My hands may be SMALL, but my ideas are BIG


Interview with Allison Berman of Pro Mujer-Microfinance for Women

One of my best friends, Allison Berman, lives in New York City as a 20-something Finance Analyst and works at the Spanish Non-Profit, Pro Mujer ("for women"). I am intrigued by micro-finance and even wrote a post earlier about Meaningful Holiday Gift Ideas which included Pro Mujer's services. Then the inspiration wheel began to spin and I inquired further, encouaring Ali to let me interview her to share here. She obliged and below is the interview:
Ali in Greece, just part of her many travels and life abroad

G: What is Pro Mujer and what sort of services do you provide?
A: Pro Mujer is an international micro finance (banking and/or financial services targeted to low-and-moderate income businesses or households, including the provision of credit) womens development organization whose mission is to provide Latin America’s poorest women with the means to build livelihoods for themselves and futures for their families through microfinance, business training, and healthcare support.

Pro Mujer provides an integrated package of financial and personal development services that women require to build and improve their small businesses. Over the last 18 years, Pro Mujer’s microfinance institutions (in Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Argentina) have disbursed $582 million in small loans — ranging from $50 to $1,500 with an average loan balance of $268. Pro Mujer serves 222,000 clients (borrowers and savers); and more than 1.1 children and extended family members.

Along with the financial services, a key part of the Pro Mujer model is health services. Since the survival of a clients business and ability to succeed is intimately tied to her physical and mental health, Pro Mujer uses the repayment meetings to raise women’s awareness of the importance of taking good of themselves through primary health care and regular screenings to detect disease early. Though the model differs from country to country, based on client needs and the existing health infrastructure, the goal is the same- to help women maintain their own health and the health of their children and families through primary health care and regular exams that detect disease early.

G: That's incredible! So specifically, what do you do at Pro Mujer?
A: I work with the finance team at Pro Mujer, as a Finance Analyst. I take care of the day to day accounting, help with the management of our small $2.5 million dollar loan fund, pay the bills, maintain our account receivable/payable with our country programs, and other administrative financial work.

G: In terms of services, I noticed that Pro Mujer offers financial services AND empowerment training? Can you explain this?
A: While most microfinance institutions focus only on financial services, Pro Mujer uses a holistic approach, making sure that clients are better prepared physically, emotionally and economically to improve their lives and that of their children. Pro Mujer teaches women about domestic violence, women’s rights, communication skills, using workshops and group discussions to raise their awareness about leadership, gender issues, and self-esteem. It also links clients with other organizations for counseling, legal assistance, and education and vocational training programs.

G: With the economy like it is what have you had to do to not lose donations and investors?
A: This is difficult to say. It currently is unclear how the economic crisis will affect our funding, as we have yet to finish the 1st quarter, which is always slower in general. It is important to stress to donors and investors that Pro Mujer has a vision looking forward and is still anticipating growth in the coming year. Although we are being affected by our current economic situation, in the countries where Pro Mujer works, almost half of all families live on less than $2 a day. When you put that into perspective of our lives, whatever you can do to help a good cause is always important.

G: What about micro finance and loans for women inspires you?
A: It is inspiring to see how motivated our clients are. Although I have yet to go visit the operations (hopefully soon!), I hear endless stories and have met a few clients in person. What inspires me everyday is how believing in someone can lead to success. Our historical loan repayment rate in 18 years is 99%. The women want to succeed and create a better life for the family; they just needed access to credit.

Angela Narváez is pottery maker and a client with Pro Mujer Nicaragua. Angela’s first loan was $80. Today, almost nine years later, her loan is $670. Angela uses her loans to buy clay, pieces of wood, paint and cement and to travel to larger markets where she can get a better price for her pieces. “I used to sell the clay tortilla dishes and clay cows for $2 a piece, but now I sell them for between $4 and $8. Pro Mujer taught me how to market our products, make new designs, paint better and diversify our products” says Angela. Angela said her family has also benefited from Pro Mujer. Her daughters attend school, everyone is eating better, and they bought furniture and appliances that have raised their quality of life. “My family encourages me to stay with Pro Mujer. They know what a huge difference it has made in our lives,” said Angela. These stories are what inspire me about the work that Pro Mujer does.

G: How can we do our part by giving back?
A: You can visit our website to learn more about Pro Mujer and read some inspiring stories about how our organization has helped the very poor rise out of poverty. Please visit to help poor women in Latin America to start their own business and obtain healthcare for themselves and their families.
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