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The Adelante Foundation in Honduras

Author: David Towell

Continuing the series of Innovation Stories on Sustainability and Social Justice, David Towell reports on his visit to a Foundation in Honduras promoting the empowerment and employment of disadvantaged women and their families through microcredit.

Fundación Adelante (= Forward) is a micro-finance agency on the Grameen Bank model in Bangladesh, dedicated to improving the standard of living of the poorest women and their families (men are often less in evidence in these family units) in Honduras through encouraging entrepreneurship. Created after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1999, it has since offered more than 77,000 loans and currently engages about 8000 women in its programme. In 2014 I was fortunate enough to meet one of the agency leaders as well as several of the women in a small village who are currently developing their enterprises.

The basic ‘currency’ of Adelante is unsecured loans to impoverished women who have seen a business opportunity to improve their lot – most often by creating a micro-enterprise. But there is much more to it than this. Women are encouraged to apply for their individual loans as part of small groups of women who therefore have a commitment to supporting each other. Moreover all the women entrepreneurs in a locality are part of a local assembly (the meeting I attended had about 20 members) which is a vehicle for performance monitoring (e.g. progress with loan repayment) by the agency, education on business and other issues and mutual support.

Over time, Adelante has widened the range of its loans (typically only a few hundred dollars) to include home improvement (mostly these women are managing their businesses from home) and also educational loans so that these women can get better education for their children. Currently this range is further expanding to more collective forms of local economic development, notably funding for solar energy systems to village communities that have no access or insufficient access to electricity and micro-irrigation system training and equipment to enhance local food production.

Adelante believes in 'sticking to the knitting' i.e. doing what it knows best - and building new capacities through working with strategic partners with complementary assets. It is also committed to playing an enabling role in relation to its entrepreneurs and their local networks, not trying to insert 'top down' ideas into local communities.
But it seems to me that the individualistic focus on empowering women as entrepreneurs needs to attend to the wider context of their lives and examine whether more collective benefit could be achieved, as judged against an holistic set of core principles and objectives.

So in relation to the economics of Adelante work, it makes sense to focus on individual business plans and what individual women - in their local networks - want to do. I wonder however whether Adelante expertise combined with the experience of local women could be used to develop a local economic analysis of what is needed for sustainable development not just what businesses might be viable - although of course these questions are related. Such an analysis might seek to explore what kinds of economic activity would be most beneficial to the local community, for example in promoting health, protecting the environment, expanding employment, and increasing the communities control over local economic activity.

In relation to community development, it seems clear that empowered women in an assembly may be interested in, and able to mobilise political influence over, more than small business development. They are interested in a better future for their children and grandchildren, good neighbourhood schools, more accessible and low cost health care, community safety, clean water supplies, better sanitation, decent roads etc. I wonder whether Adelante could better support these assemblies in a stronger community development role - and looking across its 8000 'members', seek to exercise more influence over the wider policies and economic processes which shape local experience.

The micro-finance and empowerment model looks very productive in the Honduran context. What would it take to further enhance its impact on building more sustainable and inclusive communities?

The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

The Adelante Foundation in Honduras © David Towell 2015.

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