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GP Attends Village Bank Conference in Ecuador

by Lara Diaconu, vice president of the Health Services Fund at Global Partnerships (GP), and Ricardo Visbal, vice president of portfolio management at GP

Members of our team are in Guayaquil, Ecuador this week to attend the Sixth Latin American Forum on Village Banks (VI Foro Latinoamericano de Banca Comunal/the Forum) from August 7-9. The Forum is a regional conference that brings together actors in the financial inclusion space to discuss different methods of strengthening village banks*—one of the only means by which people living in poverty can access affordable financial services such as loans and savings accounts.

The Forum is hosted by the Rural Financial Network (Red Financiera Rural/RFR), an organization which consists of “43 Ecuadorian microfinance institutions (MFIs) that serve approximately 930,000 micro and small producers [throughout Ecuador].” Although the organization’s primary focus is community banking in Ecuador, RFR also aims to improve community banking throughout the rest of Latin America.  

In pursuit of this goal, hundreds will converge at the Forum to attend workshops, exchange ideas, and attend field visits.

Lara Diaconu, vice president of our Health Services Fund will moderate a panel called “Sustainable Models of Village Bank and Health Services.” The objective of the panel is to share perspectives on how village bank-based institutions can serve as sustainable platforms to deliver high impact and highly valued health services to clients in a sustainable way. Panelists will include representatives from our partners, including Gloria Ruiz, CEO of Pro Mujer in Nicaragua, and Francisco Moreno, CEO of ESPOIR (Ecuador). Amelia Kuklewicz from Freedom from Hunger’s Ecuador office will also participate on the panel. Panelists will speak to what benefits and challenges are implicit in the strategic decision to integrate health services into their respective institution’s mission and operations.

Ricardo Visbal, vice president of portfolio management in our Nicaragua office, will also attend the Forum to receive updates on trends in the Ecuadorian microfinance industry. Furthermore, he will meet with many of our partners that are attending the conference in order to collect updates on progress in the non-financial aspects of their work (i.e. health services, microentrepreneurship education, etc.). An additional objective is to meet with potential new partners to learn about their work, and to share with them the ways that the MFI channel can be leveraged to deliver essential non-financial services.

While in Ecuador, Ricardo will also conduct field visits to health clinics and village bank meetings administered by current partners Fundación Alternativa, Espoir and D-MIRO. During these visits, Ricardo aims to interview our partners’ management and speak with their clients in order to learn:

  • How  microentrepreneurship education can be delivered to individual credit clients that don´t attend village bank meetings;
  • If clients find the services they are receiving to be useful;
  • How Espoir, one of the partners in our Health Services Fund, is progressing in its health work; and
  • The differences between a pre-paid health services model versus a health insurance model.

Subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss our update on what happens at the Forum. For more information on the Forum, contact forobancacomunal@rfr.org.ec or visit (Spanish site) http://pro-savings.org/es/vi-foro-latinoamericano-de-banca-comunal

*Village banking is a method of financial services administration that ensures access to financial services for people living in poverty. This is made possible by keeping loan administration costs low, and by removing the need for collateral. A village bank consists of a self governing, self selected group of individuals from the same village or community that band together to receive a lump sum of credit from a microfinance institution. The village bank then divides and distributes the lump sum into smaller loans for individual village bank members. Each member acts as a guarantor for the other, thus creating a system of cross-guarantees.      

Question for our readers:   
What are some of the benefits of village banking for people living in poverty? We'd like to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.

Blog Tags: Ecuador   Espoir   Freedom from Hunger   Latin America   microfinance   Pro Mujer   VI Foro Latinoamericano de Banca Comunal   village banking   

A Fundación Alternativa credit officer shows a client how to formalize her business.
During a field visit this week with Fundación Alternativa, a microfinance institution and one of our partners in Ecuador, Ricardo Visbal, vice president of portfolio management, and Mark Coffey, chief investment and operations officer, watched as an Alternativa credit officer (left) provided a client with coaching to formalize her business, i.e. how to: obtain a business permit, pay taxes, and register employees. In doing so, Alternativa helps the client avoid any legal fines for improper business operation, which also mitigates the MFI’s own credit risk.

What Does it Take to Deliver Health Services in Haiti?

by Lara Diaconu, vice president of the Health Services Fund at Global Partnerships

During my visit to Haiti last month, I met with a Haitian social entrepreneur named Dr. Ronald LaRoche, who manages DASH (Développment des Activités de Santé en Haïti), a network of health facilities that currently provides preventive, primary and secondary health services to 40,000 people living in the country’s two largest cities—Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien.

Meeting with Dr. LaRoche was fascinating because we’re always eager to learn about effective, sustainable and scalable services that expand opportunity for people living in poverty, and the capital required to catalyze them. Delivering sustainable health care services in an economic and political environment as complex as Haiti’s is no small feat. As in many Latin American countries, the government’s health system simply does not have the capacity to deliver health care to everyone, everywhere; an overwhelming majority of health care in Haiti is currently delivered by the private sector, often linked to religious missions or NGOs supported by donor funding. And yet, 50% of the population continues to lack access to health care and essential drugs. The need in Haiti for a sustainable health solution persists, paradoxically while a substantial amount of aid money donated following the 2010 earthquake has yet to be spent. At the same time, we are painfully aware that charity can sometimes do more harm than good– Dr. LaRoche referenced several private hospital closures due to the influx of “free” health services that came with earthquake response funding—begging the question, how can philanthropy be invested well to support sustainable scalable health care models?

It appears that DASH’s current strategy might be one example. Dr. LaRoche founded DASH 30 years ago and has sustained and grown this private health care business using an HMO-like system, whereby subscribers gain access to different packages of services for either $1 or $10 per month. To date, these packages have scaled by marketing them to employers – factories and private enterprises – who purchase them for their workers.

DASH also offers a $5 per month package for individuals, which provides the same access to preventive and unlimited primary care consults covered by the $1 per month package, but also covers medicines and diagnostic lab exams with a reasonable co-pay. To date, this package has exclusively been purchased by international humanitarian agencies using donations; the beneficiaries among the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still living in temporary settlements. What will happen when aid runs out and these healthcare subsidies end? Will this population continue to purchase the health services package on their own? If not, what would the effect be on DASH operations? Would DASH need to close facilities if demand drops off? Where will this population go for health services, and how will they pay for them?

In anticipation of these two plausible events, Dr. LaRoche plans to launch a massive door to door  marketing campaign to sell the $5 per month package, with a goal to enroll 100,000 new users and invest in an additional 10 new health facilities in the next two years. Their business plans achieve sustainability when each health facility serves at least 10,000 clients. In order to achieve this growth in subscriptions, however, with this new product and sales channel, up front capital is needed to: build the infrastructure; hire and train medical and sales personnel; and to roll out the marketing campaign.

DASH will invest grant monies from the Inter-American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund (IDB/MIF) to launch this marketing effort, while investing its own profits to expand infrastructure. Although DASH may have grown to 100,000 additional clients enrolled and 10 additional sites established without any grants or donations, it certainly would have taken much longer. What happens when this two year grant expires? If successful, 100,000 new subscriptions will be active within two years, representing $6 million in annual revenue that presumably will sustain the delivery of health services to those clients over time. The difference between DASH’s venture philanthropy approach and a traditional charity approach is that the DASH model catalyzes a sustainable business plan (assuming there is demand for the product), thus benefitting more people—sooner—and over the long run.

We look forward to staying in touch with the DASH efforts, and to learning more about:

  • What costs and strategies are involved in  launching a successful marketing campaign to reach this market segment with this product;
  • Does a commission-based model deliver results in terms of sales of health services packages, and what is required to sustain this model?
  • What are the elements of a $5/month services package that are most appealing to the BoP population in Haiti, and is there sufficient economic capacity for this price point?

Question for our readers:    
What do you think it takes to build a sustainable & scalable health solution in Haiti or other developing regions of the world?  We'd like to hear from you! Please leave us a comment/question below so that we can start a conversation with you!

Blog Tags: Caribbean   Haiti   Venture Philanthropy   

A Haitian child gets screened for malnutrition.
A child of a client served by GP’s partner in Haiti, Fonkoze, gets screened for malnutrition. Learn more about our work with Fonkoze at: www.globalpartnerships.org/partners. Photo c/o Fonkoze

Going Beyond Microfinance

Microfinance has been promoted as one of the most successful economic innovations for global financial inclusion for people living in poverty. Yet, a recent study and several articles have come out questioning the value of traditional microfinance institutions to permanently lift people out of poverty. While there’s plenty of data suggesting that it has been successful at ‘poverty alleviation,’ some argue that the same cannot be said about ‘poverty reduction.’* Hard data measuring the success of traditional microfinance in terms of permanent poverty reduction remains elusive.

Our roots were built on the promise of microfinance to help alleviate poverty (relieve the stresses of poverty) and we were pioneers in investing in microfinance organizations. But as we've grown, we’ve learned that it takes more than access to capital to permanently reduce poverty. It also requires integrated services in addition to capital. That’s why we’ve shifted from investing solely in microfinance institutions (MFIs) to investing in a variety of socially-motivated organizations including cooperatives and social enterprises as well as MFIs. We select organizations that can deliver capital along with additional services within our 4 impact areas, including health care, technical assistance (for small-scale farmers), affordable solar lighting, and business/financial education (for microentrepreneurs).  

As a nonprofit impact investor, there are 3 things that differentiate us from microfinance institutions:

  1. We do not give loans directly to individuals.
  2. We use different sources of capital that include both investment loans and grants.
  3. We invest in organizations beyond the realm of microfinance institutions including cooperatives and social enterprises.

In addition to the above, we deploy our capital to catalyze promising solutions. This means we can explore and learn about new ways to expand opportunity for people living in poverty.  

*From Chris Dunford’s CGAP blog post, March 2013. Dunford is the former president & current senior fellow of Freedom from Hunger.

Learn more:

  1. Read about GP’s model.
  2. Where impact investing meets microfinance” published by CGAP.
  3. How Evidence is helping us reframe our perspective on microfinance” by Chris Dunford.


Blog Tags: cooperatives   microfinance   poverty      

GP’s director of fund performance, Tara Murphy Forde meets with 3 Crediflorida team members.
Our team conducts regular visits with partners to monitor their economic and social impact. Tara Murphy Forde (left), Director of Fund Performance, meets with members of Crediflorida, a fair-trade coffee cooperative and GP partner in Peru, that provides access to technical assistance and commercialization services in addition to tailored credit products. Read more about Crediflorida at www.globalpartnerships.org/partners. © 2013 Global Partnerships

Emerging Leaders and Small Business Owners from Latin America visit GP in Seattle

by Nathalia Rodríguez Vega, financial and economic analyst at Global Partnerships (GP)

In June a group of 14 emerging leaders and small business owners from Latin America visited our office in Seattle to discuss how we raise investment capital through strategic philanthropy, and how we use those resources to support and develop sustainable solutions to poverty. Our visitors were nominated as upcoming leaders in their respective fields by their country’s U.S. Embassy office; invited to the U.S. as participants of the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP); and were brought to Seattle by the World Affairs Council. Our meeting not only gave us the opportunity to share our work but, perhaps more notably, it provided us with a chance to have a dialogue with regional leaders about their views on the role of outcome-oriented philanthropy in solving some of the most pressing social and economic development challenges across Latin America & the Caribbean.

We also chatted about the growing trend in the impact investing field towards emphasizing the importance of measurable outcomes. One highlight from our meeting was when we started discussing Global Partnerships’ (GP) belief in the role that markets should play in creating social impact; at this point, questions and comments flew in from every corner of the conference table. Our brand of impact investing involves utilizing both investment and philanthropic capital to achieve social and financial impact through investments in local microfinance institutions, cooperatives, and social enterprises that understand their clients’ needs. In our experience, the value of using this method for addressing some of the world’s most pressing development challenges is that it creates long-term sustainable and scalable solutions that traditional charities may not be able to accomplish. Our visitors were open to this new approach and eager to ask for examples from our daily work to better understand how we create economically viable solutions for the poor. Moreover, they were interested to learn how we select our partners and ensure that they are reaching bottom of the pyramid populations. These questions gave us the opportunity to explain our screening, due diligence and monitoring processes.

When our talk shifted to our four impact areas (health services, green technology, rural livelihoods, and microentrepreneurship), we shared some additional insights into our work. For example, our visitors were interested in learning how we bridge the last mile (lack of access due to cost/geographical constraints) by leveraging distribution channels from microfinance organizations to offer green technology solutions. The examples we used from our partnerships in countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru not only enhanced our discussion, but also, offered our visitors ideas on how they can apply some of these principles in their work.

We would like to thank the World Affairs Council for giving us the opportunity to meet this group of leaders and entrepreneurs. We thoroughly enjoyed having a meaningful dialogue with them about our passion for our mission to expand opportunity for people living in poverty to improve their own lives.

Learn More:

  • Join us at Business of Hope on October 8, 2013 to learn more about how we use catalytic philanthropic capital to pioneer promising solutions to solve the problem of energy poverty.
  • Discover why leaders of mission-led organizations believe that catalytic philanthropy has a greater potential than “traditional” philanthropy to launch solutions that are scalable and sustainable.
  • Our fall issue of IMPACT, our tri-annual newsletter, will explore how we at GP measure impact and what the numbers and metrics in our reports mean. Don’t miss out—subscribe to receive IMPACT for free in your mail/inbox in September.

Blog Tags: events   Latin America   Seattle   World Affairs Council   

A delegation from Latin America attends a presentation at Global Partnerships' office.
Nathalia Rodríguez Vega, GP’s financial and economic analyst, gives a presentation on GP’s work to a delegation of emerging leaders and small business owners visiting from Latin America through the State Department’s International Leaders Visitors Program. © 2013 Global Partnerships

How do you Know if a Country’s Citizens Have Good Health Care?

Originally published in June 2013 in the Summer edition of IMPACT (GP’s tri-annual newsletter) as “Insights in Health Services”. You can subscribe to IMPACT here.

Most of us are familiar with reports on maternal and childhood mortality rates, but what other metrics should be considered when evaluating the health of a nation’s population? Some say that the answer lies within the newly launched Social Progress Index (SPI), which ranks 50 countries according to “indicators in the areas of basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.” The SPI team calculated and evaluated many indicators, including the “availability of quality healthcare.” In doing so, they found that Peru, Mexico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic (all countries in our health services portfolio) ranked in the bottom half of all countries surveyed vis-à-vis health and wellness.

Yet, we at Global Partnerships (GP) believe that the challenge is not just about availability; it’s also about access to and utilization of quality and affordable health care. In this case, access means not only affordability but also, geographic access. At GP we work with our partners to identify prevailing health conditions. We also work with them to address access and utilization challenges like: having the cash needed to visit the doctor, raising awareness of the products and services available for treatment, and having the time needed to travel to and from the doctor.

GP works with partners, including both microfinance institutions (MFIs) and cooperatives, who are interested in integrating health care services with financial products that address these challenges sustainably. For example, in our work with Fonkoze, the largest MFI in Haiti serving women at the bottom of the economic pyramid, we have collaborated to develop a new business model to ensure the health services program will no longer depend on grant funding.

We actively gather data and insights from Fonkoze’s pilot program to inform and guide the operation to scale. Key learnings include:

  • Education and basic health screening (e.g., malnutrition, diabetes) scale faster;
  • Health services that address the most prevalent patient needs and that are most valued are also the most financially sustainable;
  • Piggybacking on existing client contact opportunities facilitates delivery of additional services, increasing access and awareness;
  • Negotiating bulk discounts with strategic providers ensures reduced costs for clients; and
  • Having sufficient management experience over health experience is more important in solving the “last mile”* delivery problem, at scale and sustainably.

With these insights, Global Partnerships is working alongside Fonkoze to create and scale up a suite of sustainable services that are affordable and relevant to the women they serve.

The SPI’s stated purpose is to “elevate the quality of discussion on national priorities and to guide social investment decisions” by ranking country performance relative to one another, which is helpful for a nonprofit impact investor like GP. But in regards to health indicators, we’ve learned that it takes more than availability to make a lasting impact.

*Last mile: lack of access due to cost/geography.

 Learn More:

  1. Discover more about GP’s health services work in depth, or watch a 2 minute video that provides a quick glimpse.
  2. Read about how “empathetic capital” is used to make medical technologies affordable for all, especially those living in poverty.
  3. Have any questions about our health services work? Please let us know in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you.

Blog Tags: access   Fonkoze   global health   Haiti   last mile distribution   measuring impact   

Photo of Doña Chila, a member of COMIXMUL, a GP partner in Honduras.
Doña Chila is a member of COMIXMUL, a GP partner and women’s credit and savings cooperative in Honduras. Doña Chila has received health screenings, education, and business loans from COMIXMUL, and she serves as a volunteer community pharmacist for her rural island community. Read her full story at http://bit.ly/18lN1zu. © 2013 Global Partnerships

The Coffee Conundrum

Earlier this year, The Atlantic Monthly wrote about the conundrum coffee farmers face in growing organic coffee and fending off the rampant rust disease that has afflicted the coffee crops of Latin American farmers. If left unaddressed, Coffee Leaf Rust, which is caused by a fungus, is predicted to cause crop losses of $500M and cost over 300,000 jobs in Central America.

Given the demand for organic coffee in the U.S. and elsewhere, Steve Savage, a researcher from Colorado State University, posed the question: “Could it be that well-intentioned but uninformed consumers, in pushing for organic coffee, are supporting an option that is less beneficial from an environmental and social justice perspective?” He says that the most effective treatment is to use synthetic fungicides; however, under strict organic guidelines, farmers are not allowed to, which forces them to make a decision between maintaining organic standards but risk losing their crops and income or using conventional treatment methods and risk losing the premium pricing that they’d get on organic coffee. There’s also the option of replacing existing coffee crops with varieties that are more rust resistant, but replanting is a 3-5 year process that would necessitate longer loan terms, and depends upon availability of these rust-resistant varieties. Many reports say that the problem could get worse next year, threatening global coffee exports.

We hear about this issue a lot in talking to our partners who work with coffee farmers. There’s no easy answer but we believe giving farmers access to technical assistance and information along with affordable capital can help mitigate the disease’s impact on their crops and hopefully, help keep their farms thriving. Giving farmers the information and knowledge to make their own decisions on how to address the coffee rust issue may be the best approach.

Learn More:

  1. Get more information about GP’s work with cooperatives.
  2. Read about roya, the fungus that causes the coffee rust disease and its impact on farmers in Central America.
  3. Wired Magazine wrote a June 2013 article about the threat to “good coffee” and to the livelihoods of the farmers that produce it. 
  4. Learn more about what global development leaders (including representatives from the U.N. World Food Program, Biovision, and Sustainable Food Trust) have to say about addressing the need for sustainable agriculture during the second annual Partnering for Global Impact conference taking place from July 10-11, 2013 in Switzerland. Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #PGI2013 or follow @PGImpact.

Blog Tags: Central America   coffee   cooperatives   farmers   sustainable agriculture   

Photo of coffee farmer in Peru who is a member of Crediflorida, a Global Partnerships’ partner.
A coffee farmer picks coffee cherries from his trees in Peru. As a member of Crediflorida, a cooperative in Peru and GP partner, he receives both access to capital and technical assistance to ensure he is able to build a sustainable business for himself and his family. © 2013 Global Partnerships

Empower Africa

As we all get ready to celebrate Independence Day and our collective spirit of patriotism, it’s a good time to reflect on U.S. generosity around the world. When President Obama pledged $7 billion to support energy access in sub-Saharan Africa this week, we at Global Partnerships nodded in support. The “Power Africa” initiative that the President announced is not so much about energy as it is about empowering families to help lift themselves out of poverty.

He put the need more eloquently: “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business,” Obama said while speaking to students at Cape Town University in South Africa today. “It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.”

Worldwide, over 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity. Of those, roughly 30 million live in Latin America and the Caribbean. In under a year, Global Partnerships has invested $500K towards sustainable solar-lighting projects for off-grid families in Latin America and Haiti. 

As an impact investor, we’ve seen the transformative power of solar lights. And as an OPIC investee, we applaud OPIC’s $1.5 billion investment in addressing the global energy access gap through the President’s “Power Africa” initiative. 

Learn More:

  1. CNN video on President Obama’s $7 billion pledge to power Africa.
  2. Read about the International Energy Agency’s global status on modern energy access. 
  3. Check out ONE's blog post on 6 ways energy poverty threatens healthcare of people living in poverty. 

Blog Tags: Africa   energy   Haiti   Latin America   Obama   OPIC   renewable energy   solar energy   solar light   

Map of Africa
Map of Africa from vecteezy.com

Supporting Farmers Globally: Celebrating the UN International Day of Cooperatives (6 July 2013)

by Gregg S. Johnson, member of Board of Directors, Global Partnerships, a nonprofit impact investment organization based in Seattle, WA

On July 6, we celebrate and honor the small holder farmers from around the globe in recognition of the UN’s International Day of Cooperatives. Nearly 500 million families make their living from small-scale rural farms in the developing world. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S. These farmers support 2 billion people and “account for 97% of the world’s agricultural holdings,” yet most don’t have access to the resources, information and commercial markets needed to improve their own lives. Cooperatives play an important role in bridging that access gap.

In April, I was reminded of the dedication and hard work of these rural agricultural communities when I traveled to Latin America with Global Partnerships (GP). We got a chance to meet María Montenegro Chavarría who owns a small vegetable farm in rural Nicaragua. She obtains working capital through GP’s partner, Aldea Global, a fair trade & organic cooperative in Jinotega, Nicaragua.  But more importantly, through Aldea Global, she gains access to commercial markets to sell her broccoli and celery. This is because Aldea Global connects small-scale farmers like María and her husband, Edwin, to commercial retailers, who can pay much better prices for her produce than the local markets. Seeing a small-holder farmer like María get access to the global marketplace reminded me of how connected our world truly is. Expanding her farm will help increase the opportunities available to her and her 5 children including better education, increased income, and health.

After talking with María, I came away with a couple of thoughts:

  1. In countries with unstable currency, wealth is built by immediately investing any working capital into hard assets such as equipment, land, livestock, crops and agricultural inputs. This translates into multiple cycles of borrowing and repayment that allow both wealth accumulation and greater access to credit to finance equipment or land purchases to help them expand their farms over time. Smart business people like María can leverage credit to effectively grow their business and increase assets over time.
  2. Access to capital is not enough. When investments are supplemented by training and technical assistance, it can make a big difference between a farmer who lives from loan to loan and a farmer that is able to grow a sustainable business. Increasing quality and yields of crops and access to markets will significantly boost a family’s income and thus, provide them with more opportunities to help them improve their own lives well into the future.

This brings me back to the role of cooperatives in helping to bridge the access gap. Cooperatives play an essential role in connecting small-holder farmers with the technical assistance, commercial markets, and information they need to improve their own lives. Global Partnerships invests in cooperatives that not only help provide access to capital but also provide access to the many other resources and information small-holder farmers need to lift themselves out of poverty. 


  1. Get more information about GP’s work with cooperatives
  2. Remember: July 6, 2013 is UN International Day of Cooperatives (recognized on the 1st Saturday of July)
  3.  Support organizations that help farmers like María. 

Gregg S. Johnson is the founder of Johnson Consulting Associates, LLC. Gregg provides senior-level advisory & coaching services to a variety of for-profit & nonprofit organizations. In his not-for-profit engagements, Gregg has served a large variety of social enterprises in strategy development, business planning, and interim executive roles. Prior to starting his company, Gregg was a senior executive at Starbucks Coffee Company for over thirteen years, where he led the implementation of their worldwide operations.

Blog Tags: agriculture   cooperatives   fair trade   farmers   Latin America   supply chain   sustainability   value chain   

Maria Montenegro Chavarria, a vegetable farmer from Nicaragua and client of GP's partner, Aldea Global.
María Montenegro Chavarría is an Aldea Global client who earns a living growing vegetables and selling them to the global market. Through Aldea Global, one of GP’s partners, she has access to large, corporate retailers like Walmart, who purchase vegetables from farmers like María. © 2013 Global Partnerships