Left to Right: Ms Heidy Hochtatter (GSIF Regional Manager Latin America), Sister Emilia Ramirez (Province Leadership Team Central America), Sister Francisca Torres (Province Leader Central America), Ms Tracy Collier in Nicaragua
Solidarity for Financial Inclusion Program - Workshop
Over twenty Sisters, Mission Partners & project participants from across Central America took part in a workshop in El Salvador focused on strengthening current financial inclusion projects and collaboratively building a regional approach to better support people living in vulnerable situations across the region. Using a participatory approach, the workshop gave the attendees the opportunity to not only define the Theory of Change and collective vision for the future, but also to celebrate the growth and impact the projects have had over the last two years since the first workshop on financial inclusion took place in Costa Rica in 2015.
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In 2015 Cristina Duranti, Director of the Good Shepherd International Foundation (GSIF), approached the Province of Australia/Aotearoa New Zealand about the possibility of co-facilitating an inclusive finance workshop in Central America. The Province of Central America had two funded microfinance projects underway and Cristina saw a great opportunity to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience across the international Good Shepherd network with the purpose of strengthening the Sisters’ economic justice programs. The Province Leader of Central America, Sister Francisca Torres, was enthusiastic about the opportunity for the region as a whole to learn about the Australian microfinance experience.
With the blessing of Sr Anne Manning (RIP), then Province Leader of Australia/Aotearoa New Zealand, Adam Mooney, CEO of Good Shepherd Microfinance, Rhonda Cumberland, then CEO of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Tracy headed off to Costa Rica for a five-day workshop. Following the success of this workshop, and the continued efforts of the Good Shepherd International Foundation and the Central American Province, four microfinance programs are now underway and plans are in place for Tracy, who speaks fluent Spanish, to commence a nine-month secondment in April 2017. She will be seconded to the Good Shepherd International Foundation to work directly with the sisters and mission partners in Central America to strengthen and grow their microfinance programs.
The project is being led by the Good Shepherd International Foundation with support from Good Shepherd Microfinance, where Tracy works, the Province of New York, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, and the Province of Central America - all working together to fund and support Tracy and the project which directly supports the strategic plan of the Province. It is a great example of co-responsibility for mission and working together to set up programs that will assist women and families to move out of poverty.
Twenty years ago Sister Nidia was working on a sustainable livelihoods program for women in marginalised communities in Panama. She had heard about a microfinance program established by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Australia and decided to send a fax to the late Sister Anne Manning asking some questions about the program and what it involved. She had heard about the positive impact the No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) was having on women and girls in Australia and wanted to see if something similar could be done in Panama. In the absence of Google Translate, an unknown supporter translated the fax to English and Sister Anne Manning responded with some basic tips and information about NILS and microfinance.
Fast-forward eighteen years to April 2015. Adam and I are in Costa Rica after being invited by Cristina to co-facilitate an Inclusive Finance workshop alongside Simone Capolupo and Heidy Hochtatter of the GSIF and Rhonda Cumberland (then CEO of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand) for 25 Sisters and Mission Partners from nine countries across Central and South America who are interested in learning more about how microfinance and financial inclusion can support their current projects. Sister Nidia shared with the group how her interaction with Sister Anne Manning so many years ago had inspired her to incorporate microfinance into all of the projects she had worked on across the Central American region since then. To our delight, this workshop was a natural continuation of the intercontinental financial inclusion bond that had begun many years ago between the regions.
Jump ahead another two years to April 2017 and I'll be back in Central America for a nine-month secondment working with the Good Shepherd Central American Province to grow and strengthen their financial inclusion projects across Central America. How did this secondment come about? Through the leadership and guidance of the Good Shepherd International Foundation, the Province of Central America has invited me to return to Costa Rica to support the development and implementation of the regional financial inclusion strategy developed from the 2015 workshop.
The program is called 'Solidarity for Financial Inclusion' and is a collaborative effort between the Good Shepherd International Foundation, the Province of Central America, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand and the Province Leadership Team, the Province of North America and Good Shepherd Microfinance.
My work will involve working collaboratively with the Sisters and Mission Partners to establish processes, build capacity, implement monitoring and evaluation tools and design a sustainability plan. This work presents another great opportunity to grow and strengthen the global connections in the Good Shepherd network and one that I'm extremely honoured to be a part of.
While there is much more to share about this program, the current projects and the work of the Sisters across Central America, I'll leave you with the link to this video that we created in 2015… and the promise to write often and share the learnings, challenges, opportunities and adventures of the next year.
Strategic Advice and Microfinance Partnerships Manager
Good Shepherd Microfinance
*Note: The term 'secondment' means that Tracy remains in the employment of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand but is working in Nicaragua as a way of exchanging information and skills.