An investor’s experience in Central America
Oikocredit works in 67 countries, mostly across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Many Oikocredit investors want to experience first-hand the work of Oikocredit. Ueli Burkhalter, investor and board member of Oikocredit support association Deutsche Schweiz recently returned from Central America where he visited several Oikocredit offices, partners and end-clients. We spoke with Ueli about his experiences in the field.
Did your visit change your perspective of how Oikocredit works?
“I’d say it didn’t change my perspective but enhanced it. My experience in Central America helped me to learn a lot more about the work Oikocredit does in the field. As a member of an Oikocredit support association, I knew more about the investor side of Oikocredit than the investment side. The possibility to work in the Costa Rican regional office and also in the country offices made me realize how import the relationship is between staff, Oikocredit partners and their end-clients.”
What was the most important thing you learnt during your time in Central America?
“I met highly motivated people who are very dedicated to our partners. I was impressed to see how much Oikocredit is a part of the whole network for development in Central America. Oikocredit has become like a label in the region. After the Oikocredit due diligence process, and once a loan to a partner has been disbursed, others tend to follow. People acknowledge the good work Oikocredit is doing in their region.”
What was the biggest eye opener for you?
“During my time in Costa Rica, I was able to visit an end-client of Oikocredit microfinance partner FIDERPAC. Even though it was not very far from San José, it took us hours to get there by jeep. There I met end-client Gerardo Corrales who has a coffee plant nursery thanks to a loan from FIDERPAC. He very proudly showed us around and told us how his business only became possible through a loan. I had heard before that Oikocredit works with partners in rural areas, but to experience what this actually means was a true eye opener. Oikocredit partners make a big difference to the lives of people in rural areas.”
What social impacts did you see in the regions?
“I think the most important impact I saw first-hand was the empowerment of women’s groups in Costa Rica. When I spoke with members, they told me that they not only talk about money matters in their regular meetings. The growing women’s solidarity is very important. I also saw a cooperative partner of Oikocredit in the Dominican Republic providing free school materials for the children of the village and scholarships for the members of the cooperative’s children.
But most importantly, I saw how a loan from a microfinance partner of Oikocredit empowered people. I saw how a loan could help someone realize their business capabilities and dreams.”