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Celebrating 30 years of microloans to Latin America

Celebrating 30 years of microloans to Latin America

Posted by Juan Gavasa on October 16, 2014

Launched initially in protest of U.S. military involvement in Nicaragua, Working Capital for Community Needs this week is celebrating 30 years of working to improve the lives of Latin Americans through small scale lending to those who otherwise could not obtain credit.

WCCN, a Madison-based non-profit community investment group, will honor board members Sue Lloyd and Sheldon Rampton for their service during an event Thursday at Monona Terrace.

Founded in 1984 as the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, the group has over the decades expanded its reach to include six countries in Latin America. WCCN now works with community organizations in those nations to distribute financing for businesses or other projects.

In 2013, the group made $10 million in new loans, with $7 million invested in 21 different microfinance partners in Latin America and $3 million invested in eight fair trade coffee cooperatives. Over a third of those investments were in Nicaragua, with another 20 percent each in Ecuador and Honduras. Other monies were invested in El Salvador, Peru and Guatemala.

The WCCN-backed loans are tiny, averaging just $945 per borrower. And more than 70 percent of the 31,000 microloans made by the organization and its partners over the years have gone to women.

“In reviewing potential organizations to partner with, WCCN evaluates not only the financial returns generated by a potential partnership but also social returns before making the decision to invest,” says WCCN’s director of North American operations Jeanne Duffy.

Wisconsin has a long relationship with Nicaragua, dating to the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy launched an effort to link citizens in the U.S. and Latin America under his “Alliance for Progress” initiative. Wisconsin and Nicaragua were united as sister states because of their similar geographic sizes and populations.

But in 1984, Wisconsin citizens opposed to the US government's interference in the Nicaraguan Civil War left the Alliance for Progress and founded WCCN. Today, WCCN counts over 3,000 investors across the U.S., but its largest base of support is in Wisconsin and specifically Madison.

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