By Gail Landis, Chair, Pro Mujer Board of Directors
Last month we held our regular quarterly Board meeting in Mexico City. About 10 years ago, we began the tradition of holding an annual meeting in the field. This gives us the opportunity to meet our local management teams and visit our operations and clients. During my tenure as a Pro Mujer Board member, I have had the opportunity to make these visits seven times and as always, it is both illuminating and moving. It is a visceral reminder of the impact we are making every single day in the lives of thousands of women and their families.
Along with the members of our Board, and our senior management team from New York, we were joined by our friend and Senior Advisor Kathleen Corbet. It was great to have Kathleen with us as she was able to participate fully in our Board meeting while we had the benefit of her comments and insights.
Highlights of the meeting included a presentation of the Mexican annual operating plan by Rodolfo Medrano. Rodolfo, who joined Pro Mujer in 2008 as the General Manager of Mexico, is a veteran executive with many years of managerial and financial experience.
Over the past few years and under his leadership, our Mexican loan portfolio has doubled from $54 million to $110 million and the number of clients we reach increased by 60% from 17,100 to 27,300.
These gains were made possible by operational investments and enhanced efficiencies, improved services and closer relationships with our clients, as well as our successful strategic expansion into three new states in Mexico (see attached document). In addition to his role as Country Manager for Mexico, Rodolfo recently became Director, Country Operations for all of Pro Mujer.
Another highlight of the meeting was the presentation by our Health and Human Development Director, Dr. Gabriela Salvador, MD, MPH. Gabriela brought us all up to date on the progress we are making with our innovative health pilot in Nicaragua. Since November 2010, we have enrolled 3,287 women into the program. Of the clients tested so far, 70% were overweight or obese and high rates of pre-diabetes (17%), diabetes and hypertension were found. Most importantly, the issue of chronic diseases is increasingly threatening the lives of impoverished women throughout Latin America. Pro Mujer remains in a key place to fill this gap and offer convenient, affordable preventive health services for those most at-risk and the hardest to reach population. I believe that we are true pioneers and leaders in finding solutions to health care for our clients.
Our Board members saw these improvements first hand when we visited a large focal center in Tultepec the day after the Board meeting. The center was well-organized; four communal bank associations were meeting simultaneously. The loan officers and communal bank leaders were working together to collect repayments. They introduced themselves to me and the other Board members to answer our questions and describe the changes in their lives since joining Pro Mujer. We heard inspiring stories from the staff as well as the clients.
In fact, the center Director, Maria Guadelupe Aguila Sanchez, described how she had once been a client herself at a time when both she and her husband were without work and struggling to provide for themselves and their three children. She told us that she had found the meetings and atmosphere at Pro Mujer so warm and hospitable that she wanted to work for the organization. She quickly moved from being a loan officer to being head of the Focal Center where she could help other women like herself.
We went from Tultepc to San Juan Teotihuacan to participate in Dia de la Socia (Client Appreciation Day), a celebration which Rodolfo hopes to make an annual tradition in Mexico.
We were all very moved by the testimonials of the women who stood up at the end of the program to tell us how their lives had changed as a result of becoming Pro Mujer clients. One said, “I feel more alive.” Another said, “I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to come here. Not my husband or my children. A first time for me.”
Many spoke eloquently of having income and savings for the first time and close friends who gave them moral support during hard times. One of the most moving things was the women’s heartfelt expressions of gratitude to our Co-Founders, Lynne Patterson and Carmen Velasco.
These field visits are like a shot of adrenalin. They are a living testament to the impact of Pro Mujer’s work. Nothing compares to hearing our clients explain how their lives and the lives of their families have been transformed for the better. I hope that at some point more of you will take the opportunity to visit our operations in Latin America and meet the women for yourselves. There is no better way to understand Pro Mujer and see its impact.