Holistic Approach, Wholehearted Yes (si!)
Today I received an email from Carlos Venturo, the Executive Director of ECLOF Peru, our ecumenical partner based in Lima. It is hard to believe a month has passed since my recent (and first) program visit. It reminded me of two things: our rich and long discussions around the program’s historical challenges, current impact, and musings over the future, and two that I needed to write a blog about my time there!
How to describe the magic, intensity, spirit, hope, needs, and challenges of people, a program, an organization, and a country? In 300 words…Impossible! Instead, I want to address the microfinance work support in Peru, ironically, in non-financial terms.
ELCOF Peru is a microfinance institution we have traditionally supported with microcredit capital. In turn, it provides microcredit (small loans) to existing and new businesses owned by poor and historically excluded populations. This is the agency’s mission and conscious way of living their faith through participating in the fight for human dignity, solidarity, and justice.
Loans are still their primary business. But, in the last two years the program has evolved to include a non-financial services program. The program aims to meet the “other” needs of clients, who are complex people with diverse needs like everyone else. The program links client to microinsurance, builds the capacity of clients to manage debt, and trains in topics such as business management and the importance of saving. To most, the relationship between building the capacity of people to increase their income, meet loan criteria, and access their own small business needs, may seem like a natural association. The reality, however, is that non-financial services such as these, offered in conjunction with a loan, can often be an exception. In ECLOF’s case, the program is becoming a competitive advantage.
What’s more, clients have also expressed the need for a spectrum of workshops that include emotional and spiritual support. ECLOF has responded. Clients can choose among personal development and health courses, ranging from intra-familial relationships, self-esteem, and social skills to ovarian cancer awareness.
One might say this type of training or workshop in a micro-finance focused project is fluffy, non-impactful, or difficult to measure. I believe that thinking is flawed. For one, clients are continuously surveyed and their responses are accessed and inform training priorities and topics. A novel idea to ask program participants what they need/want?! Two, we talk a lot about monitoring and evaluation. Numbers and figures, even in a microcredit program cannot be enough. People tell the story of every program.
I have officially gone way over my word limit, but I leave you with one last thought. When I conducted my monitoring visit to Peru I tried to listen to how mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters have been impacted by the program. That means I asked people about how they feel, how they do and want to interact with each other, and whether or not there is value in the training(s) they are participating in for the well being of themselves, their families, and their communities. Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes (si!). The clients have spoken.
Photo Credit: Community outreach in Peru, by Melissa Blanco Puno, ECLOF PERU