Pro Mujer International: Finalist's Statement
Pro Mujer International
The mission of Pro Mujer is to empower Latin American women to lift themselves and their families out of poverty through access to credit and links to health services. Pro Mujer believes that a small amount of money in the hands of a confident, healthy, entrepreneurial woman can make a big difference in the lives of her family and her community.
Pro Mujer works in Latin American countries where intractable poverty exists, with GDP per capita ranging between $749 and $6,320 and where socio-economic conditions for women rank in the lower end of the UNDP Human Development Index (2004). This is all compounded by the fact that women in Latin America do not receive the same level of respect in their communities as men.
Pro Mujer serves women, living in poverty, who range in age from 18 to 67, have 4-6 children, and are often single parents. They face the challenge of having been excluded from educational opportunities that men traditionally enjoy -- most have no more than an elementary education. Their lack of education prevents entrance into the formal labor sector. As a result, the majority operate micro-businesses to support their families. Most live in minor urban areas and engage in commercial activity, very often in local markets or selling from their homes.
The women's inability to offer formal guarantees prohibits access to bank credit, which makes business improvements difficult, if not impossible. Pro Mujer is one of the few legitimate sources from which women can acquire business loans to establish or improve their businesses, which increases their income stream.
The founders of Pro Mujer selected communal bank methodology because they deemed it an ideal vehicle for empowering women.
Communal banks organize women in self-selected groups of 25-35 women each, which become community associations, also called village banks. In a 16-hour training course, clients elect a board of directors to administer the meetings and they learn how to run their banks and create business plans. During this pre-credit training, women form smaller solidarity groups of five to guarantee each other's loans. If a woman is unable to repay her loan, members of her group make the payment for her. In addition to loan repayments, clients must set aside 10% of the loan amount in personal savings accounts.
The associations meet weekly in neighborhood Pro Mujer Centers to socialize, receive and pay their loans, attend business and health training, and access the health services. Unlike most micro-credit institutions, all Pro Mujer services are offered in one location. This adds value to the members at the lowest possible cost and requires the least amount of time. The community association provides a physical and emotional space for women to make decisions, share concerns, support one another in solidarity and develop leadership skills. Because of their limited resources, the women are reluctant to pay for personal healthcare. As a result, disease is a common enemy and the women suffer silently with female disorders that could be easily avoided with regular check-ups. Maternal mortality rates and infant deaths are high because of the lack of pre-natal care. To alleviate this problem Pro Mujer provides links to affordable, quality healthcare services to the women, their children and extended family members.
Since the year 2000, Pro Mujer has served over 265,608 clients in four countries: Bolivia, Peru, Nicaragua, and Mexico. The current client base is over 100,000 women within the four countries -- 55,000 clients in Bolivia alone. During the past year, Pro Mujer Affiliates have provided over 173,000 micro-enterprise loans distributing a total of $41.6 million to low income Latin American women with a default rate of less than 1%. The women, who never before in their lives had enough money to save, have collectively saved over five million dollars.
Lynne Patterson is a co-founder of Pro Mujer and serves as its Executive Director. Peter H. Johnson presides over the Board of Directors, which is comprised of twenty members, fourteen (70%) are women and three (15%) represent ethnic minorities. The network staff in New York has seven full-time employees, all (100%) are women and five (71%) are ethnic minorities. Pro Mujer also has 310 full-time local employees who manage and staff the Pro Mujer Centers in Bolivia, Peru, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Carmen Velasco, co-founder and member of the International Board is Country Director of Pro Mujer Bolivia, the first and largest affiliate.
The above information was provided by the profiled organization.