After a long flight from São Paulo, I’m back in Philadelphia and back to work at Genji Sushi. Since returning to the states and reminded of my humble fortunes, I’ve been inspired by my traveling comrades and thinking more about my experience visiting the women in the favelas of Mauá and the positive impact our donations make in their lives.
Employees of Banco do Povo give us a presentation and discuss their operations.
I’m convinced by the smart efficiency of micro credits and so I’d like to delve deeper into discussing what Micro-finance is, how it works and how organizations such as Banco do Povo and Whole Planet Foundation are integral parts to alleviating poverty.
Wall pictures of Micro-Finance Clients in-action at Banco do Povo. Notice bottom left picture is of Maria before the landslide.
Microfinance came into prominence in the mid 1970’s, and is best know through the Grameen Foundation. The Whole Planet Foundation partners with Grameen in parts of the world to implement micro-credits. Grameen Bank started in Bangladesh and as stated on their website:
The Grameen Bank Project (Grameen means “rural” or “village” in Bangla language) came into operation with the following objectives:
extend banking facilities to poor men and women;
eliminate the exploitation of the poor by money lenders;
create opportunities for self-employment for the vast multitude of unemployed people in rural Bangladesh;
bring the disadvantaged, mostly the women from the poorest households, within the fold of an organizational format which they can understand and manage by themselves; and
reverse the age-old vicious circle of “low income, low saving & low investment”, into virtuous circle of “low income, injection of credit, investment, more income, more savings, more investment, more income”.
The mission of microfinance is to help low-income individuals and micro-entrepreneurs gain access to credit. In doing so, people are empowered through building businesses, supporting their families, and often lifting up the communities around them. As I mentioned in a previous post, micro loans provide back to those who do not have access to traditional financial resources, since many banks do not lend without collateral or in small sums. Often the cost of managing borrower’s accounts is too high to make it feasible. This is where a key building block to micro-finance comes in: Solidarity lending.
Microcredit client waits to sign contract at Banco do Povo.
Banco do Povo works through Solidarity Loans, or a group loan, that require small groups of individuals to borrow collectively working together to manage and pay back the loans. Their personal success is reliant upon the group’s efforts to pay back loans and in-turn, borrow more. The small groups (5 or so members) are independently formed, but members cannot be related. The size of the group is small enough to ensure the commitment of it’s members, but large enough to prevent the financial collapse of the rest of the group in the event one person is delinquent on payments. Solidarity lending also allows banks to handle more loans by reducing the time and cost of managing individual lenders. The group absorbs much of the responsibility of accountability.
Group lendingAlso known as solidarity lending, Group Lending is a mechanism that allows a number of individuals to provide collateral or guarantee a loan through a group repayment pledge. The incentive to repay is based on peer pressure; if one person in the group defaults, the other group members make up the payment amount.
Joy from Whole Planet embraces Maria, alongside a liaison for Banco do Povo.
The Whole Planet Foundation give grants to Microfinance Institutions (MFI) such as Banco do Povo or Grameen, that implement those donations as microloans to those that these institutions deem appropriate. Whole Planet Foundation scrupulously audits the MFIs to ensure that our donations are used as intended with the highest efficacy as possible, not just in Brazil, but globally.
Solidarity groups signing their contract at Banco do Povo.
When we visited Banco do Povo’s outpost we witnessed some Solidarity Groups signing their contracts. The community support generated by these contracts is a really beautiful thing. Not only does it allow people to obtain financing, but it makes the efforts larger than one person. It builds community and strengthen the bonds that help to make villages stronger and the poor more successful.
Wall of Group Names of borrowers at Banco do Povo.
The women we visited in São Paulo were a very small example of the reach that our giving covers. Genji donates $25,000 annually to WPF’s Poverty is Unnecessary Fund. If you break that number down, considering that the average first loan is $150, our donations have the capacity to reach around 166 people. That’s the number of clients, the true impact is much greater. Their families and communities benefit from the assistance as well.
Marta, left, in her workspace with Rosana our guide, and Lauren from Whole Planet.
Throughout the trip, we kept reciting the Chinese proverb:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The sentiment pretty much sums up the goals of the Whole Planet Foundation and it’s partners. Through our donations, we are providing the resources for people in discriminated communities to teach themselves how to gain financial footing. How to grow and prosper.
I’d personally like to thank the other travelers and representatives of WPF’s contributing partners. More companies in the developed world should develop the ethos of conscious capitalism that help balance out the fortunes and resources on the planet, by teaching others to fish.
Today we toured the Iguassu Falls, the 8th wonder of the world. EVERYONE should make this a priority on their “before I die” lists. Unless you hate nature, this special place will blow your mind. I will write more on the spectacular falls in my next post, but I thought that this was a good segue to discuss the amazing history of the Japanese in Brazil. I was hoping I could have covered this topic after the fist scheduled day of travel, but due to my cancelled flight out of Philadelphia (nasty thunderstorm), I arrived a day late and had no point of reference to bring it up.
Let me back up for a second. São Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Japanese immigrants came to Brazil to work in the coffee plantations in the beginning of the 20th century, after slavery was abolished in Brazil and Italian immigration decreased. Due to this, Brazil had a shortage of labor, and the economy in Japan was less than ideal. Many Japanese emigrated to São Paulo to begin a new life, and now the neighborhood of Liberdage(リベルダージ) (LEE-ber-da-jay) is a vibrant community. Though their history in Brazil hasn’t always been sunny, their presence now is stable, respected and meaningful.
So back to the falls! I planned to stay a day later at Iguassu so as to absorb the power of this magnificent wonder and there is no better way than a boat trip under the thundering water. Our amazing tour guide, Ciro and our driver Pedro, set me up at the launching site. As luck would have it, I meandered down the path and found myself amidst an all Japanese (native Japanese — not Brazilian Japanese) tourist group. It happened that as I was donning my life-jacket, an authoritative Japanese tour guide clucked at me in Japanese that I had my jacket on all wrong. Before I could say a word she righted it for my safety. I promptly said “arigatou gozaimashta” the honorific way to say thank you. She whipped her head around to look me up and down. Realizing I was a 5’8” non-Japanese, she started laughing and pushed me onto the raft. Waving goodbye to her tour group and to me saying, “CiaoSeñora,” we sped down the mighty Iguassu river.
Seated next to two Obaasan (Japanese grandmother / elderly Japanese women), we squealed with pure glee as the raft raced us closer and closer to the rapids and falls. I spoke some broken Japanese, asking if they were ready for this and the woman next to me grabbed my arm to on hold tight.
Some of my boat companions post under the rainbow.
The river bends to the right opening up to a canyon that reveals the falls. A collective “ooooo” and “ahhhh” erupted from the group, understood in all languages. The driver, possibly no older than 16, whipped us around the whitecaps and under the falls. I tried to snap pictures of the most amazing rainbow I’ve ever seen, between the squalls. We were taxied below one of the “smaller” falls and pounded by the wall of water. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, so I tilted back my head with the largest smile I’ve worn in years. Something in the nature of this place makes you LOVE life. The power and beauty of nature grips your soul and renews your spirit.
Yes, this is real. Photo I shot from our raft.
After a proper soaking, we headed back to the dock and disembarked. My Japanese companions laughed at my drenched khakis (they were somehow much more prepared for this than I) as I waved sayonara!
Brazil is an amazing country, full of diversity and stories, rich in history and culture, and has some of the most beautiful people, inside and out, on the planet. My thanks to the Whole Planet Foundation, my sponsoring peeps at Genji Sushi, and the people of Brazil cannot be expressed enough. I will carry the love from here for the rest of my life.
Banco do Povo Group and Whole Planet suppliers take a shot before heading to the field.
Today we met with the staff of Banco do Povo (BP) and with three micro loan clients here in São Paulo. To say the least, the experience was remarkable. We awoke early to beat the traffic and arrived at the humble offices of BP to learn more about the organization. We met with the president and staff who explained their process of micro-finance and how it helps the poor of the poor in Brazil. BP lends small amounts of money ($100-$500 range) to people who generally lack access to standard banking, based on their capacity to pay back that loan.
The terms of their loans are very short (6 months) and interest rates low. This is all done with the best interest of the borrower / micro-entrepreneur in mind, so that they can grow by obtaining the assistance they need to promote their businesses, but not drown under high interest rates or the inability to pay back the loans.
An important factor in attracting clients that will trust BP is that they have a storefront and a sign. In a country where corruption is common, many poor people are wary of contractual arrangements or financial promises. However, the work that BP has continued to do has inspired trust in many small business owners who come to their locations to begin their credit process.
We drove out to the Favelas (shanty towns — above pics) of Mauá to visit three microcredit clients. The favelas are very depressed regions that suffer under the absence of basic infrastructure for safe living. These neighborhoods lack sufficient plumbing, access to clean water, sewers and a laundry list of common amenities that are basic rights to the developed world.
First, we met with Maria (we visited two Marias), a 63 year old grandmother who sells clothing and lingerie from her home and catalogs. Her micro loans through BP have helped Maria to provide for her family, fix up her home, and she is now in the process of refurbishing a structure to use as a store front.
Maria standing in front of her future store front.
We then headed a few blocks over and up a hill to meet with Marta, a seamstress and candy-shop owner. Marta uses the loans from BP to buy the equipment and goods she needs create her products. She has gone from a single mother without a way to support herself, to making 120% profit. WOW! The incredible nature of these women’s entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring and so smart. Marta’s next goal is to get a freezer so that she can have ice cream in her store. This, she hopes, will attract even more customers to buy her products.
Marta at her store window.
Finally, we headed down to meet with our second Maria, a hairdresser who is trying to recover from a string of tragic events. A few years ago, she had a very successful salon business, but a house built on the hill behind her crashed into her home and business as a result of a landslide. Landslides are a common problem in Brazil’s shanty towns, as they are not structurally sound, and with inclement weather comes mud slides because the water no longer has nowhere to go naturally.
Maria’s home was covered in 3 truck loads of mud that destroyed much of her home. On top of that, looters stole much of her salon equipment. She was left with nothing. BP has helped her begin to recover. She is again working, but has a long way to go before reaching the level she was operating at before. Her resolve and determination to succeed in the face of such adversity moved everyone. We wish her the best of luck!
Maria at her salon.
I’m so moved by the positivity and determination of these women, so very thankful for the fortunes in my life, and for the generosity of others. The opportunity to help others is everywhere. Banco do Povo, The Whole Planet Foundation and it’s sustaining partners like like Genji and my fellow travelers from Be Green Packaging, Seventh Generation, Naked Juice, and Stacy’s, are doing good work. May their work continue and that more contributions and volunteers continue to help alleviate poverty and empower people around the world.
I’m terrible at packing. I always bring too much stuff, especially for short trips. Which this will be. I’m narrowing it down to what I know I’ll want to have. The illustration above is some of those essentials, aside from the obvious things like my toothbrush, that will help me remember this adventure.
Can’t forget my passport and visa. This I will triple check on my way to the airport tomorrow. And my immunization card, no yellow fever for me!
Yes, I’ll be sporting a fanny pack. This will help me from carrying too much with me for the day and to elude pick-pockets. It’s large enough to hold my camera and important things like wallet, sunscreen and sunglasses. There is nothing worse than carrying a large bag full of heavy stuff while you’re trying to soak up the new surroundings.
Comfy shoes and clothes are so important too. I’m bringing a trusted pair of sneakers, jeans with a bit of stretch, and a dress that is probably the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn. I need to bring a warm layer too — it’s winter in Brazil after all. Forecast calls for rain part of the time, 65-75 degrees F.
And my art supplies! I have travel watercolors, pencils, pens and a couple of nice, compact sketchbooks. I wish there were more hours in the day to paint and draw everything. I love sitting for hours and drawing people, architecture and nature. For this trip, I think we’re on the go for much of the time, but I’ll find a way.
Well, I better get back to finalizing my packing. What would you bring?
By this time next week, I’ll be in São Paulo, Brazil!! Since I wouldn’t be heading out for this adventure without the Whole Planet Foundation, I wanted to explain a bit about what the foundation is and how the donations received from partners like Genji are put to good use.
Whole Planet Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization established by Whole Foods Market. We provide grants to microfinance institutions in Latin America, Africa and Asia who in turn develop and offer microenterprise loan programs, training and other financial services to the self-employed poor.
The idea is to give back to communities around the globe who contribute to the success of Whole Foods Markets, by providing grants to small businesses and producers of goods sold in their stores. In Brazil, the Whole Planet Foundation works through Banco do Povo Credit Solidario (BP) to channel the microcredit grants to small, responsible producers who supply EcoPath with ingredients for their all-natural, bio-dynamic cleaning supplies.
We will be visiting both BP and some of the microcredit clients to see first hand the work they do and how our contributions make a difference. I’m excited to visit with these people, hear their stories and admire their work. It should be an experience generally not privy to your average tourist.