Contact name: Bill Fishbein
Project URL: www.thecoffeetrust.org
Organization Name: The Coffee Trust
Project: Mujeres Chajulense Micro-Credit
Projected Impact: 5,000
In 2008, Asociacion Chajulense, the fair trade, organic coffee association in the Ixil region of Guatemala, was forced to lay off hundreds of women workers at their processing plant. New equipment had been purchased that rendered their jobs superfluous. In an effort to find another opportunity to replace the lost jobs, a pilot savings/micro-credit program was established in the hopes of helping the women who lost their jobs to start small, cottage type businesses and add to their family income. The program started with 20 women, most of who could not read, write, or even speak Spanish.
The Coffee Trust supported Mujeres Chajulense with training, capital, and an intense capacity building program. The training began at a very basic level, explaining what a loan was, how it functioned, how interest functioned, and how the infrastructure of the program functioned. Groups would have approximately 20 members. There would be an executive committee for each group. Groups would meet every two weeks to make payments, receive loans, and share successes and challenges with the other women. There was no collateral to back up the loans, so each group would be collectively responsible for each individual member’s loan should they not be able to repay it. No one wanted to be shunned by their peers, so defaults are less then two percent. The program grew.
The program was fundamentally based on savings. So, as business was conducted and loans repaid, a percentage of the loan was also placed in a savings fund. The savings fund became a part of the next loan. As interest was paid on the entire loan, the interest paid on the savings portion was simply added to the savings fund. The savings would eventually replace the borrowed capital entirely.
As time went on and the loans and infrastructure of the program increased, the capacity building demands became greater. The Coffee Trust provided more capital and more capacity building. Local consultants were called in to train the executives in strategic planning, business planning, and hierarchy of leadership, roles, and responsibilities. Fundraising strategies were also introduced so that Mujeres Chajulense would become responsible for raising its own funds and no longer be dependent upon The Coffee Trust or any one funder.
Asociacion Chajulense provided a place for the women to house their program(s) and the organizational structure for the women to operate it successfully. With a few hundred women in the program, the women formed their own independent non-profit organization in 2010. Asociacion Chajulense had given birth to a fully functioning, women’s savings and micro-credit program.
Since then, The Coffee Trust has introduced Mujeres Chajulense to KIVA Foundation and Root Capital, who offer no-interest and low-interest loans to the women. Additionally, The Coffee Trust provided further capacity building support, which has helped the program build to 1,000 women and given them the opportunity to reach a new level of financial expertise.
Ironically, Mujeres Chajulense has become a stable force in the ixil region, while Asociacion Chajulense, the birthplace of Mujeres Chajulense, is struggling to survive under the intense pressure of the coffee leaf-eating fungus, la roya.
Who Will Benefit from this Project?
Protected by the rough Cuchamatantes Mountains and a brutally cold, rainy climate, the Ixil people were relatively protected from Western civilization until the early 20th century. Since then, the deeply indigenous Ixil people have suffered from harsh poverty brought on by debilitating respiratory illnesses, water borne diseases, cash-cropping, and Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war. After the war, the region was flooded with well-intended, but poorly informed NGOs who saddled the Ixil people with give-away programs, creating a culture of dependency, eroding the inherent strength of the Ixil people, and leaving a sense of victimization and mistrust in their wake.
The Coffee Trust Savings and Micro-Credit Project in the Ixil region benefits 1,000 women from Mujeres Chajulense and their families and focuses on self-sufficiency. Most of the women are associated with the fair trade, organic coffee association, Asociacion Chajulense. In 2008, the coffee association laid off hundreds of women from their processing plant. Mujeres Chajulense was started by 20 Ixil women in an effort to help those who lost their jobs at the plant.
The project will benefit 5,000 people and is located in five remote communities surrounding San Gaspar Chajul, in the Ixil region of Guatemala.
However, even more helpful would be for roasters, retailers, and roaster/retailers to engage their customers in the effort.
The Coffee Trust has a Turn-Key Roya Recovery Fundraising Kit that includes: a personalized customer introductory letter, a personalized online fundraising tool including video graphics, a personalized in-store fundraising tool, a personalized news release, and a personalized Quarterly Roya Recovery Report.
It is extremely easy to implement, and we have done all of the work. Coffee businesses need only to implement what we have already created to engage their customers in the effort to recover from the devastation of la roya and for coffee businesses to benefit from the goodwill of being proactively involved in the effort.