Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Meet Melo, our new Matagalpa Loan Officer

I have the pleasure of introducing Maria De Los Angeles Lopez Lopez or "Melo" as our Matagalpa region's first Loan Collections Officer. With the expansion of our operations in the north of the country we have reached the capacity to require a loan officer. With our four new loan groups and many more in waiting PHPG has decided to hire local staff to assist our Program Coordinators with collections and the identification of new opportunities.

We set off by interviewing a series of well-qualified candidates for the position. But what it came down to was who had the soft skills that we felt best suited the position. Melo stood out to PHPG as one of the most proactive group leaders we've seen. She galvanized and organized her group in Susuma in ways that weren't done with other groups. This prompted Isabel to immediately offer her an interview for the position. Having spent a good amount of time observing Melo with her group and in her community we felt that she has strong interpersonal skills and wonderful ideas for how to improve our work in Matagalpa. A young mother herself, Melo is well attuned to the lives our of clients and understands their context intimately.

We are very happy to welcome Melo to our small family and hope to see great things from her soon!

Friday, October 25, 2013

An Update from Muy Muy

This post is written by Ross Harding, PHPG’s communications volunteer currently staying in the Matagalpa region.

Today, I figure it’s a good time to catch up with our big project in Muy Muy that Eric told us about a couple of weeks ago. It also has a lot to do with PHPG’s work in Microfinance Plus programming that Trent talked about a few days ago, where we’re providing both an interest-free loan along with some training and support in order to make the loan really do the most work in helping get results.

As Eric described in the first Muy Muy post, the project revolves around getting the farmers of Muy Muy black bean seeds, which we expect will give a three-fold return at current prices once we get to harvest time. Because we all know that PHPG operates on a zero-interest model, this means the community will be able to keep a really nice chunk of change that, ideally, can be used to expand their profits even further during the next growing cycle – or whatever else they think is best for their money. They earned it, we just helped.

Concerning the Microfinance Plus element, back in September Eric and I attended a meeting with the community where we discussed what our partner organization, Multipro, is offering for the workshops, and what the community themselves were most interested in.
Eric at the September meeting where the community chose what workshop topics they were interested in.
This month, the first workshop took place. Eric and I were there, and had the pleasure of participating along with them. The subject: conflict resolution.
That’s David, who was the facilitator for this workshop. It’s hard to capture this with mere pictures and words, but he’s the kind of guy whose enthusiasm is really contagious. If I were the type of person to be prone to conflict, David’s energetic and engaging presentation would have surely changed my tune.

We began with some ice-breakers to get us all a little more comfortable with one another.

Laughs were had by all, but more importantly, a comfortable and open atmosphere was established. David delivered some of his presentation via PowerPoint and lecturing, and encouraging discussion from the participants whenever possible:
The participants were divided up into groups for more in-depth brainstorming activities:
And the ultimate conflict to resolve, without losing grip on one another:
But in the end, the most assuring sign from the workshop was simply looking at the participants during the presentation and seeing them actually interested, not yawning, chatting amongst themselves, or playing with their phones.

In summary, the workshop element of PHPG’s Microfinance Plus project in Muy Muy has gotten off to a very nice start, and I look forward to talking more about it in the future.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Meet the Nicaraguan Staff

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator for the Granada region.

PHPG is run by both Nicaraguan employees and by volunteers. The Nicaraguans are the heart and soul of the operations of the organization. From the loan collections in El Pantanal every Monday and Friday, to conducting potential loan client interviews, to doing quality of life evaluations, the team does it all. The team includes Juan Carlos, Juan Carlos Jr. (Juan Carlos's son), and Tatiana. Both Juan Carlos and Tatiana live in El Pantanal and are both well-known in the community. This is easy to see as we walk the loan collections route; most of the locals stop to say hi to either Juan Carlos or Tatiana. Having this local team from El Pantanal has great benefits for the organization.

The employees also have many benefits with the job. Not only are they giving back to their own community, but they have the chance to learn about micro-lending, business practices, accounting, and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. They get to see, up-close and personal, what is working and what is not working with many local businesses in their community. They also gain valuable work experience in a economic development organization.

Without further ado, here is our Nicaraguan team:

Juan Carlos Ruiz

Job Title: Head Loan Officer (full-time)

Lives in: El Pantanal, Granada, Nicaragua

Outside of PHPG: Runs a business out of his house in El Pantanal as a Big Cola distributor, selling gas tanks, and selling Movistar cell phone credit. 

Interesting Fact: Juan Carlos was drafted into the Nicaraguan national army during revolutionary war in 1983 at the young age of 17 years old, where he was based in the northern mountains near the border of Honduras. Juan Carlos has lived in El Pantanal for over 15 years but also used to work as a fisherman in Lake Nicaragua. 

Tatiana Arias Mondoy

Job Title: Loan Officer (part-time)

Lives in: El Pantanal, Granada, Nicaragua

Outside of PHPG: Works for La Esperanza Granada, a non-profit providing teachers and volunteers to local schools. Tatiana splits her time between teaching in schools and working in the Esperanza office. Tatiana is also studying Business Administration at the Hispanoamericana University (UHISPAM), attending classes on Saturdays. As if that wasn't enough, she also helps run her family's pulperia, a corner store selling everything from bread to laundry detergent.

Interesting Fact: Tatiana's mother, Ana Mercedes, is one of PHPG's loan clients and a perfect example of the type of client PHPG looks for. She has already completed two loans, using the money to invest in her pulperia. The loans have allowed her to buy inventory in bulk, giving her a cheaper purchase price which gives her a higher profit margin. She has also been able to purchase other types of products in her store which draws more customers. The cash flow from the loans have been critical in helping her grow her business. Ana Mercedes has used her family's increased earnings to make improvements on their house, including raising their roof 3 feet with bricks to provide better ventilation against the heat.

 Juan Carlos Ruiz Jr.

Job Title: Loan Officer (part-time)

Lives in: Masaya, Nicaragua

Outside of PHPG: Studies at Colegio Cristiano Restauracion (Christian Restoration High School) with a focus on pharmacy. 

Interesting Fact: Juan Carlos is already showing his entrepreneurial spirit, as he breeds and sells rabbits as pets. He currently has 8 rabbits used for breeding. He sells the baby rabbits to friends and family for $4 each. Juan Carlos makes the trip from Masaya to Granada to work for PHPG.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

San Juanillo

This post is written by PHPG's Matagalpa region volunteer, Ross Harding.

San Juanillo is a small rural community a couple of hours away from Matagalpa by bus.

Although the journey can feel rather long, the natural beauty of Nicaragua at least makes for a pleasant view from the bus window.

San Juanillo is one of PHPG’s longer partnerships in the Matagalpa region. Our project here is part of our partnership with EOS International, which we also talked a bit about in an earlier post.

In the communities where we have partnered with EOS, generally our loans take the form of sustainable technologies such as fuel-efficient ovens or drip-irrigation systems. We also give a bit of capital, around $55, to help jump-start their business activities. With the help of PHPG and EOS, the communities we work with are able to secure livelihoods that they would have a hard time achieving otherwise.

So, how are things coming along? Regional Coordinator Eric and yours truly recently visited the community for one of our monthly collection dates.

Arriving at the local group leader’s farm, I couldn’t help but gawk at much of the picturesque beauty. Yet it is important not to romanticize things too greatly; our mandate is working with people who make on average less than $2 per day, which means despite the natural splendour of the land there is still real hardship. 

Thankfully, so far our efforts have contributed to lessening that hardship for the group we’ve been working with. Although there have been months here and there when one of the members might not be able to make the repayment (which is to be expected given the uncertainties of agricultural work), it’s certainly not a pattern. The San Juanillo group is leveraging the opportunity we at PHPG and EOS have been able to provide, and are well underway to paying it off completely. 

The group leader was happy to show us around her farm. Here’s what a plot of onions looked like in September:

And here they are in October:

So, in short, things are looking pretty healthy over in San Juanillo! We’ll definitely give another update on how things are going in this neck of the woods next month. It may be a bit of a trek to get to San Juanillo, but the gracious people, beautiful landscapes, and meaningful opportunities are certainly all worth it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Business Workshops in El Pantanal

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Granada region.

Bernie teaches 35 PHPG clients about basic accounting principles as part of our Microfinance Plus program
PHPG’s core function is to give microloans ranging from $120 to $280 to local entrepreneurs in Nicaragua. However, just as important as giving a loan is providing an opportunity to develop business skills and business education. This is often called Microfinance Plus.

In the month of October, we have a volunteer by the name of Bernie Ringer-Britz. Bernie has an incredible background with a wealth of business consulting experience. His knowledge and desire to help others has been extremely helpful for our clients and other community members. He has sat down with numerous clients to review their business one-on-one. He has given clients many new ideas for their businesses as well as giving a fresh look at their operations.

This past Sunday evening, we invited our entire group loan clients in El Pantanal to a taller, a business workshop. With a good turnout of 35 clients, we handed out a simple accounting sheet for the entrepreneurs to track their inventory, calculate their net income, and to figure out their margins for each product. The clients were very interested in the sheet and were excited to learn how to use it.

Possibly the biggest difficulty was the wide range of age and education levels within our clients. The age of the attendees ranged from 18 years old to 75 years old. Education levels range from elementary school to possibly having studied in college for a few years. Teaching to 35 students with this big of a range proved difficult; but after splitting into smaller groups, our clients walked away with an understanding of how to do basic accounting for their respective businesses and were ready to put these into action. In the future, we will be visiting each loan group individually to reinforce the concepts and to ensure everything is going smoothly with the accounting sheets.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Susuma, Matagalpa

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Granada region.

Located just two kilometers southwest of Matagalpa is a humble community called Susuma. Getting to Susuma requires a one-hour hike from the center of Matagalpa which takes you past the cemetery and into the countryside. Last Sunday, Susuma became PHPG’s newest community, as one group of six clients was selected as loan recipients. Prior to the loan distribution, the PHPG team conducted interviews on 20 perspective borrowers and also held various meetings about the loan processes and rules.

Pastor Ana introduces PHPG
In the final meeting before loan selections, one loan group made an especially good impression on the PHPG team. All groups are required to fill out an official document to form the group, including a team name, who will be the group leader, etc. This group, called Dios Es Amor (God is Love), was very organized and democratic. A young woman, named Maria de Los Angeles, immediately took the initiative and made sure everything was completed fairly with a vote. From voting on the team name to making sure everyone knew each other’s addresses, she led the team perfectly. She was unanomously selected by her group peers to be the group leader.

All of the Dios Es Amor (God is Love) group members presented their businesses
This group’s organization and positive energy made Dios Es Amor an easy selection for Susuma's first loan group. We look forward to expanding our loan portfolio in Susuma in the future!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Loan Distributions in El Pantanal

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Granada region.

Isabel visiting the homes of loan applicants

We at PHPG are continually looking for expansion. To streamline the new loan process in El Pantanal, we only take loan applications three times per year, including in March, September, and December. Because six months had passed since our last loan distributions, people in the community were anxious to apply and to go through the interview process. This was apparent as our team made rounds in the community during normal loan collection days; people continually asked more about the loans and how they can apply for the next loan distribution.

PHPG’s director, Isabel, made the trip down to assist with the loan selections. We conducted over 30 client interviews which consist of a home visit and rigorous questions about their business, their family, and their lifestyle. Several were second loan applicants, but most were applying for their first loan with PHPG. It’s easy to see the excitement in the eyes of the applicants. For many, no one had given them the chance to take out a loan, and especially not a loan with 0% interest!

One of the seven group loan applicants
After the interview process, we met as a team to make final decisions on who will be receiving the loans. We have selected five loan groups made up of 22 loan clients with a total value of about $4,000. The loans will be distributed with our standard process; half of the loan will be distributed on the first disbursement date while the second half will be distributed one week later, after the clients show the receipts of the purchases made with the first half of the loan. The PHPG team will start the loan collection process the week following the initial distribution which consists of making rounds by foot in the community to each group leader's house.

Black Bean Project in Muy Muy

This post is written by Eric Pires, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Matagalpa region.

Eric Pires, Matagalpa Program Coordinator, explaining the PHPG loan process to the Muy Muy clients

Matagalpa is a unique region of Nicaragua. The regional economy is heavily dependent upon the agricultural industry. The backbone of said economy is based around a variety of cash crops such as coffee and cacao. We have been identifying agricultural opportunities that capitalize on farmers’ capabilities as growers. Our most recent project has been through a partnership with a cooperative of fifty farmers and beekeepers in Muy Muy, Matagalpa. After discussing our financing opportunities, they approached PHPG with a project proposal. The cooperative has been seeking sources of credit to grow black beans. The local market for such beans is quite small as consumers in the region prefer red beans. That being said, the export market for black beans means that farmers could fetch a far higher price for their beans. As it so happens there is another cooperative in the region purchasing bulk amounts of black beans from farmers to export to Venezuela.

What PHPG has done is facilitate the meetings between the grower and buyer cooperatives leading to a purchase order for beans at a guaranteed price for our clients. The price may rise leading to even better prices but at the price we have negotiated they are guaranteed to triple their return on the initial investment. As soon as the contracts were signed, PHPG released the loan capital to the grower cooperative for them to buy bean seeds and begin upon this initiative. A portion of the loan capital has also been used to buy fertilizer and other agricultural inputs the farmers will need.

The Muy Muy loan clients enjoying a break in the PHPG presentation

We are also taking this opportunity to pilot a Microfinance Plus project. This project goes beyond offering loans to clients by also offering capacity building workshops. Together with the members of the cooperative, we have identified a series of workshop subjects ranging from sexual hygiene, water conservation and basic business marketing. We are contracting a group of experts in the region to design and implement the workshops on a monthly basis in collaboration with our clients. As well as improving their quality of life, we are hoping that through the workshops our clients will be able to develop innovative business ideas and opportunities they would like to pursue with future loans.

This project has been able to come together with the help of several other organizations operating in the region. ODESAR has been facilitating our meetings with the grower’s cooperative in Muy Muy. The Pulsera Project has supported us and contributed greatly to the financing of this project. They have been fundamental to PHPG’s ability to grow into new sectors and explore new initiatives in Nicaragua. Check back soon as we add more information on the progress with our Black Bean Project in Muy Muy.

Muy Muy loan client showing off his newly purchased black bean seeds

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

PHPG Expansion in San Juan de Oriente

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Granada region.

The San Juan de Oriente new loan clients along with the PHPG team

Twelve miles west of Granada, in the Masaya province, lays a town called San Juan de Oriente. As you work your way up from the lowlands of Granada, you start to feel the temperatures drops and the pace of life become a bit slower. From the main highway passing by, you’d never know what San Juan de Oriente offers. The town’s economy is based on the production of ceramics. It is said that 80% of the town population are involved in ceramics. The ceramics created here in this humble town are internationally famous. This is with good reason, as the ceramics are incredible pieces of art. The world-class artists send their products all over the world and even host a few competitions in their town that draw wide attention.

One may wonder why this town of 5,000 inhabitants is specialized in ceramics and so good at what they do. In the 1970s, several international organizations made a big push to revive the traditional craft. Ceramic specialists from North America, Europe, and Cuba, came to San Juan de Oriente to train the locals on the art. The excited community had a great feeling about the future of ceramics and what it may bring to the local economy. For many, it has done wonders for their financial situation. Others are still struggling due to the relatively small market in Nicaragua.

Ceramics created by San Juan de Oriente artisan, Jacobo

PHPG has now entered into a new partnership with Esperanza en Accion, a fair-trade non-profit organization specializing in Nicaraguan ceramics and crafts. With the partnership, PHPG has given one group loan consisting of six artisans who also work with Esperanza en Accion. Each of the artisans creates ceramics, and each will use their loans in a similar manner. Financially, the artisans have difficulties in buying the light blue color of paint that is used. This color, celeste, is only produced in the US and is then exported, making it very expensive. Making the cost even higher is the fact that there is only one place in San Juan de Oriente that sells this type of paint. Putting the cash upfront to purchase this paint can be extremely challenging for a local artisan. With PHPG’s loan, each of the six loan clients will have the ability to make this purchase to continue using the beautiful light blue color in their crafts. We’re looking forward to working more with Esperanza and Accion and ceramic artisans in San Juan de Oriente!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Credit as a Human Right

This post is written by PHPG's summer intern, Charlie Bates. Charlie recently finished his sophomore year at Villanova University. Majoring in economics, he is spending the summer in Granada working as a microfinance intern with PHPG and also volunteers at a local elementary school with La Esperanza

The PHPG team on a loan collections day in El Pantanal

In the United States, it's common to see ads for websites that offer to calculate credit scores (think freecreditreport.com). The point is obviously to judge whether someone is deserving of the privilege of access to credit. Being a 20-year-old college student, I'm fortunate enough to not know much more than that about credit scores. As I've been working with PHPG, though, I've recently been reflecting the role of credit in light of a very interesting idea by Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer of microfinance. 

Yunus often repeats his deeply embedded belief, “Credit is a fundamental human right.” My first thought: isn't access to credit a privilege given to those who are deserving?

According to Yunus, access to credit is a human right because it allows people to earn themselves the things they're entitled to by virtue of their birth: food, water, shelter, education, etc. It's a human right because, without it, a substantial percentage of the world's population cannot earn enough to afford such basic necessities. 

Most people in El Pantanal, one of the communities in which PHPG works, do not otherwise have access to the credit. For those in the US who use sites like freecreditreport.com to help them get a loan for a car or a luxury item, credit is a privilege; for the folks in El Pantanal who need it to have a chance at creating a better life, it's undeniably a right. But of course, rights come with responsibilities (namely, to repay the loans). And as I explained in my last post, PHPG's clients in El Pantanal understand that responsibility.  

I'm drawing attention to this because, both for us in Nicaragua and for our supporters in the US, it's important to reflect on why we provide access to credit. People Helping People Global doesn't do it because it's a nice thing to do; we do it because we also believe that credit is a fundamental human right.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Pulsera Project Loans in Action

This post is written by Trent Shelton, PHPG's Program Coordinator in the Granada region.

A month ago, we distributed 10 loans to members of the Pulsera Project cooperative. In the past 30 days, each client has had the chance to invest the loan into their own business. Ranging from businesses of buying and selling cheese to repairing and selling cell phones, the young adults are now in action with their own businesses. Here are highlights of a few of the businesses.


Yelma, one of the Pulsera Project’s long time coop members, has always wanted to start his own business of raising chickens. However, the high start-up cost was always the main obstacle. Owning a small piece of land on the outskirts of Granada, he was prepared to make his dream come true. With the help of the loan provided by the partnership between the Pulsera Project and PHPG, Yelma has put his business plan into action.

Yelma has constructed a chicken coup equipped with all the necessities. During the day, he makes sure someone is there to take care of the operation, usually himself or a member of his family. To start, 102 chicks were purchased. After raising the chickens to maturity, he will sell them at the local market to earn his profit. Afterwards, more chicks will then be purchased to restart the cycle. Over time, Yelma plans to reinvest his profits to expand the size of his chicken coup in order to raise more chickens and to continually increase his earnings.

Yelma's Chicken Coup

PHPG's Juan Carlos, taking the opportunity to check out the chicken coup

Yelma has purchased 102 chicks which will eventually be sold in the local market


Made up of Ernesto, Rommel, Adolfo, and Geovanny, the loan group called the Hamaqueros specialize in the production of hand-made hammocks. Each member was given a loan of about $200, which was used by each of them to invest in their own hammock workshop, tools, and materials. The high-quality hammocks are sold in the Pulsera Project store in Granada. Each hammock takes about 8 hours to make.

Ernesto using his newly purchased hammock workshop

Adolfo preparing his materials

Rommel takes a break from making a hammock to create one of his popular bracelets

Monday, July 15, 2013

PHPG's Partnership with the Pulsera Project

This post is written by Trent Shelton, the new Program Coordinator in Granada. Trent has taken over for Kyle Engelken, who had the position from January until July of this year. PHPG would like to thank Kyle for all of his hard work and dedication to the organization the past six months. Kyle’s passion for microfinance and his desire to help others showed through his high quality of work. Kyle will continue to stay active with PHPG while completing his MBA at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Trent Shelton - Granada Program Coordinator

It is an exciting time to be part of PHPG! We have many projects in the works and a few more that have recently hit the ground running.

In June, the PHPG team conducted several business training sessions with current clients. Reviewing business concepts like basic accounting and inventory management, the clients left with new accounting notebooks and ideas to implement into their businesses.

Another exciting project is our new partnership with the Pulsera Project. The Pulsera Project’s mission is to educate, empower, and connect Nicaraguan youth with US students. They accomplish this by taking in street kids, teaching them the skills to create bracelets and other artisans, and finally selling the products through their fair-trade business in the US. The project has been hugely successful and the artisans are sold at over 350 schools in the US.

Many of the Pulsera Project’s clients have the desire to start their own businesses, to go off on their own and become entrepreneurs. Combining Pulsera’s successful clients and PHPG’s microloan expertise, a partnership was created.

On June 17th, our team headed over to Pulsera’s beautiful office, located just half a block east of Parque Central. Having already received the loan solicitations and business plans, we met with all 10 potential clients to discuss the microlending program. Juan Carlos, our head loan officer, walked through many examples showing the amount of the loan, the monthly payment, what the entrepreneur would need to earn, etc. The group of borrowers consists of young adults between the ages of 20 and 30, and the businesses rang from making hammocks, to buying and selling cheese, to creating a chicken coup. The entire group was very involved in the discussion and had many great questions. There is no doubt that this discussion made the loan seem more real for the entrepreneurs. The group was excited. They know that this is an incredible chance to create something new; an enormous opportunity but also a huge responsibility.

Pulsera Project clients reading over the terms of their loans.

After conducting interviews with each client, our team evaluated the loans and made decisions on the terms of each loan (total loan amount, repayment period, collection dates, etc.). To continue with our group lending strategy, the clients created three different loan groups named Pulsera 1, Los Colores, and Los Hamaqueros.

On July 1st, we distributed the loans to the excited group. After reviewing the loan terms and having each individual sign the loan contract, Juan Carlos dished out the money. Some, being the joking types, used this as an opportunity to act like they just won in the gameshow “The Price is Right”. All in good humor!

Juan Carlos (left) distributing the loan payment to Carlos Meneses. Carlos has started his business repairing and selling cell phones.

Living just a few blocks away from the Pulsera Project office, I often see the entrepreneurs. Out of curiosity, I asked around just a few days later if they’ve used the money yet to start the business. Within 48 hours, everyone I asked had already purchased tools, inventory, etc. The hammock makers had purchased the tools and materials needed to start producing hammocks. Another gentleman, named Marcos, had already started his business of selling artisans on La Calzada, the main pedestrian street in Granada. He had already purchased a table and a solid selection of inventory to sell to tourists looking for a souvenir from Nicaragua.

I truly look forward to keeping in touch with the clients to see how their businesses are going and to work with them in the process. The exciting partnership between the Pulsera Project and PHPG has now officially hit the ground, and we look forward to working with their incredible organization more in the future.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Repayment Rates

This post is written by PHPG's summer intern, Charlie Bates. Charlie recently finished his sophomore year at Villanova University. Majoring in economics, he is spending the summer in Granada working as a microfinance intern with PHPG and also volunteers at a local elementary school with La Esperanza

PHPG Summer Intern
Charlie Bates - PHPG's Summer Intern

Microfinance has often been termed a miracle. While I don’t seek to address such a bold claim, I would like to draw your attention to a characteristic of microloans that is indeed surprising: their extremely high repayment rates. Unlike traditional banks, most microfinance organizations (at least those that are truly mission-focused) do not require collateral, nor do they have the legal protection from bad debts that traditional banks enjoy. But according to the Grameen Foundation, a pioneering microfinance organization, microloans to impoverished clients have a higher repayment rate than both US student loans and credit card debt.

In PHPG’s case, this translates to a repayment rate well above 90%. How is it possible to give a loan to someone who lacks many resources, except for business skills and a will to succeed, and continue to retain such a high repayment rate?

An easy start is to focus lending efforts on women, who are consistently marginalized in less-developed countries like Nicaragua. The Grameen Foundation points to numerous studies that demonstrate that women are far more likely to invest loans in their businesses and to use the proceeds for their children’s education and health. The fact that 78% of PHPG’s clients are women partially explains our high repayment rate.

Another way that microfinance organizations ensure repayment is by working with clients in “solidarity groups”. Forming groups encourages collaboration and mutual support and provides some healthy peer pressure to repay.

PHPG has seen a tremendous improvement in repayment rates since it started working exclusively in groups. We designate an especially qualified community member as a group leader, and he or she is responsible for collecting the repayments of the other group members and reporting any concerns. Being a group leader is a huge responsibility; if one of the clients does not repay his or her loan, no one in the group is eligible for an additional loan. This sense of responsibility helps increase repayment rates.

Juan Carlos & Juan Carlos Jr. collecting from a group leader

Since microfinance is very relationship-based, a key part of ensuring repayment is to establish and maintain relationships with the clients. More difficult in larger microfinance institutions, this is one of the hallmarks of PHPG’s operations. At our weekly collections, we visit the houses of the individuals and group leaders. Juan Carlos, our professional yet good-humored field manager (he’s an important part of the organization - you’ll be hearing more about him on this blog soon), is the point person for discussing repayment issues with clients. By making an effort to understand their situation and taking whatever steps we can to help, PHPG’s forming of relationships through consistent visits is vital to improving and maintaining our high repayment rate.

On a personal level, repayment comes from the clients’ gratitude for their loan, their dedication to their businesses and families, and their desire to see others in the community succeed using the same funds. It has been interesting to see the effects of PHPG’s measures to ensure repayment, and I look forward to seeing how they develop throughout my time here.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Sum of my experience with PHPG in Granada by Lana Balyk

It is hard to believe that I already find myself back in Canada, since it seems like just last month I wrote my last blog entry while preparing to depart for Nicaragua. Five months have passed since then, during which time PHPG has continued to move forward with strengthening its micro-loan programs, and also has seen the arrival of new and talented interns and employees.

The first part of my time in Granada was mainly spent getting to know the program, which was transitioning in a new direction with new ideas and new staff, as well as getting to know the city of Granada itself. The Granada based employees are great staff, and PHPG lucked out finding such great workers who really believe in their organization. If I did not already have an idea about the difficulty of getting set up in a new city and getting work underway during a holiday period in Nicaragua (most of the month of December), I would have learned that very quickly! However that is a very special time to experience Granada, which still holds to the tradition of everyone lighting off their own fireworks intermittently throughout the month, and of course all together at once for hours on Christmas and New Years in a midnight symphony of exciting and slightly dangerous mayhem! I always enjoy a warm Christmas, and the temperature is great in Granada at this time of year.

Juan Carlos, Lana, & Kyle conducting a PHPG informational meeting
Into the New Year another intern arrived, Kyle, and we set out gathering information and making observations about PHPG’s clients and current loan program, as well as planning and delivering a workshop to educate clients on our loan procedures, and prepare them for when Alex and Isabel would arrive in February to organize more loans. During this time the heat continued to climb, and working outdoors in our communities gave me a new appreciation of how people are able to spend all day working outdoors in tropical countries. If Canada had that kind of heat, I think the ongoing highway construction and maintenance that goes on every summer would come to a halt!

Once Alex and Isabel arrived then all of us coordinated, shared ideas, made adjustments and moved forward with preparing PHPG’s clients for the next installments of loans. It was especially great to see our Granada employees have a strong role with the planning as well, as I really feel that they know their communities and their cultural contexts best. The interviews were one of the most interesting parts of my time in Granada, and it was so interesting to see the different businesses our clients have, and what they wanted to do with them. Some of the clients we normally visit are ambulatory vendors who do not necessarily sell their wares or products from their home or have them on hand to view, so the interviews were a great chance to see some different businesses in action, such as people producing leather shoes from scratch, or creating silver jewelry. Once the first loans were dispersed, it was interesting to see what clients used them for, how they modified their businesses, or how one even built a clothing shop in front of her home to display her wares. Unfortunately I returned to Canada before the next round of loans was handed out, so I was unable to take part in that work, but I am glad to hear that it went just as well.

The PHPG team reviewing & signing disbursement documentation
I am very glad that I was still in Nicaragua to be part of the interview and initial loan disbursement process, since that was one of the highlights of my job in Granada. The communities that PHPG work with are very lacking in resources, including regular electricity or in-home running water. However most of the clients I spoke with seem happy with their lives, and feel positive about their children’s prospects. It was really great to see how some people worked really hard to grow their businesses, and how proud they are of their efforts.

My experience in Nicaragua with PHPG was very valuable to me in that it allowed me to learn more about micro-finance in general, as well as gain practical experience about the workings of a small micro-finance NGO. In addition I was able to meet some wonderful people, gain some different perspectives and contribute to an organization that continues to grow and develop.