Low-income women in Latin America are among the most vulnerable populations in the world. Pro Mujer, founded by two women in 1990 in Bolivia, seeks to provide economic opportunities for those women in six Latin American countries.
“In Latin America, the distribution of wealth is very unequal and it’s heightened for women who suffer discrimination based on gender,” said Camilo Mendez, chief financial officer for the New York City-based organization. Making the situation even worse is the growing level of violence – particularly domestic violence – in the region.
Pro Mujer helps women in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, México, Nicaragua and Perú with small micro-loans to help them establish and maintain small businesses. The organization concentrates on women, Mendez said, because, “women are the motors to greater development for financial stability. They use more of their disposable income for family, education and their businesses.”
In 2018, Pro Mujer served 300,000 women and disbursed $293 million in small loans. And, of particular note, it made 720,000 health interventions. Women who come in for group meetings about financial training often discover there is a nurse in attendance to answer questions and do routine exams. “For close to 20 years, we have been providing health care,” Mendez said. “It’s in our DNA now.” Pro Mujer offers health and dental care and help with chronic diseases as well as guidance on nutrition and hygiene. It is also working to incorporate domestic violence prevention into its services.
Mendez said that Pro Mujer has worked with several different orders of sisters. Its association with RCIF goes back more than a decade. Currently, Pro Mujer has a $225,000 loan from RCIF. “We are very much aligned in terms of our missions,” Mendez said. “It’s important that the sources of our borrowing are coming from ethical and reputable sources. And, like us, RCIF seeks to support women in vulnerable situations.”
“in latin america, the distribution of wealth is very unequal and it’s heightened for women who suffer discrimination based on gender”
Appalachian Community Capital [ACC]
Perhaps the most common perception of Appalachia is that it is a rural region in the East and South that has long struggled with poverty and the ravages of a long history of hurtful logging and mining.
But there is much more to the region – which is home to about 25 million people scattered from southern New York to northern Mississippi – says Donna Gambrell, the president and CEO of Appalachian Community Capital (ACC). “These are communities where there is a vibrancy with how residents interact with each other and their culture,” she said. “And it’s a region that is a study in contrasts. Yes, in some areas we have high poverty, high unemployment, drug abuse and health issues but we also have communities looking at how we can turn things around and make a new economy, at how can we use land and natural resources wisely and make that advantageous for us.”
Toward that end, ACC raises capital and lends the money to its member organizations. They, in turn, make loans to small business owners and entrepreneurs in Appalachia. Since 2015, it has financed 55 small businesses and helped create or retain 1,800 jobs, more than half of which are occupied by low-income people.
“Small businesses in low-wealth communities are a powerful economic force,” said Gambrell. “They not only generate revenue and jobs, but they help stabilize communities and contribute to their growth.”
Gambrell’s association with RCIF goes back many years to when she heard Sr. Corinne speak at a trade association conference. What Gambrell appreciates about RCIF – which has given ACC a $200,000 loan – is that “they understand that community and economic development takes time and that you can’t expect overnight success. Your supporters and investors have to be so committed, and RCIF is.”
“YES, in some areas we have high poverty, high unemployment … but we also have communities looking at how we can turn things around and make a new economy…”
In addition to creating as much economic vitality as possible, Gambrell said she hopes the work she and her colleagues are doing will help banish some of the hurtful stereotypes that surround Appalachia. “Some think Appalachians are backwards and don’t wear shoes and can’t read,” she said. “But people need to look at this region in a different way. Once you meet people one -on- one, it gives you a different perspective. No one wants others to presume who or what they are, and that is true for the people of this region, too.”
When the Network for Oregon Affordable Housing (NOAH) was founded almost three decades ago, attitudes were different about financing affordable housing.
“Back in 1990, affordable housing financing was considered risky,” said Bill Van Vliet, NOAH’s executive director. “That was the mindset of folks at the time. Underwriting long-term loans under a new structure was an unknown thing. Relying on low-income people to pay rent – that was above-average risk.”
Since then, NOAH has steadily grown to the point where it now administers $250 million in total loan capital. Van Vliet said NOAH has had no loan losses in 29 years, noting that the loss rate on affordable housing projects is far below the average for the housing industry as a whole.
The housing situation in Oregon has become increasingly challenging in recent years, Van Vliet said, with homelessness growing and rents going up almost everywhere.
NOAH has been focusing more on mobile homes and parks as a solution to the affordable housing crisis. “Mobile home parks have flown below the radar as one of the largest unsubsidized and non-regulated sources of affordable housing,” Van Vliet said. NOAH is working to finance the purchase of mobile home parks by non-profits, housing authorities, and resident owned cooperatives. Many of these parks have aging infrastructure that need capital investment. In a state with 1,100 parks, these groups have purchased 25-30 of them. “We are doing well,” he said, “but the task can be daunting.”
NOAH not only lends money to mobile home projects, but also woks on advocacy and policy in the field. Van Vliet said focusing on policy can help “because we can address issues beyond acquisitions to support the homeowners that live in these communities.”
NOAH’s relationship with RCIF started with a referral and introduction some years ago. Since then, RCIF has provided a $250,000 loan. “That they are a mission based investor means everything to us,” Van Vliet said. “That is what we try to be, too.”
“NOAH has been focusing on mobile HOme parks as the soluton to the affordable housing crisis … we are doing well … but the task can be daunting”
Bill Van Vliet