Maria Alejandra Rodriguez, a single mother of three from Nicaragua, begins to cry when she speaks about the past. As a street vendor in the village of Jinotepe, she struggled every day to support her children. Some days, she fed them a bowl of rice. Other days, they went hungry. At one point, they didn’t go to school for a year because she couldn’t afford to buy them shoes.
“I don’t know how we did it,” she says now, wiping away tears.
Things took a turn for Ms. Rodriguez in 2006, thanks to a $100 loan from the women’s development and microfinance organization Pro Mujer. The loan enabled her to start a modest hardware business and join one of Pro Mujer’s communal banks: a safe, supportive environment for women who could build their futures through small loans. Together, they shared personal and professional challenges â€“ many were victims of domestic abuse and worried about their husbands’ reactions â€“ and covered for each other when someone couldn’t pay a loan.
Pro Mujer (“Pro Women” in Spanish) is one of Latin America‘s leading microfinance institutions, helping to lift women out of poverty in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, and Argentina. It has disbursed $1 billion in small loans to more than 270,000 women, and has provided business training, health education, and health-care services to approximately 1.6 million women and more than 6 million children and family members.