How successful are microfinance organizations in achieving their missions? According to a recent report, one such group, U.S.-based Friendship Bridge, shows clear evidence of achieving its aim of breaking the cycle of generational poverty among rural families in Guatemala.
“We wanted to know, are we helping our clients achieve their objective of getting more education for their children and creating more opportunities for them,” says Caitlin Scott, chief strategy officer at Friendship Bridge.
The report, produced by impact measurement company 60 Decibels, draws on phone interviews with 277 Friendship Bridge clients conducted earlier this year. The 25-year-old organization, which serves 30,000 women a year in Guatemala, provides loans of $400 or so to groups of low-income mostly rural women who would likely not be approved for loans at traditional banks. It also provides monthly educational services aimed at helping their borrowers avoid a cycle of indebtedness. The organization disbursed $25 million to more than 33,000 women in 2022.
Confidence and Skills-Building
According to Scott, Friendship Bridge had long heard anecdotally that clients, who are women with little schooling, were able to send their children through high school or college. But no one had conducted methodical research into what extent clients developed the ability to support their children in ways that opened up opportunities and the ability pursue a better future—and whether Friendship Bridge was helping them achieve those goals. With that in mind, the organization worked with 60 Decibels to investigate the issue.
Results were largely positive and Scott attributes much of that success to the monthly workshops the organization holds. Because about 60% of clients have completed just primary school and 30% have no schooling at all, the organization focuses much of its educational work on the importance for group members to support their children’s education and how to do so. It also discusses keeping a budget and other business administrative skills, financial and preventive health education and issues related to women’s and children’s rights and empowerment.
“We focus on confidence, skills and knowledge-building and creating an environment where they can apply that knowledge in a trusting environment,” says Scott. “That allows clients to feel more confident in their ability to take what they think should happen in their own homes and act upon it.”
The report’s key finding’s include:
Learning skills. Eighty-nine percent of clients say they have learned skills that allow them to support their children’s education and personal development. That includes having an increased sense of responsibility for guiding children’s actions and being better able to help with learning to read and other aspects of their personal development, along with such matters as how to talk to teachers and create a healthy environment in which to do their homework.
Engagement. Ninety-eight percent of clients strongly agree that their children are more engaged in their education than they were at the same age. The vast majority attribute all or most this change to their involvement with Friendship Bridge. Clients also report participating in more decision-making about their kids’ schooling and feeling greater optimism about their children’s futures than before.
More income. Ninety-three percent of clients say they’ve grown business income since starting to participate in the program. Also 38% increased how much they’ve been able to spend on educational costs and 74% increased the quality and quantity of the nutrition they provide their families.