Seems like all I do these days is go to birthday parties. I love this job.
We had a nice celebration at the Center of the World (longitude 00, latitude 00) on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador last night with FINCA International and Banco FINCA Ecuador Board Members,staff and assorted friends from government agencies, Embassies and others. But the night belonged to our clients, three of whom came with their spouses to celebrate with us. Lidia Gonzalez, a shopkeeper from Ibarra, has been our loyal client for 18 years, during which she build her grocery store — with help from a series of loans from FINCA, initially $300 and lately $2,500 — from a hole in the wall with “just a few products” to a full on enterprise offering a complete line of consumer products. Lidia is also President of her 14 member village bank which she describes as “always united as one FINCA family”.
I came to Quito, Ecuador in 1993, armed with a $50,000 loan from a wealthy physician in Washington, D.C. who had a fondness for the country and wanted to help bring FINCA’s program there. We had first tried to interest the huge Banco de Pinchincha in doing microfinance in Ecuador, and while it’s President listened to my pitch politely, I never heard back from him. So we decided, what the hell, let’s do it ourselves. What, with just $50K in borrowed money? That’s how we rolled in those days, yo, that’s how we did.
I had only one contact in the country, Carlos Camacho, to whom I had been referred by a friend from the U of Wisconsin graduate school, Professor (now at Ohio University) of Economics who has worked in and written about Ecuador for many years. Carlos, also a Badger, listened to what we planned to do and said, “Okay, I’ll help”. He introduced me to a lawyer who registered us as an NGO, and we set about trying to find someone to run the program. Our first two hires were disasters. One ran off to Peru with some of our money and a young girlfriend. (Note to self: don’t hire people going through a mid-life crisis) Finally, Carlos offered to run the program himself. He did a great job, handed it off to an experienced banker, and the rest is history. Today we have 60,000 clients, $40 million in loans and branches throughout the country. Feliz Cumpeanos, Banco FINCA Ecuador!