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Fundacion Paraguaya (FP), the first microfinance programme and development NGO in Paraguay, was founded in 1985 by a group of visionary businessmen and professionals committed to the cause of development and economic growth, at a time when social work was extremely difficult due to the military dictatorship in place. FP’s mission is to develop innovative solutions to poverty and unemployment and disseminate them globally.

Over the last 27 years, FP has helped increase the income of 100,000 families by an average of 35%. In 2011 alone, its microfinance program reached over 53,000 clients, trained 36,000 women and provided 126,000 loans totalling an amount of $39 million. FP has a clear preference for women borrowers: 85 per cent of its clients are women who are organized in 2,400 solidarity groups. Its 28 offices across the country provide national coverage allowing the poorest of the poor financial access. FP provides a wide range of microfinance products including loans specially designed for women, loans to small businesses, small farmers and producers, and loans for educational and housing purposes.

Luis Fernando Sanabria, General Manager, explains that FP has remained devoted to its original promise of using microfinance as a tool to eliminate poverty, “We see microfinance as a tool for development. When we talk about microfinance we are not only talking about a loan, we are talking about financial inclusion and opening the doors to new opportunities for our clients, which is why we deliberately decided to remain as an NGO and not become a bank, despite the financial benefits this would generate. As an NGO we have the flexibility we need to continue serving the poor and introducing social innovations to our approach. This would not have been possible if we were a bank.”

FP’s approach to microfinance is holistic, as Mr Sanabria describes: “We realised that only providing loans is not enough, that’s why our approach is a comprehensive one, we also provide training, education, and other financial services to our clients to help them overcome poverty.”

Success stories amongst FP clients abound, such as the case of Iluminada Ortega, a 46 year old mother of five children, who owns a small eatery called “El Buen Amigo,” located on the side of one of the main highways. Iluminada lives with her son, “the owner of the beauty salon”, as she proudly explains. Two years ago she found herself in a dire financial situation, “my business was not going well, my daughter got sick and with no capital, no one wanted to help me. All the doors were closed.”

Her sister mentioned the work FP was doing with women and Iluminada decided to find out more about it. She went to the FP office where she talked to the secretary and was given all the details about the program. The next day a credit officer called Ms. Ortega told her she would need to join a group of women who were also interested in obtaining a loan. They had their first meeting that week and within ten days their first loan was disbursed.

Ms. Ortega’s first loan was for $120. In addition Iluminada received training on how to save and how to make a business plan. Before receiving her first loan, Iluminada’s family income was $400 a month, about $100 short of what she needed to cover all her expenses. As part of her business plan, she received advice on how to find new customers and identify new market niches as well as to how to find new suppliers. Her son also got a loan to increase the size of his beauty salon. By the end of the year Iluminada’s family income had gone from $400 to $750 a month. She was able to grow her business and for the first time earn more than her expenditure.

Iluminada says the programme changed her life. It was not only the loan, but the opportunities that had been refused to her so many times before. Iluminada continues to work hard and hopes to be able to open a small inn for travellers soon.

Iluminada Ortega is just one of the 53,000 clients working with FP. For the timebeing, the organization is focused on achieving its next goal: “a Paraguay without poverty.”

The following video is an example of a credit programme that works with women in rural environments in the regions of Cordillera, Paraguari, Misiones, Caaguazú,

Itapua, Alto Paraná, San Pedro y Ñeembucú. The members of the women committees receive training in agroproduction as well as credit assistance and other programme benefits.

The following village community banking program, Women for Development, aims to provide services to meet the needs of women of scarce resources in Paraguay. The programme seeks to reach the greatest number of women, giving them the opportunity to carry out economic activities which enable them to live in dignity and contribute to a better quality of life in their homes.

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