, many people have become so comfortable with existing financing mechanisms that they are not changing their bad habits as quickly as we would hope.  It doesn’t help that people in the cities know that microfinance institutions do not have a real guarantee or pressure to make them pay, so they get too relaxed about their obligations.

How can the Financiera convince people to repay their loans?

Lending Group

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Once upon a time, there was a hill…

Loma Sign

Asunción is one of many cities claiming to have been built on seven hills. Thanks to microfinance, one of these hills, Loma San Jerónimo, has now become “the first touristic neighborhood of Asunción,” according to SENATUR (the Paraguayan National Tourism Secretary).

The initiative was born inside SENATUR’s 2008/2018 Tourism Development Plan, which sought funds to rescue the history and traditions of this neighborhood. The implementation would be easy, SENATUR suggested, and the office asked Financiera el Comercio (with which they had collaborated on “the best toilets on the road” campaign previously) if they would be interested in offering microcredits within the neighborhood. SENATUR would provide the promotion, ideas, and capacity-building in the area. The Financiera el Comercio immediately accepted the challenge.

The neighborhood was packed with interesting business ideas, and, as a result, Financiera el Comercio soon supported 27 new customers – 21 of them women. The initiative has been so successful that some of the customers have already begun to ask for a second loan in order to improve their businesses. Plus, the Financiera el Comercio has also organized a fair at Loma San Jerónimo this month to celebrate the Microentrepreneur Day, in which all microfinance customers of Financiera el Comercio of the central region were welcome to participate.

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Where milk comes from

Last week we left behind the bumpy streets of Asunción to take a surprisingly well-paved road that crosses the countryside and is itself most often the only trace of human existence for miles.  Cows dotted the horizon as grass spread out for miles in every direction. Our destination? Alto Paraná.

The landscape gradually changed as we approached the Brazilian border. A flourishing economy appeared before us, as could be seen by shiny billboards and new, large-scale farmhouses and agricultural shops. However, Luz and Daniel, the loan officers from El Comercio who were our guides for the trip, explained to us an entirely different reality. Just a few miles outside of Santa Rita, the economic center of the area where 80% of the population is represented by wealthy, Brazilian farmers, there lay some old, Paraguayan settlements, still yet to be touched by the region’s seeming development.

Delia Medlina at her farm with Luz, Daniel and Juan — and all feeling very welcome!

We stopped in the village of Tavapy to meet some of El Comercio’s longest-served clients. My first impression of Delia was that she was a humble person who was not afraid to show her true emotions. She was moved to tears upon receiving an international visit from myself and Juan, the other Accion Ambassador for El Comercio. But only a few minutes passed before she was smiling again and began to prouldy show us her animals and tell us about her dreams. This is her story. Continue reading


Can’t buy me love?

Love, to most of us, is one of those things that just has no easy measure, similar to art or to happiness. Nevertheless, we insist on sizing and benchmarking it and we spend our lives trying to measure what we all really feel for one another. We might even use material things or actions – like diamonds and presents – to measure how much we love or are loved by some individual or group of people.

The standard measure for love?

Well when I first met with the Planet Rating team last week, my impression was that they were trying to achieve something as difficult as measuring love: Planet Rating was assessing Financiera El Comercio’s Social Performance.

Allow me to take a step back: Planet Rating is a French Social Impact rating agency, specialized in assessing Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs) and currently evaluating Financiera El Comercio. MFI rating agencies work similarly to ordinary rating agencies (the notorious Standard&Poors, Moodys, etc) and typically come up with a final grade based upon both quantitative (financial statements) and qualitative analysis (position in industry, management expertise, etc). No need to get into technicalities and scare away profane readers, precious and loyal so far!

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