Witnessing the Change – A Perspective from Latin America

VisionFund is an organisation based on change. Changing the lives of our clients, their families and their communities is why we exist. However witnessing and measuring this change is one of our biggest challenges.

I admire the tenacity of our clients; they work so hard towards a better life. It is our job to track their progress and ensure our programmes lend themselves to solving the issues they face.

It is important to be realistic about what pulling yourself out of poverty looks like: it’s slow, it’s hard, and it happens in small steps. Receiving support through VisionFund isn’t the same thing as winning the lottery. Progress takes years, and it takes commitment and hard work from our end as the provider, and from our clients.

If measuring client progress is a challenge for VisionFund, let’s not forget the challenges our clients are facing. They may be illiterate, they cannot travel for hours to get to a bank, they don’t have collateral or appropriate paperwork and they may face prejudice of varying degrees due to factors such as gender and ethnicity.

So, how do we measure progress and ensure we are helping clients break down these barriers?

Loan officers see the differences over time; it can take years to see what is effectively a change in circumstances and lifestyle. We travelled to visit a Bolivian client whose home began with humble amenities, a bed and plastic chairs was all she had. Over time, the setting remained modest, but a stove, kitchen table and chairs added. The children had their own beds and were eating more fresh food, rich in protein instead of carbohydrate. They were attending school, with fees paid through income instead of via a high cost loan.

Dedicated to the logging of eucalyptus forests, with loans Daniel has managed to consolidate his business and provide work to more than ten families

We need to be attuned to these changes, and build good relationships in the communities we serve. We need to ask the right questions, and be aware of what these small improvements mean to a client. You and I might be used to having a stove in the kitchen, but for our clients it can dramatically improve their quality of life.

Visiting clients during one day may not accurately display the journey they have been on over time, keep in regular contact with your clients, and bear in mind the road they have travelled. Using tools such as PPI (Progress out of Poverty Index) helps to measure changes over time and add structure to reporting.

Agricultural credit granted to Enrique improved his family’s quality of life and provided education to his children. Nowadays, he is one of the best stockbreeders of Sangarará, Cusco.

I encourage you to watch this video from our friends at VisionFund Mexico, highlighting the brilliant impact that microfinance is having in clients’ lives in Latin America. You will notice from the timescales in each case study that it can take over a decade to reach a significant level of change.

Let’s not be discouraged by the time we must commit to our clients; effecting change is a slow process, often made with slow progress. The end result is improved livelihood for millions of people every year, which is valuable reward for our efforts serving God’s Kingdom.

Javier Ramirez was the former of CEO VisionFund Peru