A team of students from Northwestern College in Orange City spent spring break in Nicaragua — and now they’ve returned, they plan to continue their work by creating a micro-financing program to give very small loans for business start-ups in a town there called Bluefields.
The multi-ethnic town was a former British colony, and Mike Avery, advisor to the " Students in Free Enterprise " team, says the program began after he visited the area a two years ago.Avery says it was the first time he met people in that community, and he talked with them about micro-financing. They weren’t familiar with financing at all since none had ever been to a bank, so they had little access to funds.
Avery says they targeted a group of local women as likely candidates for the small loans to start up business ventures, and two students from the college went to Bluefields to help get the program started. They help train the women to understand what a business is and how it works. Avery says, "None of the women had ever really thought about having a business of their own in the past so they needed some basic training in what a business is and how they might make it work."
They call the project "Christian Investment Action Outreach," and the acronym for their project is CIAO …pronounced "chow" like the Italian greeting. Avery says it follows closely the mission of the private college. He says they make it clear that while the amount of money is small, these are loans, not grants. In order for the women who get these small loans to have a dignified feeling about themselves, they need to pay the money back.
"If you give them money, it’s just like every other entitlement program that’s ever been out there," Avery says, "but it’s very well documented that if people are accountable for what they have been given and actually have responsibility to pay it back, that they take their business a lot more seriously." The program began with about fifteen-hundred dollars, which they raised from donors. Avery says the average loan is about 55-dollars, with most going to home-based businesses like sewing or food preparation.