Community Finance Guatemala
The mission of Community Finance Guatemala is to support indigenous Guatemalan women with the necessary knowledge and tools to empower themselves to organize their own financial systems. These systems improve social cohesion and enable members to live lives of greater opportunity and security.
Our vision is that the women of Guatemala and the families they support live healthy and happy lives free from financial uncertainty and instability.
Thousands of indigenous Maya households throughout Guatemala live in perpetual financial uncertainty and instability. Low levels of education, high rates of illiteracy, low wages, and inconsistent cashflows make financial planning a daunting challenge. Instead, a day-to-day mentality permeates life, with most people focused on having enough food and basic resources to make it to tomorrow. This situation has far-ranging implications in all areas of life.
Community Finance Guatemala provides financial education workshops designed to meet participants where they are at regarding literacy level, education level and financial situation. Interested participants can also decide to receive savings group trainings to learn how to create and manage their own informal community bank. These community banks are comprised of friends and family members, are based on a solid foundation of trust, and provide easy access to financial services such as savings and lending on their own terms.
The Project’s History
Program founder and director Andrew Becker arrived in Guatemala in 2013 to consult for a local social business, Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom), which is dedicated to offering innovative services to alleviate many of the challenges faced by the indigenous populations throughout the country. By working with their local team and leveraging pre-existing relationships, Andrew was able to gain a deep understanding of the aforementioned financial situations of many rural indigenous Maya families. After countless individual and group discussions with constituents, Andrew designed the Community Finance Program.
While Andrew was able to support and train a few savings groups on his own, the Community Finance Program really didn’t take off until he struck gold, finding two incredible local heroes of Comalapa, Doña Maria Sotz and her son Wilfred Son. Since they are Kakchiquel Maya themselves, they possess a much better understanding of the intricacies of the daily life of their community. That insider knowledge and experience having worked to support their fellow community members in various ways for more than a decade allowed them to hit the ground running after receiving training to become SolCom Community Finance Advisors.
Since finishing their training in June 2016, Doña Maria and Wilfred have gone on to provide financial education to more than 500 community members and have facilitated the creation of 21 savings groups that have collectively saved more than $70,000 and have distributed more than $115,000 in total loans, earning the group members collectively over $18,000 in interest! They have also recruited and trained two new team members from the communities where they work.
Since March of 2020, when the Corona Virus first arrived in Guatemala, the CFG team has shifted gears to provide preventative support to the 15 communities where they work. Through the creation and facilitation of a WhatsApp group, the team has been disseminating accurate and updated information about the virus to the majority of the 280 families in the program. This group has also served as a way to maintain a sense of solidarity among members as they quarantine themselves at home.
As many families began to lose their main sources of income the risk of food insecurity increased. To combat this unforeseen effect, the team provided several seed packets for the families to start their own home gardens. They also shared instructional videos and pamphlets to help the families get started. The gardens grew quickly, and the group members began to share photos in the WhatsApp group of their first harvests in late May. Many families have been able to sell the extra vegetables to their neighbors to earn a little extra income as well.
Now that they have all survived the initial shock and are discovering new rhythms, the savings groups are innovating to find ways to continue their activities. The local team has created a safety packet with suggestions about how to hold group meetings safely, and some groups are beginning to do so. Having access again to their savings and loans has been a great support to many of the families.