Microfinance. Beyond Poverty

Mario Pavón, General Manager of Fondo Esperanza

Mario Pavón, General Manager of Fondo Esperanza

"Realidad de las Microfinanzas en Chile", a report drawn up by BBVA Research and presented by the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF), Fondo Esperanza (FE) and Emprende Microfinanzas reaffirms a very significant fact: with nearly two million microenterprises, Chile is an enterprising country.

Microenterprises provide employment to nearly one quarter of the country’s workforce. However, the segment faces several challenges: 50% of the microenterprises are not incorporated into the formal economy. This means they can only provide precarious access to healthcare, pension schemes and insurance and often lack the most basic safeguards against accidents at work. Moreover, the vast majority, some 78% of them, are run by people who have not been given any training in business administration.

It has been demonstrated that, among the multiple consequences of working in the informal sector, one of the most enduringly negative is not having access to social security. The figures tell a sad story. Of all the entrepreneurs in the country, 53% do not pay into any healthcare scheme; 69% do not pay into a pension scheme for their old age, and 88% have never taken out any kind of accident insurance.

On the other side of the coin, working in the formal sector offers a different kind of life. It facilitates access to social security. But that is not all. It also provides the opportunity to operate outside the limits of personal or family support networks. A declared business can raise loans and be eligible for subsidies. Moreover, businesses with their papers in order do not have the threat of fines hanging over them from the tax services. They are able to recover any value added tax that they incur, and issue invoices, establishing a sounder relationship with suppliers and customers.

The other problem mentioned was the absence of training. The main reason why so many entrepreneurs do not receive training is that they do not know how to get it, and sometimes fail to search it out as they do not appreciate the value of improving their business skills. However, those who have gone through training, consider it to have been useful. Being more skilled makes people more productive and increases sales. Training hones business acumen but also empowers entrepreneurs and allows them to perform better in many different aspects of their daily life, which, in turn, benefits their families and the communities in which they live.

The smaller the business, the more important these issues become. Especially so in the case of women. 66% of women are working in businesses with low revenues, below USD 350 a month.

In this context, microfinance can be seen as a tool that enables borrowers to exit poverty, reducing their vulnerability and promoting their inclusion within the formal economy. It creates a virtuous circle: Gradually, as entrepreneurs see they are able to grow their microenterprises, their businesses flourish and this opens up multiple further opportunities to them.

In other words, microfinance is not an end in itself, but a means to overcome poverty. This is something that we see clearly in Fondo Esperanza. Which is why our central purpose is to contribute to enhancing the quality of life among entrepreneurs in vulnerable sectors, providing them with microfinance services, training and help in boosting their social-media profiles.

How do we do this? With a methodology that works through community banks, where  a group of microentrepreneurs receive training from Fondo Esperanza and support each other. As members of the group, they acquire the commitment to stand guarantee for each other’s interest and capital payments. This generates new links between them and provides them all with better and wider support networks.

Through the thousands of entrepreneurs forming part of Fondo Esperanza —of which 91% are vulnerable— we have been able to witness how much progress they make, seeing them develop and enhance their skills. They incorporate business tools and concepts that at the beginning they might have considered beyond their reach. Yet over time, they become a natural part of their know-how. These entrepreneurs know how to record sales and revenues, track cash flow, separate their business capital from their household expenses, and keep on learning.

With these initial developments, they start to blossom on the personal as well as the entrepreneurial front. After a year and a half in the institution, on average, members’ equity capital has risen by 20%. And there are other indicators showing improvements too. The number of people that they can turn to when they have business problems, increases by over 50%. And their businesses grow. Sales rise, on average, by 43% and surpluses by 54%.

Coming back to the data presented by BBVA Research, these show that the majority of start-ups in Chile are precarious. The challenge is huge and much remains to be done.

It is this challenge that inspires BBVAMFF’s mission, as well as the mission of Fondo Esperanza and other institutions in Chile that are working with this segment. Every service and product offered not only complies with exacting quality standards, but also aims to meet the real needs of the entrepreneurs. They help them to reduce costs and minimise their risks when they decide to raise funding. In this manner, these entrepreneurs can grow their businesses and achieve their goals.

The development of microfinance is a demanding task that needs to be taken up by all the countries in the region. It is essential to the fight against poverty and inequality. However, we should never forget that although financial inclusion and access to services can allow people to significantly increase their probabilities of winning the battle and making their dreams come true, it is the entrepreneurs themselves that are on the forefront of the battle, day in and day out, fighting to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of those around them.