El Salvador may be the smallest country in Central America, but it has the fourth largest economy in the region. Microfinance institutions like Oikocredit partner ENLACE (Servicios Financieros Enlace SA de CV) support clients with small loans to start or grow a business, help with home improvements and disaster relief, and provide capacity building trainings.
ENLACE, whose name translates to “connection”, was established in 1998 and has grown to be a leader in the social impact microfinance world, especially for gender equity because 80% of their clients are women. ENLACE is a great example of how supporting women makes a big difference to families and communities as a whole. Oikocredit is proud to partner with ENLACE to more effectively meet the social and financial needs of their borrowers.
Turning craft into business: Maria Juana
Maria Juana Flores de Paulino lives in a little hamlet called La Hermita with her husband, four daughters, and one son. She completed school up until the third grade and now makes baskets for a living. “I have been making baskets for 27 years. There’s not much employment and schools are not very good, so I have taught my daughters how to produce the baskets and they help me.” Maria Juana and her daughters create beautiful baskets from their home, spending two hours on each basket, which they sell for $4.00 each at the market. She has been a client with ENLACE for 25 years, receiving small loans to buy materials for her business, as well as recover her family home after an earthquake struck in 2001. Maria Juana explained, “With the home improvement loans from ENLACE we managed to get electricity, so now we have light in the evening and we can work when it is dark. Thanks to the loans from ENLACE we were also able to buy more material and the business grew.” Her dream is to continue growing her business with her daughters, to have enough money for them to stay in school, and to eventually buy another home.
A brand of her own: Ana Gloria
Ana Gloria Cruz Nieto, her husband José Antonio Perez, and their three children live in the small village of Canton La Loma where they own a sewing business. Ana Gloria used to work in a garment factory, but because her income was very low she decided to leave and start her own workshop. With her savings, she bought her own sewing machine and began creating baby clothes. As her business grew, she wanted to expand and reached out to ENLACE for a loan. With her first loan, she bought materials to make more clothes, as well as expand her workshop and her family’s home. Ana Gloria says, “Quitting my job at the factory was a good decision. Right now we have a profit of $300 per week. When I worked in the factory I earned $60 per week.” Her good decision paid off for everyone. While she first worked out of the small family home, they now own a larger house plus a separate workshop with multiple sewing machines. Ana Gloria was able to start her own brand, with several employees and her husband in charge of sales. She plans to continue growing her business and brand, expanding their output with more machines and high-quality fabrics.
The sweet shop: Maria Cecilia
Maria Cecilia Perez de Martinez and her husband have six children. They live in Santa Lucia where Maria Cecilia has had a little shop in their home for 22 years. When she began, her store only had a crate of soda for sale. When Maria Cecilia wanted to expand her offerings, she received a loan from ENLACE so she could purchase more inventory and grow her business. Today she sells drinks, sweets, homemade tortillas and delicious pupusas (a typical Salvadorian pancake). Through a capacity building training with ENLACE, Maria Cecilia learned to produce her own soap, fragrances, jam, and sweets, which she also sells in her store. Now every weekend her shop is busy with people from the village coming to drink sodas or beer, eat sweets, and spend time together. Maria Cecilia never went to school, but that has not stopped her from creating her own business, and she has learned to write her signature. She says, “ENLACE is helping me, which is not the case with other banks. What I especially like is that they don’t limit my loans, as long as I am able to pay. One day I want to buy a plot of land and buy a house for my children.”
Microfinance supporting women
Oikocredit had been a shareholder in ENLACE for many years before beginning a partnership. ENLACE CEO Juan Carlos Flores Elias described how Oikocredit began investigating ways to help stengthen the partnership. He said, “Oikocredit had a social-institutional strengthening line aimed at micro entrepreneurs, promoting tools within ENLACE to measure good social performance practices. It was a win-win situation.” Oikocredit encouraged ENLACE to do institutional performance evaluations and develop tools to measure the social impact of the credit with their clients, especially the data on gender of clients. For both Oikocredit and ENLACE, institutional development begins with human and social concerns. Juan Carlos also said, “For ENLACE, the relationship with Oikocredit has been a good experience. One, because thanks to the human and social way they do business we have a sustainable and good relationship. Two, because Oikocredit is concerned with our institutional development.” There is a special focus on financing women and families, and both Oikocredit and ENLACE are committed to continue growing and strengthening their offerings for clients.