It all began in 1990 with two women. Both educators with ties to Bolivia, Carmen Velasco and Lynne Paterson recognized a pressing need for women to access basic human services to help break the cycle of poverty. They began by creating a safe space in Bolivia’s Altiplano region where women could connect for mutual support and encouragement. Following a small grant from USAID and support from the Bolivian government, they offered microfinance, health and human development services to their growing base of female clients who would become the first beneficiaries of Pro Mujer.
At the time, microfinance banks were rare and economists doubted their viability. Pro Mujer was an especially risky case because it served the needs of the poorest women in Bolivia, but through an innovative communal association and peer-group guarantee methodology, it mitigated that risk. Women formed small groups with other women they knew in order to be eligible to borrow. If one member was not able to repay her loan, the group would help her repay it.
From these humble beginnings, Pro Mujer has expanded its activities throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, and Mexico. Today, over $3.6 billion in small loans have been extended to more than 2 million women, many of whom have also benefitted from health interventions, family planning services, empowerment and business development training. They’ve shared the benefits they’ve reaped along the way with their families and their communities and are living, smiling, enterprising proof that investing in a woman leads to prosperity for generations to come.