Elizabeth Ventura Egoavil is a Board Director and the Vice Chair of Financiera Confianza
Elizabeth Matilde Ventura Egoavil is a Board Director and the Vice Chair of Financiera Confianza, BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF)’s institution in Peru.
“The Multidimensional Poverty Index takes on greater importance because it gives visibility to the population living in poverty, not just monetary, but measured from different perspectives”
She was the founder and executive Chair of Edpyme Confianza and Financiera Confianza S.A. between 1999 and 2012. She was the founding director of the NGO SEPAR (Educational Services, Promotion & Rural Support [Servicios Educativos, Promoción y Apoyo Rural]). She has been Chair of Huancayo Chamber of Commerce (2002-2003) and Chair of the Board of Trustees of FPCP in Peru. She is a consultant to international microfinance and rural development funds and organizations. She gives national and international conferences on rural credit, microfinance for women and renewable energy initiatives. She has a degree in Business Administration from Peru’s Central National University, with a Master in Global Business Management from Pacífico University, and another in International Business, majoring in Business with Latin America and Europe, from Spain’s Pompeu Fabra University. She is a Coaching by Values coach, and has specialist studies in gender, microfinance, and social planning for development.
We are talking to Elizabeth Ventura about her experiences with women in poverty and vulnerability, about the role of microfinance in helping them to overcome these difficulties and get ahead, and about taking financing inclusion to all, men and women, in Peru.
1) You are a self-made woman; you became a leader against a backdrop of poverty and at a time when everything was more difficult for women; nevertheless, nothing could stop you from becoming the role model you are today. What were your beginnings like?
It started with my participation in a project for an orphanage in the city of Jauja in the late Seventies, as a team member of what was then SEPAR (Servicios Educativos, Promoción y Apoyo Rural). The deprivations suffered by the boys and girls affected me and I decided to help in giving excluded and vulnerable populations better opportunities. Then, for over a decade, my experience in researching and managing projects to lift up rural women, from a productive and leadership perspective, in Junín and Huancavelica strengthened my resolve to find alternative solutions to women’s issues. At that time, in 1990, the Interamerican Development Bank had published a tender for microcredit projects for rural women. That financing enabled us to create the microcredit program for rural women which started in 1992 in SEPAR, and then in 1997 we set up Edpyme Confianza.
2) How did you set up Financiera Confianza?
As I was saying, in October 1997 we set up Edpyme Confianza and by June 1998 we had begun operating as a regulated entity, granting loans to microentrepreneurs in the region, informed by the valuable experience we had gained on the microcredits project for rural women in SEPAR. In September 2009 we managed the conversion over to Financiera Confianza, adding new transactions and financial services, particularly savings, thus extending our proposal to a wider market, including more rural and women entrepreneurs.
3) What was the start of your relationship with BBVA Microfinance Foundation Group?
After the global financial crisis in 2008, the microfinance sector began to consolidate in Peru, which set the scene for Financiera Confianza’s reinforcement on a larger scale, with the same purpose of financial inclusion in rural environments and for women. After SEPAR had gone through several assessment sessions with strategic partners such as ResponsAbility, Oikocredit, Incofin and others, our institutional proposal became clear, based on projecting more widely the purpose that both parties shared, which meant we could move ahead by formalizing agreements with BBVA Microfinance Foundation, retaining the social approach of financial inclusion and the value proposition of the Confianza brand. This is today a reality, not only in Peru, but also in other countries in Latin America.
4) What did you see in microfinance: a tool to help people escape poverty? A sure-fire method of promoting development? A fair way of encouraging equal opportunities?
Microfinance started as an opportunity for broad tranches of the population who were excluded from the financial system to access financing for their productive activities. Subsequently, it became a way of involving an emerging sector, made up of rural and urban entrepreneurs, who were hard-working, responsible, and resilient. Looking back on years working in microfinance on a daily basis, we can confirm that it generates self-employment, sustainability and family development, all of which are efficient tools in the battle against poverty and also in the empowerment and leadership of vulnerable populations, especially women.
5) What can you share with us about female leadership, of women like yourself, the first President of the Huancayo Chamber of Commerce, marking a first in Peru, and the leadership of the entrepreneurs you have known during your working life?
Female leadership has grown in tandem with greater access to education, participation in the workforce and the development by women of enterprises in specific periods of time and contexts. However, these processes and their particular connotations face social, cultural and economic obstacles, inequalities and the absence of opportunities for women.
Until the Eighties, women’s participation in public spaces was minimal, perhaps the leadership of the occasional political party. During the Eighties and the Nineties women’s organizations sprang up (glass-of-milk committees, soup kitchens and others). By 2000 their leadership had spread across several social tiers.
As regards some of the great women entrepreneurs we have dealt with, I can say that today there are women with positions of responsibility (since the Nineties and the Noughties[H1] ) in several municipal savings & loans and Edpymes, together with women in academic life who supported my gender studies at the PUCP (Catholic Pontifical University of Peru).
In my own experience too, having high levels of responsibility and expectations of oneself and of the team for the task at hand has nearly always yielded results, which I believe has moderated our perceptions of gender prejudices and bias.
6) What would you say is the main driver for these women who, despite the difficulties, press on ahead with their businesses, and their families, very often on their own?
The women are committed to their work and take on a lot of responsibility, but also employ creative thinking; they are always thinking about the family and how to secure an education for their children. At the end of the nineties, we came to the conclusion, based on the results of research we had done, that women were more reliable payers than men, their behavior and credit culture were more orderly: they allocate resources appropriately, administer and look after their assets very responsibly. This pattern has now been confirmed over a period of years. A key reason is the socialization of women from when they are girls, requiring them in many cases to look after their siblings, help at home and take on greater responsibilities.
7) How has the pandemic affected the microfinance sector, and in general, the situation of the most vulnerable in Latin America?
Microfinance in Peru is a solid industry that is recognized worldwide for its leadership. However, the pandemic put many sectors on hold, affecting some more than others. Many enterprises have been decapitalized, some reinvented themselves or changed their activity, and the impacts were felt most in urban environments, which triggered a migration away from the coast into the interior. Rural areas meanwhile had recourse to their own strategies to get through this unprecedented crisis.
On top of the system’s own operating restrictions – approvals, disbursements, collecting receivables, etc. – liquidity was low because of the rescheduling of payments, portfolio impairment, and the rise in provisioning. Deposit withdrawals and complications with financing sources that had become more restrictive also had an impact.
The pandemic also accelerated digitalization in the sector. Microfinance institutions and their clients were suddenly obliged to make their services and communications compatible with digital formats in contexts where connectivity is limited. Multi-cover insurance firms established their premiums, while the regulator adapted their policies to make them more flexible[H2] .
8) What are the main challenges at the moment to continued progress towards the region’s social and economic inclusion?
An important challenge is reactivating microentrepreneurs’ enterprises and the value chain in local economies, which were affected by the health and economic crisis, and to release working capital through microfinance institutions, that specialize in this sector, adapting their business models, products and services to secure digitalized channels that are user-friendly for their clients.
Along the same lines, the post-pandemic crisis means that the social inclusion and State program strategy has to be reformulated, so that the most vulnerable populations can play a full part in the country’s development, generating employment and sources of income for their families.
The pandemic, as well as affecting families’ health and economies, also meant a setback of almost ten years in the battle against poverty, so it is important that programs focus on the populations that most need it and the ones that reach them in an effective and timely manner, independently of the tendency of populist governments to rely on providing hand-outs that endanger the microfinance institutions’ business in the region.
You set up SEPAR, an NGO dedicated to sustainable development. How has this concept changed in recent years?
The concept is associated with the 1992 Rio Summit, the Brundtland Commission report and the risks of global warming. In practical terms, sustainable development sees an economy as viable when natural resources are preserved, and vulnerable populations included without putting future generations at risk. Something that SEPAR has incorporated into its microfinance program and its rural development projects ever since it was set up. It is true that the concept as it has evolved tackles other topics such as the gendered approach, intercultural issues, the circular economy, etc. It commits states, corporations and civil society to increasing levels of social responsibility.
9) Finally, BBVA Microfinance Foundation (together with SOPHIA Oxford) has applied the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) methodology for the first time to its clients. What do you think of this concept of Multidimensional Poverty, and why has it taken on such importance in the last few years?
This methodology has taken on greater importance because it enables us to give visibility to the population living in poverty, not only monetary, but also poverty measured from different perspectives. It also makes it easier to locate where they live and to track how poverty changes over time. The MPI also allows us to analyze the dimensions of access to healthcare, education, housing, employment, public services, among other indicators, resulting in a more comprehensive study. By virtue of this, intervention strategies can be designed and implemented to combat poverty.
Bearing in mind my arguments above, I applaud the fact that BBVA Microfinance Foundation is applying this methodology with its clients. Thanks to this tool we can measure the progress made and difficulties encountered in the social mission of microfinance.