During my site visit in BCS, I had the pleasure of visiting the Mezquite de Chametla community savings group is in a community right outside of La Paz. The group is comprised of retired people; they are very disciplined and organized with the approach.  As Irlanda Estrada, Philanthropiece A.C. Promotora, and I arrived in the space we were welcomed to a back palapa where the meeting took place. Overall, it ran very smoothly and I was impressed with the patience and openness of the group. There was a calculation error at some point during the meeting, and the group worked it out. I appreciated the space that Irlanda provided for them to be proactive and to resolve the issue. This was the first meeting that a loan was granted, and felt like an important place for guided reflection.

I later visited the AMIA (Asociación de Mujeres Indígenas y Afrodescendientes), a community savings group mobilized by a family restaurant. The family has used their savings to make improvements to their business, and—from what we witnessed during a 2-hour period—it’s a very popular place to eat and take out food. This is a family that originated from Oaxaca; they came to BCS to work in agriculture and construction about 30 years ago. They have maintained ties to their communities in central México, and have an association that is connected with artisans there. We loved the experience! The environment was lovely, our host – Wendy – is super pilas, intelligent, and open. The food was extraordinary. Wendy is the founder of the asociación (AMIA) and the savings groups. She is a dynamic community member with whom we will continue to cultivate a relationship.

A "hoja de prestamos" or loan sheet is held up in front of a wooden box with two visible locks.

The Philanthropiece A.C. in B.C.S. México has come so far in 2018. Structures have been implemented that will allow the team to make conscious decisions about where to put our resources moving forward as well all establish financial and legal practices for the AC. The concerns that existed about processes like submitting receipts and social security payments earlier this year have been ironed out. We are within budget and have established internal rules and guidelines for operation. We have our foundation.

I recently visited BCS to participate in an annual Pp A.C. México Mesa Directiva meeting, visit community savings groups in the La Paz region, and hold individual check-ins with the program Directors. The most powerful aspect of the visit for me was witnessing the gelling of the asociación, the team taking ownership of the work, the mission, and the view towards the future. While they honor and recognize the value of working with the CO team, they are no longer asking at every turn, “What would the foundation do? What does Colorado want?” To me, this is empowerment, and this is success. Challenges still exist, of course. The main challenge is how to organize the team structure and resolve any conflicts that persist. With that said, this past week I have witnessed convivencia and respect within the team, an inspired association, and a central program—Bancos Comunitarios—that is meaningful, impactful, and needed in the region.

A few key points that the AC brought up include making a budget incorporating staff time and overhead, refining the mission statement, ensuring consistent trainings, establishing safety practices for team members, and turning our lens towards autonomy and sustainability.  We need to assure that the whole team (not just the team members on the Board of Directors) understand our financial status and projections. While many processes and systems have been put into place, there is still a need to ensure understanding. This could look like creating and presenting diagrams. We recognize the need to do some strategic visioning, to visualize where we will be in 1, 3, 5 years.

What can that look like? We are in agreement as an A.C. that to honor our mission, our work needs to go above and beyond just forming and training savings groups. This takes more investigation, design, and team preparation. There’s a deep need to honor the amount of time that this takes, primarily by solidifying our team and creating contracted full-time positions. As has been the case for years in BCS, the work that we are doing is complex. The savings group program has many technical elements to it that are in constant need of attention, refining, and research. The time it takes to implement our work is substantial as it necessitates travel and dedicated hours in communities.

But despite—or perhaps because of—these intricacies and challenges, we feel solid that we will move forward with the Savings Groups/Community Banks Program and the Financial Education Program. We are making progress on researching and understanding how we might design School Groups and Social Entrepreneurship Programs. Key next steps are to meet with socios to hear what they are interested in, in particular related to post-graduation from the savings groups program, meet with graduated groups, and further explore how we might play a role in social entrepreneurship. One thing’s for sure: the future holds bright prospects.

Katie Doyle Myers is the Executive Director of the Philanthropiece Foundation. Convivencia is one of her favorite words in the Spanish language. Edited by Raye Watson