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The Strength of Women: More Real Than Ever

Founded in November 2019, “The Strength of Women” (La Fuerza de las Mujeres) is a Savings and Lending Group (SLG) made up of twelve entrepreneurs who graduated from the Women’s Empowerment Project (WEP). When they started, none of them could have imagined what they were going to confront and achieve.

The goal of the Savings and Lending Group is for the entrepreneurs to practice saving money and to make microloans in their community. This savings-lending cycle strengthens the group’s collective economic situation, as well as each of their individual businesses. Programa Velasco (PV) Economic Empowerment staff gave a workshop to the WEP entrepreneurs on how SLGs work and then handed out a step-by-step guide that explained how to start an SLG, and how to select group members to fill key leadership roles.

After a board of directors was selected, PV’s staff actively participated in the SLG’s first few meetings until the group understood its core principles. Since then, the staff has taken a hands-off approach, merely observing while the entrepreneurs control every aspect of the group. Although the staff can answer general questions about SLG methodology, they refrain from making any group decisions.

After a board of directors was selected, PV’s staff actively participated in the SLG’s first few meetings until the group understood its core principles. Since then, the staff has taken a hands-off approach, merely observing while the entrepreneurs control every aspect of the group. Although the staff can answer general questions about SLG methodology, they refrain from making any group decisions.

The Savings and Lending Group fiscal cycle lasts about nine months, running parallel to the WEP activity calendar. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, El Salvador went into a strict quarantine. The sudden humanitarian crisis caused the entrepreneurs to distribute their savings sooner than they originally intended, as they needed the funds to buy provisions and supplies during a time of global uncertainty. It was a big hit for them and their work as a group.

Six months passed before the entrepreneurs could restart their meetings. In support of this effort, Programa Velasco awarded seed money to the SLG as well as each of the individual entrepreneurs. This money was used to make loans to purchase ingredients, equipment, or materials the entrepreneurs needed to jumpstart their businesses and start saving again. The entrepreneurs haven’t looked back since

“Now I feel really confident in my ability to save. I put the money I make cutting hair into the fund and I know I can’t spend the money I put away.”- Carolina, President

To compensate for having almost no in-person contact with the entrepreneurs in 2020, the PV staff met with the SLG three times in 2021. In these meetings, staff members provided feedback on what the group had done independently over the previous year, reviewed the SLG account ledger, and resolved some lingering doubts about how to calculate interest.

At the close of their last fiscal period, the entrepreneurs counted just over $4,000 in their cash box. Of that total, $3,000 was savings and $767 was accrued loan interest. According to their transaction records, the smallest amount an entrepreneur saved was $99 and the most was $600. Considering that the SLG required a minimum savings of just 25 cents per week, these figures represent incredible progress. The SLG members wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told them they’d save that much money– they might’ve even laughed at the thought!

The entrepreneurs have come up with ideas to raise money for the SLG. For example, throughout 2021, they held numerous food sales, with all proceeds going directly to their fund. The entrepreneurs have expressed how gratified they feel by achieving goals only possible through saving:

“Even though we graduated from the WEP, our group continues to meet and this has allowed us to stay united. I always save part of my sales now so I can contribute it to the fund.”- Isabel, Key Holder

“I’m grateful to Programa Velasco for teaching us how to save. These savings reflect my daily effort selling chickens. I feel happy that I will be able to expand my business with what I’ve been able to save.”- Verónica, Key Holder

“It’s hard to save on your own at home, I’ve only been able to save as part of this group. But now at my house, everyone’s started saving, even my daughters.”- Claudia, Money Counter

It goes without saying how proud we are of these entrepreneurs. It’s a privilege to walk with them on their journey of learning, growth, and empowerment, and none of it would be possible without our supporters. Thank you!

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