There are so many tour agencies in Oaxaca because there is so much to see. You cannot walk anywhere in the center of the city without being offered a tour of the surrounding towns. There are tours of ruins, indigenous villages where local products are made, and many mezcal tours, which Oaxaca is famous for. For this reason, I did not expect to see many people on the Fundación En Vía tour; after all, who would choose a microfinancing tour over a mezcal tour?
So when I arrived for my six-hour tour one afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to see there were at least ten other travelers in the group, just enough to fit into the tour van. I learned that tours typically sell out and are a major source of revenue for the organization.
A Crash Course
Our van ride included a crash course on the work of Fundación En Vía. Liliana, our guide, quizzed us on microfinancing and taught us En Vía’s method of this type of lending. People living in poverty may have a strong work ethic, essential skills, and the desire to run a business, but face many obstacles. Not having collateral to secure a loan, a lack of education about the loan process, and cultural biases against women are some of the challenges.
Ingredients of Success
We learned that En Vía’s loans have a 99% successful repayment rate. Some of the key components that make this organization so successful are:
- Loans are made only to women, who are known to be more likely to use their income for the well-being of their families. Loans are strictly for their business and not personal or family expenses.
- The interest rate is 0%. Many other lenders charge well over 50% interest. Loans are typically paid back in 3-6 months.
- The women must attend business and finance classes before and during the period of their loans. Classes are held within each of the communities where En Vía works.
- The women apply in groups of three, each with their own loan, so they can support each other and attend their classes together. This also helps them keep each other accountable in paying back their loans.
- The women are required to present their business to tour groups. The tours are not shopping trips, but an opportunity for the women to reflect on their business and for tourists to learn about the work of En Vía.
- Many women stay involved with En Vía for years and focus on growing their business.
- Women have reported positive changes in how they are viewed within their families and villages.
We were headed to two Zapotec villages. The indigenous Zapotec people are descendants of the pre-Hispanic civilization. They maintain many traditional customs and speak the Zapotec language. After a delicious buffet lunch in the village of Teotitlán del Valle and a visit to the village church, we visited the homes and businesses of four women in two villages. There was a woman running a weaving workshop with her family, another who had a small retail store, a “tejate” maker (a corn and cacao drink native to Oaxaca), and a caterer who made a wide variety of Mexican foods.
I am so impressed with En Vía’s model of responsible tourism. Everything they said was true. This was not a tour for shopping (though there were opportunities to do so) but it was purely about learning. The women, two of whom were giving their first presentations to tourists, were excited to share their success stories and eager to continue to grow their businesses.