> Posted by Center Staff
If you’ve ever been a tourist in a developing country, there’s a good chance you’ve partaken in a tour where you were brought to the intimate setting of an artisan, chef, or small-business owner’s shop. When you arrived at the shop, your tour guide introduced you to its proprietor, and the proprietor told you a little bit about the history and operation, and maybe even demonstrated a bit of the craft. After all this, you were asked if you’d like to buy anything. This model works. As a tourist, you want to be exposed to local cultures, you want unique experiences, and maybe you want to pick up a souvenir or two to bring back home. If you can accomplish all three, and get to know the person your purchase benefits, all the better.
But what if we could take this model one step further? After all, tourism is an enormous industry. Globally it accounts for roughly 5 percent of the world’s GDP and one in every 12 jobs. In Mexico alone, for example, international tourists spent roughly US$12 billion in 2011. If some of this capital could be used to create greater impact, the benefits would be huge.
En Via, an organization based in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, is attempting to achieve this by combining tourism, microfinance, and education. En Via offers tours of five largely indigenous communities in Oaxaca, where participants are given the opportunity to meet with local women who are farmers, artisans, vendors, chefs, and other small business owners. As a tourist you meet with the women and their families, learn about their livelihoods and communities, watch product demonstrations like the spinning of wool, taste freshly made foods, and, yes, make purchases if you’re so inclined. In turn, En Via uses the money collected in tourism fees to fund small business loans to the women who were visited during the tours.
En Via is structured so that 100 percent of a tourist’s fees go directly towards the loans of the women that they had the opportunity to meet. The loans range from US$100 to $250, and carry zero interest. To date, En Via’s client default rate is at less than one percent. Since it began offering loans in 2008, over 1,500 loans have been given out to almost 400 women. Funds repaid are applied towards En Via’s administrative costs and education programs.
Read the rest of this entry »