En Via was born from the idea of combining microfinance with tourism to provide small, interest-free loans to women living in poverty.
Through the combination of tourism and microfinance, we are able to provide women with access to affordable, comprehensive, and valuable financial products. This access gives borrowers the opportunity to create or expand small businesses and empowers them to better provide financially for themselves and their families.
One of the main issues we address through our program is the lack of access to fair credit. Interest rates on microloans in Mexico are some of the highest worldwide, averaging at 70% and reaching 150% or more. Such rates make it nearly impossible for working people to borrow money to improve their businesses and lives. Our interest-free loans, generated through proceeds from our microfinance tours, offer a tangible and far more viable option for those wishing to better their businesses and thus provide hope for a better future.
We use 100% of our tour fees to first provide interest-free microloans to our borrowers and, once the loan is paid back, to support our programs and administrative costs. Our loan program also provides a way to funnel a tiny portion of the capital and resources generated from tourism into local communities. These resources support businesses created to meet the needs of the local economy, and therefore have a long-term, sustainable impact on the community.
We are currently working with over 250 women in five largely indigenous communities who represent a wide variety of businesses. Our borrowers are bread and tortilla makers, seamstresses, market vendors (selling things such as cheese, poultry, and vegetables), farmers, artisans, food vendors, and much more. The women have access to interest-free loans ranging from $US 100 to $US 250. Since 2008, we have given out over 1500 loans to almost 400 women.
By financially supporting these women, we support their ambition and drive and provide them with an opportunity to capitalize on their talents and ideas. They are able to secure income through their own businesses, which have a real impact on their lives, their families' life, and ultimately the entire community.
In 2012 we began providing interest-bearing loans to established borrowers in the program. These low interest loans provide women with access to higher capital and give us the opportunity to issue loans ranging from US$350 to US$550. In order to be eligible for an interest-bearing loan, women must complete all three interest-free loans of US$100, US$150 and US$250 as well as an additional course that explains interest rates and how to calculate them. These women no longer participate in the tours. Currently the capital gained on loans is used to lend to more women. Due to regulations on microfinance in Mexico, the costs of operating a microfinance organization are extremely high. Through a combination of interest-free loans, and interest-bearing loans we are able to grow sustainably as an organziation, reach more women and remain committed to supporting the ambition and goals of women.