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11 hours in Yopal, Colombia with GP partner Amanecer

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by Mark Coffey, chief investment and operating officer, Global Partnerships

My plane leaves Bogota, Colombia for Yopal at 6:09 am on a chilly and damp morning. I am disappointed to learn that I am seated in the last row in a window seat.  However, I soon learn that I am fortunate to be in that seat.

Sitting next to me is a young project engineer from Bogota named Adriana. She travels to Yopal once a week to consult and monitor projects in this oil-rich region for her employer, Houston-based Environmental Resources Management. I tell her that I’m going to attend a 20th anniversary celebration hosted by one of Global Partnerships’ longtime partners, Fundacion Amanecer, a microfinance and training institution founded by a group of local companies. Adriana is interested in collaboration opportunities between ERM and Amanecer, and we spend the next hour talking.

The plane ride passes by quickly as we chat. Suddenly I look out the window and realize that the emerald-colored eastern mountain range of Cordillera Oriental has been replaced by vast stretches of open plains. When we deplane, the air feels completely different from that of Bogota: it is warm and humid.

I call Cesar Ivan Veloso, the general manager of Amanecer.  He advises me to grab a cab, and says all cab drivers know where Amanecer is located, which I later find to be true. Since I arrived in Colombia late the previous night and don’t have pesos, Adriana gives me 5,000 pesos  (less than $3) for a cab ride, and I promise to pay her back on my return, since we have learned that we are on the same flight going back to Bogota.

The cab driver drops me off in front of a beautiful brick building near the center of Yopal.  I see signs everywhere for Amanecer and its 20th anniversary.  In the lobby, already buzzing with people, I am greeted by Cesar Ivan and Claudia Jimenez, the director of finance and administration. I spend the next couple of hours meeting with Amanecer’s staff, supporters and board members.    

Reflecting on two organizations' 20-year anniversary

Shortly after the celebration begins and Cesar has given a welcome speech, the master of ceremonies announces that I will be the first guest speaker. Since I didn’t receive an agenda, I was surprised to be the first speaker, especially since there are many dignitaries on the stand, including the Colombian Minister of Energy, the governor of the state of Casanare, and the mayor of Yopal.

I talk about the coincidence of Amanecer and Global Partnerships being established in 1994, both with similar goals of providing people with few resources with opportunity through training and access to finance. And while both organizations grow and prosper over time, the strength of the institution is not the true measuring stick of success. Rather, the progress and what we are celebrating is the hundreds of thousands of families who are now more informed and empowered to make their lives better. I see lots of heads nodding in the standing-room only crowd.

After me, there are a few more speeches, including one from an Amanecer client and communal bank leader. She is about 50 years old and a true Colombian cowgirl, dressed in a Stetson hat, long-sleeved jean shirt, jeans and boots. She is the star of the show, speaking in her Orionquian accent, telling jokes, and detailing how Amanecer has helped her with her cattle business and helped her rural community, far outside of Yopal.  She says that she and those in her municipality are just humble campesinos (farmers), but she is proud of what they have accomplished.

Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Amanecer

After the event, I meet with Rosaura, Amanecer’s social manager.  We walk through both their microfinance and social programs. I learn how they are integrated mainly through the 160 comunal banks. I also learn how the Action Board Committee in each vereda (small villages within each municipality) decides to create a communal bank, elects the officers, receives training from Amanecer, and then makes its own credit decisions. The theory is that the vereda officers are the ones who know the people applying for credit the best. Rosaura is also very interested in meeting with my airplane friend Adriana to see if they can collaborate.

As we get into the second hour of our meeting, we focus more on impact measurement. Amanecer has developed its own rating system for each communal bank, and an experienced manager named Alirio joins us to explain the rating system. Since Amanecer has historically focused mostly on financial performance, we discuss how more social impact measurement could be done. We all agree that focusing on three or four measures would be best, and that they should then track those measures over time. 

Further, we talk about not measuring the unique things about each vereda, an almost impossible task, but rather tracking aggregate data on programs that apply to all of the communal banks, such as the holistic education they are currently providing on values and ethics, preventing violence against women, and alcohol abuse. The conversation becomes quite animated as we jointly realize that complexity is their worst enemy. We talk about the planning process for next year and the need to focus on what they can and should track.

 A common bond

I end my day with Cesar Ivan and Claudia. They say that they feel differently about Global Partnerships than other financiers; they say that we are more interested in the programmatic aspects and impact of what they do, and that they feel a common bond with us. We wrap up with lots of hugs and Cesar thanks me for the alignment between our two organizations. 

After checking in at the little airport, I bump into Adriana, provide her Rosaura’s card, Amanecer’s annual report, and her 5000 pesos, and we chat until our flight boards. I feel grateful for all the people I have met during my “once horas en Yopal”.



Blog Tags: Colombia   Fundaction Amanecer   impact measurement   Latin America   

Mark Coffey gives a speech at Fundacion Amanecer's 20th anniversary celebration.
Mark Coffey, GP's chief investment and operating officer, gives a speech at Fundacion Amanecer's 20th anniversary celebration. Photo © Global Partnerships.

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