Oftentimes in the microfinance world we get caught up thinking about all the numbers and stats to base our claims, support our work, and analyze our programs – loan size, default rate, interest rate, cost per borrower, poverty score, portfolio size, total clients – that we can lose sight of the immeasurable impact that microfinance has on our clients. Of course, these numbers are always relevant points to consider when evaluating our own level of effectiveness, but time after time, the impact that Adelante has had in the lives of the women we support goes far beyond what numbers can show.
The self-esteem and confidence obtained from participating in our program is what I see as most valuable. In a blog post a couple months back, Sonja E. Kelly discusses the finding of Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in their recent book “Scarcity,” that addresses how financial exclusion affects the psychological well-being of those living in poverty. Kelly explains, “…in the wake of this scarcity mindset it is often the small economic shocks – the unexpected illness, the sudden change in income, the school fees that weren’t figured into the monthly budget – that perpetuate the scarcity mindset.”
By feeling more secure with one’s ability to overcome everyday challenges that arise – such as new school uniforms at the start of the year, or medicine when an infant gets sick – a woman is able to think farther ahead into her future and envision a life out of poverty. The security provided by creating a source of income through a micro-business gives Honduran women a level of certainty that unexpected expenses will become manageable for their families. Further, by offering incentives like the Home Improvement Loan and Secondary Education Loan, women are able to make needed investments into their homes and families without making great economic sacrifices in other areas, such as investment in medicine, food or a business.
For these reasons, visitors that I have taken into the field are often impressed by just how proud the women they meet are to work with Adelante, by the potential of their businesses, and by their expectations that their children will have a better future. Formal financial institutions are almost always out of reach for the women whom Adelante serves. Without access to capital and education, rural Honduran women maintain a “scarcity mindset,” forcing them to focus in on everyday threats to their security, rather than taking greater actions to improve their economic circumstances.
With each visit I make to the field, I come away with a new story of a woman who embodies this transition to a lively, confident and resourceful individual who can address her troubles as they come. This doesn’t mean that all of these women have fought their way well out of poverty – but their situations have become more stable, and they have made their first, most essential steps. To me, the change in spirit found in these women is one of the most meaningful aspects of our program.
This blog post was written by Gina Cappuccitti, Adelante's International Development Coordinator based in La Ceiba, Honduras. Gina received her BA degree in International Relations from SUNY New Paltz and has been with Adelante since August 2012.