Microfinance: Field Version

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Finally! All the way down the supply chain – if you want to call it that – to the clients.

Yesterday found most of the Mexico IRP team piled into our tall awkward gringo van at an early hour, en route to Puebla, to visit yet another MFI. To learn about their work in general but also to visit – wait for it – clients in The Field! Meaning the lenders, savers, beneficiaries & customers of microfinance.

After traveling past the beautiful, volcanic and mythically tragic mountains of Popocatépetl &  Iztaccíhuatl (climbers note that Izta is fair game but Popo is off limits because it was active as recently as 1993), and making it through an itty-bitty tunnel which intimidated no Mexican drivers but our own, which is fair given the oversized & protruding AC unit on top of said awkward gringo van, we finally we arrived in Santa Ana, a smaller town outside Puebla where Emprende operates.

Emprende is the probably the opposite of Compartamos – emphasis on mission (growing client’s small businesses) to the extent that financial sustainability takes a backseat. This may or may not have led to a number of heated discussions about Compartamos (emphasis on growth and profit) v. Emprende. I’m not saying.

We had the chance to interview loan officers of Emprende, then go into the field with them to visit clients in small groups. Joel, Leher, Prof Bhatia and myself visited Eva, who has a thriving 4-year-old HerbaLife business in the front of her home, which grew out of her own experience managing her diabetes. And then we visited Alejandro & Guadalupe’s small grocery – only one of the three small businesses they own, which includes a trucking business run by the middle of 3 sons, and a cyber café run by the youngest.

All in all, it was great to have the chance to sit and talk with the small business owners who are the customers and beneficiaries of microfinance, who – whether you’re interested in the industry from a financial or social perspective, or both – are what it’s all about.

Bonus: HerbaLife shakes for everyone.

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