Community Impact: Microfinance with ALTERNATIVA
ALTERNATIVA, A New Way of Doing Microfinance
Many citizens of Nicaragua struggle with financial insecurity and over half of the population live below the poverty line. A lack of initial capital needed to get loans from banks, and not having institutional support to develop their businesses only adds to the financial struggles of many citizens. In the early 1990s, microfinance organizations began forming with the intentions of financial and economic education but instead became pure loan companies. Association for Equitable Economic Development (ALTERNATIVA) was founded in Masaya, Nicaragua in 1999 to refocus the emphasis to financial and economic education. ALTERNATIVA brought to these communities economic education through emphasizing financial teaching and training, cooperative assistance and community banking groups, and very low-interest rate loans, while also supporting and strengthening gender equality and women’s rights. In 2004, FSD began an official partnership with ALTERNATIVA to support their mission and bring financial inclusion to community members in Masaya.
Impact of Internship Projects
In 2006, Dana Moore interned with FSD and ALTERNATIVA to provide basic business training workshops to ALTERNATIVA's clients who needed more financial skills to grow their businesses. This project targeted 17 small businesses in Masaya that wanted to improve their livelihood through a loan from ALTERNATIVA. These businesses did not feel confident in their knowledge of how to manage a loan. Dana responded to this need by developing focused workshops that would train these small businesses in record keeping, accounting, cost management, planning and organizing, marketing, and leadership. Beginning in 2007, Sherill Lane was able to work with ALTERNATIVA’s own business in strengthening their internet communications. She created a website for ALTERNATIVA to allow them to demonstrate their credibility visually in order to further develop relationships with other established NGO’s.
Three years later, in 2010, Patrick Mellors an intern from the University of Virginia, implemented a database program for all accounting information, allowing an efficient system for ALTERNATIVA and its Masayan Artisans (any micro-entrepreneurs, including shoemakers and textile artisans) to pinpoint current and future macroeconomic trends and react appropriately. This data program helped ALTERNATIVA and future FSD interns to provide dynamic technical assistance based on empirical data. The next year, 2011, David Crowly an intern from the University of Notre Dame, lead a project in San Juan de Oriente, a small town near the city of Masaya. He constructed more efficiently-designed brick ovens for hand-making ceramic crafts. These ovens enabled the artisans to employ the same trade that they have been using for generations thus providing a steady source of income, higher-quality products at a faster rate, and a decrease in health risks by reducing the use of harmful materials to the environment.
Vincent D’Ambrosio from the University of Colorado-Boulder worked with ALTERNATIVA in 2012 where he researched the development of a communal bank for the communities surrounding Masaya. He also started a reading program with MASINFA, a local school. That same year, Diana McKeage from Harvard University, worked with ALTERNATIVA’s organization of forums to create an ongoing dialogue on export consortia and associative work, the influence of public policy, and child labor. These forums allowed for timely sharing of knowledge among local leaders, constructing a space for discussion. At the same time, Abbie Hyche, an intern from the University of Alabama, organized a project that worked to prevent early pregnancy and other health risks in Pacayita, a small village on the outskirts of Masaya. She tackled this issue through education, self-confidence building projects and the empowerment of youth educators.
Following Abbie’s project in 2013, Ashley Leonardelli, an intern from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, worked with the women and the LGBTQ community to implement a “personal empowerment” workshop series, where they explored important themes such as self-esteem, the importance of mental and physical health and defending women’s rights. Andrea Ringer, an intern from the University of Notre Dame, held workshops for the shoemakers of la Red de Calzados in 2015 to enhance their business skill set. Andrea focused the workshops on training the shoemakers in new shoe design, managing costs and pricing, developing marketing strategies, and ensuring quality control. In addition, the project worked with the network members to implement a system of continued communication between all shoemakers of la Red de Calzados. In 2015, a group of consultants from Deloitte joined ALTERNATIVA for a Group Service Trip and helped design a Credit Scorecard as a framework for a balanced risk portfolio. The Deloitte team also created a CAMEL Financial Performance Tool which helps ALTERNATIVA analyze the financial stability of the organization.
Working with FSD has helped ALTERNATIVA grow into an organization with a far reach and high impact. Leonardo Martinez, the Director of ALTERNATIVA said, “The support of FSD has contributed to the construction of a targeted vision in microcredit. With the help of FSD, ALTERNATIVA has focused on local development with a complementary focus on strategic social investment.”