Our Founder’s Reflections: A Special Thanks from Tony Stone
Dear Friends of Adelante,
For our 15th year anniversary, I have the opportunity to reflect on the wonderful and rewarding work of Adelante, that it continues to do each day to help women pull themselves out of the condition of poverty.
In 1999, I returned to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch decimated a large portion of the country. After interviewing officers in various NGOs, I found the microfinance model. In these “early days” of the industry, I was cautioned not to work with the poorest of the poor in rural areas. They would never pay back, they said. The model, a catalyst for women to work their way out of poverty, to improve the lives their families, made complete sense to me. Yet, if we were not going to serve those most in need, what was the point?
Our mission became to serve those hit hardest by poverty. In September 2000 we disbursed our first loan to four women and one man in the remote village of Santiaguito. Our first credit officer, Kiko, insisted that a man be in the group, convinced they would not pay back otherwise. However, by the second week, the women had kicked the man out for failure to pay, triumphantly taking back the scale that he had purchased with the loan. We had little idea of what we were doing, but, in spite of everything, the women paid back!
A few months later, and now with 27 clients, Kim and I stepped into the small office of Grameen Foundation USA, where the organization’s President, Alex Counts, told us that their Board had just approved expanding the Grameen model into Central America. We were shocked when he invited us to become a Grameen replicator, and immediately agreed. I soon traveled to Bangladesh to meet my lifetime hero, Muhammad Yunus, who enlightened me with his views on poverty. He shared his deep belief in the rights of all human beings to shelter, nutrition, health, education, and the capacity to save in order to lead a life of dignity.
Energized by the trip and our new opportunity, we started to successfully grow Adelante’s client base. We grew from the original 27 clients to 5,000 in 2009. However, that same year, we started facing problems with our loan pool. Repayment rates weakened. Bad debt began to rise dramatically. Client turnover increased.
Then we had an epiphany. It was not that a poor woman did not repay for laziness or lack of desire. It was because she simply was not able to. She was dealing with the inevitable hardships associated with living in poverty. This made all the difference in the way that we started to approach a solution.
We began to sit down face to face, individually with any client struggling to repay her loans to devise a plan of action together. This could be providing a loan extension, refinancing, or using some of their Adelante savings to help them get back on their feet. This allowed women to overcome their setbacks and rebuild their businesses. Soon they were able to make their repayments again. In 2010 Adelante reached a milestone as our success enabled us to become self-sustainable.
In the past 15 years we have seen how immensely difficult it is to live in rural Honduras and be very poor, since your livelihood is constantly threatened by things that are outside of your control. We train our staff to focus on providing the best customer service possible, giving one-on-one credit counseling and imparting educational models that fit their goals. We are still constantly evolving Adelante’s program by focusing on our clients’ needs.
Now we are seeing the benefits of these improvements as women thrive with microfinance and educational opportunity. We have expanded our financial services from small solidarity group loans to home improvement loans, educational loans, agricultural loans, and individual style loans for very successful clients. Currently over 7,500 women from the Caribbean coast down to the Pacific, have loans with Adelante. We have disbursed over $21 million in loans while serving over 65,000 women in the past 15 years. Through these women we have positively impacted the lives of over 260,000* people in rural Honduras.
Our experiences have guided us to stay true to our mission: to empower enterprising women with the least opportunity to achieve economic self sufficiency. Although we are proud of all that our clients have achieved, our work is nowhere close to being done. Honduras remains the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. In rural areas, six out of ten Honduran families live in extreme poverty, and 41% of women do not have their own income source. Close to a quarter of these households do not have sanitary bathroom facilities.
However, there is hope. Our team at Adelante has learned through our clients how to best meet their needs. We are positioned to expand the scope of our impact tremendously, and we need your help to do so. I along with everyone at Adelante and the women and families we serve are incredibly grateful for the support already provided by caring, loving individuals and organizations. This would not have happened without your support, you have made us who we are. Thank you so very much! I hope you will join us today, and over in the next 15 years to execute our vision of living in a world where no one lives in poverty.
*Calculation: average household size of 4 people*number of Adelante clients since 2000.