Thursday, June 21, 2012

Working for PHPG

In the three weeks that we have been here, Alex Bergonia and I have already gained some valuable firsthand experience working as members of a microfinance organization. Right off the bat, there was much to be done. 
Alex & coworker Marcela at Monday repayment meeting

Because PHPG has been working with individuals within the Pantanal community (about a 30 minute walk from our house in downtown Granada) since 2009, several batches of loans have already been allocated.  Recipients pay back these loans (starting rate at 3000 cordoba, or about 125 dollars) week by week, so part of our job thus far has been to engage in this process: Monday loan repayment meetings are held hourly for members of the ‘old system’, and Friday loan repayment meetings are conducted for members of the ‘new system’.  The old system refers to the very first loans given by PHPG to individuals. Whereas the new system has been reconstructed to enhance the efficiency and reliability of loan repayments – groups of approximately five people join together and choose a group leader who collects the money each week from every person, and then gives that money directly to PHPG on Fridays. The purpose of this is twofold: 1) to decrease the time it takes to collect money; instead of collecting money from every single person (as we do on Mondays), we collect money from only one person per group of five. 2) encouraging people to join together decreases the risk that individuals will not pay back – members must choose each other (PHPG does not choose the groups) based on how reliable they think each other will be in repaying loans … the group is ineligible for a second loan if its members cannot pay back their first one in total. Already, I have been able to see pretty clearly the difference between the systems. Comparatively, Friday’s meetings take significantly less time and it seems as though the groups are much better at paying back their loans on a regular basis.
Wilmer with some corn... preparing to make some Nicaraguan nacatamales

In addition to loan repayment meetings, much of our time has been spent conducting interviews to assess the eligibility of prospective loan recipients.  Along with PHPG’s local employees Gilberts and Marcela, there are currently 7 interns including Alex and myself.  The interviews are relatively short, but address a variety of information, everything from basic info (name, cedula #, address, etc) to weekly earnings (of both the individual and the combined household) to the possession of certain amenities within the family (i.e., iron, water, radio, etc.)  We also ask about what they would like to do with the money.  Most people tell us that they either want to invest in their current business to buy more product or materials (for selling clothes, reparing and selling shoes, selling food, fruit, sewing, selling firewood, etc.), or they would like the money to start a new line of business. The hardest part about the interviews has been actually finding individual people who have requested a loan within the large community that we work with.  Directions are not so conventional: people’s houses are designated by how many blocks they are from certain landmarks, like the big water tank, or the centro de salud. But good news is that we actually finished all of the new interviews that needed to be done (woohooo!) after the second week of being here, and so much of this third week has been devoted to inputting all of our data into comprehensive spreadsheets.  Becca, Corie, and Phoebe have been working on entering in F-1 (evaluacion de la solicitud de prestamo) data for recipients with loans already underway, while Margot, Alex, and I have been working on inputting data for the prospective group of loan recipients. We’re almost done!!!
Carlos showing us how he repairs shoes

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