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the week’s final instructions as open as the possibilities that await them. She adds, “And then reflect.”

Ambassador Kelly Damm (bottom right) visits with the “La Esperanza” Women’s Committee in Areguá, Paraguay. Working together, members of the committee have taken out a group loan from ACCION partner Fundación Paraguaya in order to build their microenterprises.

This past summer, ACCION launched its Ambassador Program, sending young volunteers to the field to witness the impact of microfinance first-hand and report back on it.


Adventures in Microfinance ACCION Deploys Its First Group of Volunteer Ambassadors to the Field The sun sinks into its afternoon easy chair and streams softly through the windows, reminding everyone of the world beyond this sterile room—and that yet another day of intense training is nearly done. But ACCION’s volunteer Ambassadors power through their post-lunch energy free-fall, diving into a lively discussion on the cultural issues they’ll soon face. “As a Scandinavian Protestant headed to a Catholic country, I worry about how I’ll be received,” voices a young woman with clear blue eyes and hair the color of wheat. “I’m a vegetarian,” adds another. “What should I do if someone offers me meat?” The Ambassadors engage in several rounds of discussion to prepare them for the vivid and complex cultural experiences awaiting them in Mexico, India and Paraguay. “Do what you think is right in the moment,” offers the ACCION staff trainer—leaving

“So far, I’d only experienced the world of microfinance through books,” explains Carlo Capra, a 23-year-old student from Milan, Italy. “I wanted to see it in the field, where it can really change people’s lives.”

◗ Nueva Era 3 ◗ From the Field: Michael Schlein 4

◗ Spotlight on Our Supporters: Barbara Lucas and Richard Nesson 5

◗ In the Streets and Markets 6–7

In all, more than 70 people answered the call for applications. Hailing from England, Colombia, Finland, Italy, Austria and the United States, those selected collectively speak 11 languages and represent a broad diversity of cultural, educational and professional experiences.

◗ Thanks to Our Friends 8–11

(Continued on page 2)

Adventures in Microfinance ( Continued from page 1)

“So far, I’d only experienced the world of microfinance through books,” explains Carlo Capra, a 23-year-old student from Milan, Italy. “I wanted to see it in the field, where it can really change people’s lives.”

The ACCION Ambassadors at their training in Boston in June: (back row from left) Kelly Damm, Nick Roose (program coordinator), Catalina Sicard, Mariel Cabral, Carlo Capra, (middle row from left) Shaheen Verjee, Nadia Costanzo, (front row from left) Farah Mohammadzadeh, Kaisa Koivisto.

Despite that diversity, however, this initial group all shared a common goal— to move beyond theory and talk directly to microentrepreneurs about their experiences. Rajesh, a Swadhaar loan officer, deftly navigates the market’s narrow passages, an umbrella and black backpack full of notebooks and pens slung casually over his shoulder. His companion this afternoon is Catalina Sicard, a senior associate for ACCION in Bogotá, Colombia and an ACCION Ambassador ‘serving’ this summer in Mumbai. Rajesh and Catalina spend an hour with Pankaj, a shoe vendor, posing question after question to him about how he manages his business. Rajesh is conducting the first step in the loan application process—determining the person's “willingness to pay.” Catalina observes that this painstaking

◗ 2 VENTURE S Fall/Winter 2010–11

process is at the heart of responsible microlending and must be completed thoroughly and carefully. This year’s class of Ambassadors were hosted by three of ACCION’s partners— Fundación Paraguaya in Asunción, Paraguay; Banco Compartamos in Mexico City; and Swadhaar FinServe in Mumbai— as well as by ACCION’s own Dialogue on Business financial literacy program in Bangalore, India. There, they learned the basics of what’s required to make sustainable microfinance run… and keep on running. “It’s particularly fulfilling to meet rural and urban [borrower] groups, as well as individual clients, to see how much the different clients’ needs vary and how Fundación Paraguaya is developing ways to target each type of client,” says Ambassador Nadia Costanzo, an American and a recent graduate of the U.K.’s University of Bristol.

Ambassadors Farah Mohammadzadeh, Nadia Costanzo and Carlo Capra rumble along a red dirt road in a bright blue-andyellow diesel bus. It’s the second week of their deployment and they’re escaping the busy, and by now familiar, city streets of Asunción. They’re headed to the country, where, as Carlo later reports, “It’s a completely different world… a place where you can still feel the traditional lifestyle and experience the real life of this country.” They jump out in Luque and make their way to the neighborhood of Itapuami. There, they join a microfinance solidarity group—women who have assembled in a yard that’s animated by soccer-playing children, dogs, cows, chickens and pigs. The group calls itself Kuña Guapa—‘working women’ in the local Guarani language— and they’re here for their renovación, or renewal meeting, which occurs every four months.

For several hours, the Ambassadors observe the group at work, noting the democratic nature of their interactions. Together the members decide how much their next loan should be, and whether they should bring new members into the group. Then they each share their plans for expanding their businesses—selling baked goods, tailoring and blanket-weaving. When asked their impressions of the experience, the Ambassadors most often

speak of how they were struck, again and again, by the astounding sense of gratitude and hope shared by the microentrepreneurs they met. Summarizing the group’s sentiments, Farah concludes, “I met so many women and was overwhelmed to hear about everything they had to juggle—housework, children, income-generating work, school, more work… And yet, they always had a sparkle in their eye and a joke for

everyone present. Fortunately, it seems, the amount of income one makes doesn’t dictate overall happiness.” For more of the Ambassadors’ impressions, including videos and photos, have a look at their blog, To read more about the Ambassador Program and how to apply, please visit

N UEVA ERA Supporting One Another, a Community of Women in Paraguay Kick Off a New Era By ACCION Ambassador Farah Mohammadzadeh Señora Melania Gomez waits patiently for the others. She is sitting next to her careworn shrine to the Virgin of

Melania and Farah in Asunción in July 2010.

Caacupé, patron saint of Paraguay, her brown eyes scanning the half-cobblestone, half-dirt road in this Bañado

as the members collectively pay back their loans, the

Tacumbú neighborhood of Asunción, searching for signs

group will be able to borrow increasingly larger amounts

of her guests’ arrival.

from Fundación Paraguaya. Melania expresses confidence

Most Saturdays and Sundays, she is here in the yard

in the group’s future, saying, “These women are hard-

outside her two-room house, preparing and selling

working entrepreneurs I personally know and trust.”

asaditos (barbecued meats with manioc and bread) to

All 12 women arrive and assemble for the meeting. They

her neighbors. She started the business to supplement

discuss the loan and repayment terms, talk about paying

her husband’s income and help support their family

money into a caja chica, or savings collective, in case they

of six. Like any good entrepreneur, Melania knows her

need to cover a member’s payment for a week due to

market intimately. “Many women, by the weekend,

illness or another misfortune, and elect officers. Melania

they don’t want to cook anymore,” she explains. “So

is elected director of finance for the group, and while

they come here and buy my food because it’s closer and

she expresses reluctance to take on additional responsi-

cheaper than going to the nearest restaurant.”

bilities, she is “happy to do it for the group.”

Today, however, Melania won’t be making any asaditos.

Energized by the meeting and brimming with optimism,

Instead she is hosting the first meeting of a new group of

the women make one final decision before adjourning

12 women who, together, will take out a microloan from

for the day and returning to their work and families.

ACCION partner microfinance institution, Fundación

When it comes time for them to choose a name for their


group, they settle on Nueva Era—“New Era.”

Melania plans to use her 500,000 guarani (US$100) to buy more meat and drinks for her business—enough to

Read more stories about microfinance by ACCION Ambassadors at

serve an extra 10 to 15 customers per day. Over time, 3 ◗


Stepping Out Michael Schlein Reflects on His First Year at ACCION Dear ACCION Supporter, It’s been a full year since I began as president and CEO of ACCION International. One of my goals in these first 12 months has been to spend as much time in the field as possible. The trips have been instrumental in helping me to better understand what microfinance means to the people we serve. In every culture and every context, I’ve met someone who has begun a difficult but empowering journey toward better opportunities, thanks to microfinance.

In every culture and every context, I’ve met someone who has begun a difficult but empowering journey toward better opportunities, thanks to microfinance. In Inner Mongolia, China, I visited with a woman who bakes cakes for her husband to sell at the market. She prepares the cakes in one tiny, drafty room of their small, two-room home. Despite having so little, she holds a burning hope for the future. It became instantly clear

◗ 4 VENTURE S Fall/Winter 2010–11

Michael Schlein talks with microentrepreneurs in the Tudu Market in Accra, Ghana in March.

why when she proudly introduced me to her daughter who, with help from her parents, attends university in Beijing where she is studying to become a nurse. I also met a couple in Port-au-Prince, Haiti who had lost their parents and their home in the devastating earthquake. Still, remarkably, they told me how they, “felt blessed.” Their construction supply business had been spared and they shared with me their plans to move forward out of tragedy, running their business and rebuilding their lives with help from microfinance. While in Patna, in northern India, I met a woman who had just begun tailoring for a fee and was earning an income for the first time in her life. She told me that she felt empowered and accomplished. For her, the loans don’t just help build a business—they build confidence and the capacity to succeed. I am both proud and humbled that ACCION can play such a role in empowering the poor to succeed. With your support, we go to remote and difficult places, where we work to build inclusive financial systems for the entrepreneurial poor. These places require nerve, commitment and an appetite for risk, but we are tenacious—as tenacious as the people we serve. Thank you for helping millions with your support. Michael Schlein President and CEO

Spotlight on Our Supporters Seeing Is Believing: Barbara Lucas and Richard Nesson on the Value of Meeting Microentrepreneurs “It’s very hard to go out in the field and come back without a passion for microfinance.” So says Barbara Lucas, who, with her husband, Richard Nesson, generously gives of her time and resources to spread the message of ACCION and microfinance. Barbara and Richard so value the lessons they learn when hearing directly from microentrepreneurs, that in the past three years, they have traveled to Nicaragua, Ghana and Colombia with ACCION— and led ACCION’s delegation to Bogotá this fall.

Barbara and Richard’s leadership is informed by professional lives that have included many years as securities and banking lawyers. This year, they founded Luness Partners (, a New York firm that specializes in legal and advisory services to capital markets participants

Barbara Lucas and Richard Nesson visit with microentrepreneur Mario Fernandez and his family in Guasca, Colombia while attending the ACCION delegation last August.

“When you meet the clients,” explains Barbara, “you immediately understand that they are hardworking, proud people who want the same things for their families and communities that we want for our families and communities. They don’t want handouts, they want an opportunity. That’s what microfinance gives them.” Back home, they have channeled their passion for microfinance into supporting ACCION and another microfinance organization called Women’s Trust ( Their myriad points of engagement include financial support for many of ACCION’s pioneering projects, promotion of those projects to members of their personal networks, Barbara’s position as secretary on ACCION’s Board of Directors and Richard’s membership in ACCION’s President’s Council. As Margie Herrick, vice president of Resource Development for ACCION, says, “They put their time, treasure and talents where their hearts are, but they bring along their brains and they ask the hard questions, and thus provide wonderful leadership.”

“Come and see how it works, get excited about it, roll up your sleeves and do what you can to help,” invites Barbara, as Richard adds, “If you keep your eyes open, you’ll come away feeling the same passion that we do.” on legal issues, compliance and risk management. “We’re very familiar with the opportunities that financial businesses create and the importance of access to capital in a society,” says Barbara. As familiar as they are with the clout of the mainstream capital markets, they stress that when it comes to microfinance, seeing is believing.

“Come and see how it works, get excited about it, roll up your sleeves and do what you can to help,” invites Barbara, as Richard adds, “If you keep your eyes open, you’ll come away feeling the same passion that we do.” 5 ◗

IN THE S TREETS AND MARKETS Haiti Another heartfelt “thank you” to all of you who donated to ACCION’s fund to support Haitian microentrepreneurs and partner MFI, SOGESOL, in the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this year. Your gifts were vital to a fundraising effort that has enabled SOGESOL to provide grants to 2,000 of their poorest

USA ACCION USA is giving green for green. Earlier this year, the leader in U.S. microfinance and small business lending launched a green loan and education program in New York and Massachusetts. By combining microfinance and green business, ACCION USA's pilot will help an estimated 70 small businesses qualify for loans to start or grow businesses that pro-

clients. SOGESOL also launched a program to refinance approximately three-quarters of its clients’ loans affected by the earthquake. With these funds, 8,000 microentrepreneurs have been able to rebuild and restock their homes and businesses. Today, the streets and markets of Port-au-Prince are vibrant once more, filled with people who are determined to persevere, rebuild and succeed.

vide eco-friendly products or services. It also helps everyday small businesses incorporate green business and energy-saving practices into their operations.

Cameroon Rounding the Gulf of Guinea, ACCION and partner Ecobank are building on their successes in setting up banks for the poor in Nigeria and Ghana by launching a new microfinance bank called EB-ACCION Microfinance in Douala, Cameroon. There, only about one percent of people have access to microloans, making it one of the least served microfinance markets in the world. ACCION and Ecobank, a leading Pan-African commercial bank, aim to change that. Within three months of operation, EB-ACCION Microfinance had already reached 1,190 people with microloans and savings accounts.

◗ 6 VENTURE S Fall/Winter 2010–11

Worldwide The Smart Campaign, for which ACCION’s Center for Financial Inclusion serves as the secretariat, continues to rally the international microfinance community around establishing and maintaining standards for client protection. Among other initiatives, The Campaign recently published, “Responsible Pricing: The


State of the Practice.” The paper outlines ways to determine the responsible pricing of micro-

In August, ACCION moved the mission of

loans and is a step toward establishing clear

microfinance in China forward by co-hosting,

standards for MFIs.

along with sponsor Credit Suisse, a training for 80 microfinance loan officers. Leveraging its nearly 40 years of leadership in the microfinance field, ACCION trainers translated knowledge hewn in the streets and markets of Latin America, Africa and India to this group of eager practitioners. Armed with the wisdom and knowledge they need to best serve the


entrepreneurial poor in China, these loan offi-

Mumbai-based Swadhaar FinServe is at the

cers represent a world of opportunity in this

forefront of a quiet revolution in India—urban

country, where microfinance is just being born.

microfinance. So far, the MFI, of which ACCION

Good luck! 祝您好运!

is the largest minority shareholder, is garnering results that are not just encouraging, but outstanding: Their client numbers have grown over 38 percent since the end of 2008, and the MFI has expanded beyond Mumbai into Baroda and Pune. Currently, Swadhaar is reaching over 40,000 urban working poor.

For more information about ACCION's work around the globe, visit 7 ◗

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ING Foundation

The Jewish Community Foundation of Northern California’s Greater East Bay The Jewish Community Foundation Los Angeles Kaiser Permanente Liberty Mutual Macquarie Group McAfee, Inc. The Merck Company Foundation

BU ILD A L EGACY OF HOPE Strengthen ACCION’s Future through Planned Giving

Microsoft Corporation

You can leave a legacy of hope and make a lasting impact on the


fight against poverty. By naming ACCION in your will or trust, you

Minneapolis Jewish Federation

join a special group of friends known as the Recife Society. Named

Morgan Stanley

after the town in Brazil where ACCION made the very first microloan

Network For Good

in 1973, the Recife Society continues the tradition of helping people

The New York Community Trust

work their way out of poverty now and in the future.

Orange County Community Foundation

We invite you to learn more about how to join this inner circle

PepsiCo Foundation The Pfizer Foundation, Inc. The Pittsburgh Foundation QUALCOMM Inc.

of dedicated ACCION supporters by contacting Heidi Eagles, ACCION’s Planned Giving Officer, at (617) 624-7080 ext. 1365 or

“I named ACCION in my will because my hope for

The Regence Employee Giving Campaign

the future is that people will be able to decide their

Rochester Area Community Foundation

economic futures for themselves and not have

Russell Investments

it dictated to them. Microfinance enables that. I

The Schwab Fund for Charitable Giving

want to make sure that the work continues—the

Silicon Valley Community Foundation

work that I have done for economic justice in my

The Standard Employee Community Campaign

lifetime and the work that ACCION is doing.”

Tompkins Charitable Gift Fund

Caroline Ramsay Merriam, ACCION Recife Society Member

United Way of New York City United Way of Rhode Island Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program Verizon Foundation World Bank Community Connections Fund

In-Kind Donors Advanced Merchant Payments, Ltd. Foley Hoag LLP Goodwin Procter LLP The Horn Book, Inc. Diana Taylor

Microentrepreneur Tawa Adeogun stands with her son outside the narrow, one-room stall where she sells rice and vegetable oil in Lagos, Nigeria. 1 1 ◗

C O MIN G S OON . . . ACCION’s Online MicroMarket Where you can purchase compelling, meaningful virtual gifts for your loved ones while supporting hardworking microentrepreneurs around the world. Regardless of your budget, you’ll find virtual gifts that compliment the interests of everyone on your list, spreading good will and opportunity near and far! Arriving just in time for the holidays. Visit to learn more.

PHOTO CREDITS Front cover: Fabiola Cantero Page 3: Sandra Elizabeth Gomez Page 4: Christal Jeanne for ACCION International Page 5: Rohanna Mertens for ACCION International Page 6: USA – Raquel Sierra Pinto; Cameroon – John Rae for ACCION International Page 7: All – John Rae for ACCION International Pages 8 and 11: John Rae for ACCION International Back cover: Rohanna Mertens for ACCION International

FSC logo to come

Address Service Requested Return Postage Guaranteed


ACCION International 56 Roland Street, Suite 300 Boston, Massachusetts 02129 USA


Ventures Fall Winter 2010  
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