With the help of our local partner Proyectos Laubach Alfabetizadora Mexico, AC (PLAMAC), and a grant from the SG Foundation in 2018, we were recently able to finalize a three-year literacy and small business development program.
By combining literacy with enterprise development, the program focused on improving financial literacy skills for “campesina” women in five rural communities throughout the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Roughly 300 low-income women have directly benefitted from the program – along with their family members – as they have increased their confidence and capacity to succeed in running small businesses, thereby improving their livelihood and quality of life.
Located in the central region of Mexico, PLAMAC works in rural communities where residents survive on a subsistence agricultural economy complicated by adverse weather conditions, lack of electricity, running water, and roads. Under these conditions, educational and economic opportunities are scarce. PLAMAC staff travel between 1 to 2 hours to reach these villages, some only accessible outside of the rainy season.
As a way to nurture economic development and combat poverty in Guanajuato, ProLiteracy partnered with PLAMAC to expand a learning project using a proven business education curriculum called the Exito! (Success) in PLAMAC’s Savings Clubs. The practice of saving and accumulating capital provides a solid foundation for the Savings Clubs’ members to begin working together to apply what they learn through the Success Program/6P to their businesses, homes, and communities.
1. Literacy Instruction
PLAMAC creates a base with women by establishing reading and writing skills first. As women gain in confidence and ability, literacy skills can then be leveraged to help participants solve problems related to running businesses.
2. Savings Clubs
PLAMAC has established Savings Clubs in poor communities for over 20 years. Each year new members in the communities join as they are attracted to the solidarity and support network the women have in each group. This past year, each of the clubs recruited several new members with many of them being children. One village has over 100 members, 60 of whom are children. The Savings Club model that PLAMAC started 20 years ago serves not only as a place for women to meet and save a few pesos each week, but also as a space for learning, capacity building, and mutual support. Women meet on a weekly basis to learn about budgeting, savings, credit, and small business skills. In many cases, because PLAMAC works in such remote areas, many participants prefer to keep their money in the lockbox with the Savings Club, rather than in a bank 1-2 hours away. Each participant contributes modest savings, which then serve as capital for loans or start-up funds for participants who want to start a small business.
3. Business Training
PLAMAC’s micro- enterprise program helped equip individual small businesses with goats this past year.
They purchased a number of goats several years ago and have been growing the cooperative with the Savings Club members. Each member who receives at least two goats must then take offspring from those goats (after a maximum of three years) and grant the same amount they received to another member in the group. Using this model, many women have herds of 5-10 goats and are able to sell them and/or make products to sell, such as cheese or milk. In addition to the goat cooperative, one of the villages received a micro-loan to start a village bakery.
The oven is a clay/mud oven that vents to the outside and the women can come and make bread, cookies, and other baked goods to sell to the community. The community of La Cabaña is roughly 60 minutes away from any major roads or highways and can be unpassable by car during the rainy season. Though the remote location presents many challenges, it also provides the space for a strong local economy for the women to start small businesses with their handmade products.
4. Computer Lab & Internet Café
PLAMAC has created a space that helps students build computer and technology skills for business, while also generating sustaining income. PLAMAC offers basic computer classes at their headquarter office where students can ultimately learn how to market goods/products online, research pricing, learn about social media and other elements involved in running a successful business. For many who attend classes, this is their first step in learning basic computer skills. Many of the women PLAMAC serves have family members that are working in the United States so PLAMAC helps them learn how to set up an email account, how to use the internet, and other basic skills.
In addition to providing classes, this is the third year that PLAMAC has been able to utilize the space as an internet café. The funds that PLAMAC is able to collect from students utilizing the computers helps cover a portion of their utilities and rent. This is a model that ProLiteracy helped fund with PLAMAC so that they could generate some sustaining funds for the lab.
A Learner Profile:
Juana Ramos lives in the village of San Thelmo, a community about 60 minutes outside of Guanajuato. PLAMAC has been working with Juana since 1983. At that time, San Thelmo was so remote they didn’t have access to roads, electricity, or running water. As PLAMAC helped establish a literacy program, the women gained confidence and learned how to advocate for their needs with the local government. Guillermina Lopez, PLAMAC’s founder, went with Juana the very first time she went to submit a written request to the local government for a road with access to San Thelmo. Juana gained literacy skills and today, 36 years later, she continues to work with PLAMAC in San Thelmo. Juana is the leader of the San Thelmo Savings Club and runs a small business selling corn tortillas to surrounding communities. Juana raised eight children and continues to lead her local Savings Club of 32 women and 20 children. Many of the members have participated in the Savings Club for over 10 years.
Many of PLAMAC’s literacy programs run for 9-10 months (accommodating the agricultural schedule for the women); all of the literacy instruction, implementation, and reporting for 2019 has been completed. PLAMAC has reported that all of the SG funding provided for the 2019 programming have been spent.