CRECER - Asociación Crédito con Educación Rural
Village banking for self-employed women
Asociación Crédito con Educación Rural (CRECER) is a microfinance institution providing individual and group loans across Bolivia. Its core business is to provide education along with credit.
In 2014, 53% of Bolivians lived in poverty. There is a great need for basic financial services in the country. One of CRECER's main products is 'village banking' (a methodology by means of which a group of men and/or women take out a loan and distribute it in the form of smaller loans to each group member).
Group loans and village banking have long existed in many communities, and were adopted by microfinance organizations in the 20th century. Village banking adds a higher level of organization to the practice of group loans, in which the different members of the group are assigned specific roles, such as treasurer, secretary, and so on. CRECER loan officers support the village bank and provide training (financial, health etc) during the village bank session.
CRECER uses Oikocredit's loans to provide more loans to its clients, most of whom are women.
Over 100,000 Bolivian women received training on health and environmental issues thanks to a collaborative programme between a Bolivian microfinance institution (MFI) and Oikocredit.
In a bid to improve the basic knowledge of waste, land, water and electricity management, Oikocredit partner CRECER (Crédito con Educación Rural), delivered more than 28,000 training sessions and undertook a widespread awareness campaign in the ‘For a Better Life’ programme.
Village Banking Groups
CRECER was established by US organization Freedom from Hunger in 1999 to provide loans, insurance and financial training to women in Village Banking Groups, in which individuals borrow as a group. CRECER’s 120,000 clients are based in 219 communities across the country. More than half are in rural areas, meaning agriculture and environment are particularly important to improve quality of life.
‘Since Bolivia faces some serious environmental challenges and many people rely on agriculture, it’s vital we support initiatives that increase environmental awareness,’ said Marisol Fernández, Oikocredit country manager Bolivia. ‘Not only is it essential for the future of the environment, it’s essential for the future health and livelihoods of people in low-income communities.’
The critical threat to Bolivia’s environment is deforestation, which has led to a loss in diversity of animal species, an increase in greenhouse gases, soil erosion and degradation, and sedimentation of lakes and lagoons. Water quality has also been compromised as a result of human activity, including poor waste disposal where waste ends up in rivers which are a water source for agriculture downstream.
Agents of change
For a Better Life began three years ago and aims to encourage more environmentally conscious behaviour among women, employing them as ‘agents of change’ so knowledge is passed on to peers and family members. The programme has six themes:
- economic activities
- social security
With a USD 35,000 grant from Oikocredit and USD 19,000 from CRECER, the programme began by hiring health and environmental specialists. The consultants conducted a survey among CRECER clients to assess their environmental knowledge, attitudes and practices.
‘The consultant interviewed 400 clients, 240 from the urban areas and 160 from rural areas, covering questions on the management of waste, electricity, water and land,’ said Ms Fernández. ‘The survey uncovered some specific issues. For example, the majority of rural women said they burnt their rubbish, despite knowing it is damaging to the environment.’
Educational videos were produced for further education along with promotional materials including tents, T-shirts, aprons and rubbish bins to involve other community members at fairs and markets. Training was also provided directly to leaders of the village banking groups, and indirectly to village banking members using a ‘Cascade Training System’ where training is passed on by those who have completed the course. Other activities included tree planting, cleaning and reforestation organized by CRECER clients and their families.
The programme gave CRECER a more complete picture of its clients’ attitudes and practices with waste, energy and water management. As a result, the organization is working to implement a written environmental policy which will make environmental consideration an integral part of its operations.
‘CRECER is one of the few Bolivian MFIs that has designated funds to these kinds of social activities, so we were thrilled to be able to support them on this,’ said Ms Fernández.