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Once upon a time… there was a bank with heart

Not long ago, in Colombia, nearly half the population lived in poverty. In rural areas, the overwhelming majority. Ten years ago, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation made a commitment to change this reality by creating the country’s first microfinance bank, Bancamía, in collaboration with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – ‘Corporación Mundial de la Mujer Colombia’ and ‘Corporación Mundial de la Mujer Medellín’.

“The idea was to create a different kind of financial institution – one that prioritizes the advancement of low income people and directly impacts Colombians’ economic development,” maintained the BBVA Microfinance Foundation CEO Javier M. Flores at the forum held in commemoration of the institution’s 10th anniversary in Colombia. Topics discussed at the event include the role microfinance plays in a country’s development, the challenges and opportunities digitization represents for the sector and the importance of supporting the economic independence of women.

BBVA Microfinance Foundation CEO Javier M. Flores at the forum held in commemoration of Bancamía’s 10th anniversary

“Bancamía was my ally. It offered me what I needed to grow. I wasn’t able to study, but I dreamed of a better future for my children. Today they are in college,” said María Noelia Zora, one of the entrepreneurs supported by the institution.  Unable to hold back her tears, she explained how she was threatened by armed groups who gave her two hours to abandon her land. Even though she feared for the lives of her three children, she was brave and refused to go. She started out with an arepa stand and now she has a cafeteria. One million people like her turn to the BBVA Microfinance Foundation to help their small businesses prosper.

“Bancamía was my ally. It offered me what I needed to grow”

One million lives

“We offer financial services and training so that they can improve their quality of life,” said the Executive President of Bancamía, Miguel Ángel Charria. Currently more than half of the entrepreneurs supported by the foundation are women, most of whom made it through primary school at the most. 44% live in rural areas – a challenge that the institution’s President underscored: “Our commitment to rural areas is real.”

In the coming years the foundation is committed to continue supporting hundreds of thousands of Colombians – no matter how far away they live – especially when more than seven million micro-entrepreneurs in the country do not have access to the financial system. “We are facing the enormous challenge of continuing to focus our strategy on deepening our understanding and on contact with our customers, harnessing the immense possibilities of the digital revolution,” said Javier M. Flores.

BBVA Colombia’s Country Manager, Oscar Cabrera, also discussed digitization’s potential, stating that: “In Colombia we don’t recognize digital infrastructure on the same level as infrastructure for highways. It’s just as important for productivity and eliminating the barriers micro-entrepreneurs face to access the banking system.”

Women, at the heart of change

According to the representative of UN Women in Colombia, Ana Güezmes García, “One of the biggest barriers women face is access to financial services. But many are overcoming this challenge – proof that supporting them is an investment in development and peace for this country,” during an interview with the Chair of Bancamía’s Board, Margarita Correa. The Head of Women’s Empowerment at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, Laura Fernández Lord, also discussed the issue, noting that: “Microfinance meets a need, and demand, of these female entrepreneurs – something that others are not addressing.”

The Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Colombia, Lawrence Sacks, shares this belief, affirming that: “Access to financial services changes lives because it creates hope, income and opportunities. Women are living proof that with courage and resilience it’s possible to get ahead.”

Interview with the representative of UN Women in Colombia, Ana Güezmes García; the Head of Women’s Empowerment at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation, Laura Fernández Lord and the Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Colombia, Lawrence Sacks

The Vice President of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramírez, congratulated the foundation and its institution Bancamía for their work to empower women, stressing their contribution to the country’s development: “The social impact of microfinance is fundamental. It improves lives. Thank you for doing so much for the women of Colombia.”

These women will always be a part of Bancamía’s history. As the foundation’s Director General, Javier M. Flores, said, this is “the story of thousands of lives, people who work day in and day out to build a better Colombia, and they are succeeding.”

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