BOLIVIA: Communal Banks extend credit, Empower Women

Communal banks extend credit, empower women and build equity in rural Bolivia


Communal banks extend credit, empower women and build equity in rural Bolivia

POCOATA, Bolivia, 23 May 2011 – It takes money to make money. Just ask Pilar Rueda, 38, a Quechua mother of two from this remote rural town in the Bolivian department of Potosí. She and much of her community have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty through ‘Bancos Comunales’ – Communal Banks – an innovative project developed by UNICEF.


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Pilar Rueda is an unlikely entrepreneur. The 38-year-old mother of two lives in the remote village of Pocoata, Bolivia, where poverty is commonplace and economic opportunities for women are scarce.

Behind Pilar’s success lies an innovative banking project called PROANDES which was developed by UNICEF. It extends credit to indigenous people, mainly women, who fund small, income-generating ventures. Unlike micro-credit programs offered by traditional banks, this project charges low interest rates, and is entirely directed and driven by the community itself.

Pilar has leveraged her increased spending power to expand the offerings in her small family store. The increased revenue helped her purchase an ice cream maker, which in turn allowed her to buy supplies and begin knitting and painting textiles to sell in her shop.

SOUNDBITE (Spanish), Pilar Rueda, entrepreneur:

“Here, the men are appreciating more what women are doing because the women now know how to manage the money. Women can now do business. They don’t depend anymore on men. Women are working and taking care of their children. So now mothers can buy whatever their children need. They are not waiting for their husbands. Men are feeling proud of their women.”

Under the PROANDES model, community banks offer loans up to about 400 US dollars at an interest rate of two percent for repayment in a year. Borrowers like Pilar must begin repayments a month after the loan is provided. If they are late, the community steps forward and pressures them to meet their financial obligations. So far, only a few borrowers have defaulted.

Pilar has emerged as a leader in the community. She never attended secondary school, but her increased income has helped Pilar send her son to college and provide enough money to buy the supplies that keep her daughter in school, in a country where nearly two out of three families live in poverty.

UNICEF is particularly pleased with a facet of the program that allows women like Pilar to continue her own education, while she earns money to help pay for the education of her children.

SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Katharina Imhof, Cchief of eEducation, /deputy representative, UNICEF Bolivia:

“They are a role model for girls in their communities because they have achieved a lot. They probably couldn’t read and write until they were 40 and now they have learned and they have not only learned reading and writing, and calculating and math, but they are also have a position now in the community which is different to the position before. Now they are contributing to decisions in the communities and not only in the communities but also at a municipality level.”

The PROANDES community banking initiative stands as a strong reminder that empowering women like Pilar is one of the most effective ways to alleviate poverty.

UNICEF correspondent Tanya Turkovich reports on a community banking initiative that extends credit and empowers women in Bolivia’s rural indigenous communities. Produced by Thomas Nybo.


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