In the lower Amazon, most residents have few options for accessing capital to help them build viable micro-scale businesses. The most common sources of entrepreneurial funds come from their own savings and/or money borrowed from family members. These options are very limited, which undermines microenterprise growth.
Microfinance is recognized as an effective instrument of change, one that empowers individuals to build small businesses that help them become economically self-sufficient. Rotating savings funds are an important and effective microfinance method. The Banco da Mulher, one of the few such funds in the Brazilian Amazon – and the only one in the region around Santarém – made its first loan in 2003. The fund served members of its parent organization, the regional women's association known as the Associação de Mulheres Trabalhadoras do Baixo Amazonas (Association of Women Workers in the Lower Amazon, or AOMT-BAM). The Banco da Mulher was established as a way for members to access badly needed capital to start or expand microbusinesses.
About 54 women joined the fund by paying a small membership fee of R$100 Brazilian reais (approximately US$46 at the time). From this pool of money, members were given the opportunity to request loans for their own entrepreneurial projects.
The projects these loans made possible resulted in an increase in income, as well as sense of security and personal empowerment for borrowers and even those who never took out loans. Furthermore, the successes and failures of the fund have provided important lessons for the development of similar programs.
CEN's Banco da Mulher Evaluation Project is an in-depth assessment of the bank with the objectives of providing bank organizers with concrete recommendations, and providing CEN and other organizations with a model to draw upon for future projects. CEN will evaluate the fund and issue a report:
- Documenting the project from inception to the present
- Assessing how well the bank met the objectives of its organizers and members
- Providing lessons learned and recommendations for improvement
As of Oct. 15, 2016, we are currently in the process of finishing a comprehensive report that documents and evaluates the operations and performance of the fund, as well as offers recommendations for improvement. With this report, we hope that the Banco da Mulher can become a framework for other groups in the region to establish similar programs.