Entrepreneurs everywhere need financial services, which include savings and loans, as well as ancillary services, such as insurance and banking services. The inability to access financial services, particularly capital, greatly constrains entrepreneurs in the rural Amazon to sustain their microenterprises because they're starved of the resources they need to buy critical equipment and the raw materials required to produce their product.
Few financial services are offered in the Amazonian communities where CEN works, so residents are forced to travel five hours to the city of Santarém simply to access a bank. Government assistance programs, such as retirement pensions and Bolsa Familia (a family assistance program), upon which a sizeable percentage of the residents rely, only disperse payment through bank accounts. The trip to Santarém is a heavy burden for residents, costing both time and money. Furthermore, the bank deposits are not used to promote economic spending within the communities. Even when the savings are brought home, they're usually stashed in a hiding place for an emergency, thus, never circulated within the community.
Complicating this, is the fact that very few programs offering non-collateralized microcredit operations exist in the region. The northern region of Brazil, comprising seven states with a total population of about 14.7 million, is home to an estimated 1.9 million microentrepreneurs-only eight to ten percent of which have received any kind of loan from a bank or microfinance organization. To the best of our knowledge, there are only three programs operating in the Middle Amazon Region: two limited government-sponsored programs and a rotating fund called the Banco da Mulher.
The Banco da Mulher, founded in 2007, is the only successful Rotating Saving Group, or ROSCA, operating in the region, and one of the few CEN is aware of in the entire Brazilian Amazon. The Banco da Mulher not only functions as a group lending/savings fund, but also an educational program for its members. After each contributing a certain amount of money, group members meet and share advice, while providing each other moral support. Each member must approve all loan and business plans, and the borrower makes payments on his/her loan every week until its repaid. Once the loan has been paid in full, another borrower is able to take out a loan with the money that was repaid, upon approval of the group.
Improving access to financial services is one component of CEN's overall approach to building self-reliance in communities. At the core of our approach is strengthening the basic skills and mindsets that form the foundation for successful utilization of financial services, as well as other building blocks of self-reliance, including building higher-level skills, and removing external obstacles. The following section outlines CEN's current strategy for improving access to financial services in the region:
The Banco da Mulher model appears to be the most promising model for rapidly improving access to the modest amounts of capital that entrepreneurs in the region need in order to launch and build their microenterprises. ROSCAS generally have a strong track record around the world, and there is firm anecdotal evidence that the Banco da Mulher has helped members significantly expand their income levels. In the short term, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to attract existing Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) to the region, due to the higher costs of providing services in isolated areas and the still largely untapped market opportunities available to MFIs in more urban areas of the Brazilian Amazon.
Many other organizations that work with entrepreneurs in the region have expressed a strong interest in implementing savings groups similar to the Banco da Mulher; however, the lack of documentation on how the project was implemented and absence of a more comprehensive validation of its impact, has prevented replication of the model.
CEN is currently in the process of launching the AOTM-BAM Women's Group capitaland Banco da Mulher Project.
Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. Although connections within families and at the community level is generally quite strong in many communities in the region, local entrepreneurs already take advantage of these social networks. By increasing contact and connections with other networks, residents can expand their ability to gain access to additional sources of credit and financial services, as well as other resources that might help their microenterprise.
The Banco do Nordeste, a medium-sized bank originally from Brazil's northeast, has begun delivery services in smaller and more remote communities in parts of the Amazon by piggybacking on existing infrastructure. Similar models are used in many other parts of the world. As the quality of infrastructure improves, it will become increasingly feasible for banks to offer some services in the communities where we currently work. For example, the Suruacá computer telecenter is already being used to renew certain government licenses. By setting up point-of-sale services in telecenters and rural stores, and connecting them to the bank through the Internet or some other telecommunications link, a bank would be able to offer financial services in areas where it could not otherwise afford to build offices or employ staff.
CEN plans to pursue this strategy through dialogue with financial institutions currently serving Santarem, as well as relevant government organization, once we have started the implementation of savings funds within the region.
As the communities' needs for capital and other financial services increases beyond what can be provided through the above means, CEN and our local partners expect to work with established private and public organizations to expand the quantity and size of loans, as well as other financial services to community residents. These ideas include:
Success in doing this will require: