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From Bogotá to Cartagena

By Nida Khoutakoun

Day 2 of the Colombia Insight Trip has come to an end and as our plane landed in hot and humid Cartagena, I knew we would be in for another adventure. The day started with an introduction to Sebastian Perez Villarreal, Foreign Investment Advisor with ProExport Colombia. ProExport Colombia is a government agency that is responsible for boosting tourism, foreign investment, and exports promotion. Sebastian informed us that microfinance is increasing and has risen 17% since 2013, and the portfolio of funds has increased by 13.7%. There are currently 2.8M microentrepreneurs in Colombia. Although I'm not sure the total value of the microfinance portfolio, it is obvious that more entities, banks and NGOs included, are finding it more attractive to offer these loans to clients.

Shortly after the talk, we headed to southwest Bogotá to meet with Parmenio Ayala Pimiento and his family. Parmenio is working on paying off his second loan from Opportunity International. His first loan for $1,150 was used to purchase additional inventory. After Parmenio paid off his first loan, he was lent an additional $5,000 to upgrade his workspace to separate it from his home. In addition to hiring two employees, his wife and three children are also active participants in the business. Parmenio's fruit-shaped ornaments are carved from wood, painted and lacquered to create a beautiful shine. His customers, retail outlets and private clients, are able to purchase magnets and small, medium and large sized fruits for display.

Parmenio's Magnets

Edgar is Parmenio's loan officer and he accompanied us on our visit. The common theme between the two loan officers we met in Bogotá was the flexibility of working at Opportunity. One is still a student and Edgar is a family man who appreciates the work life balance. They're also more than just loan officers. They also offer advice on expenses and investments. Between the two loan officers we met in the two days in Bogotá, only 2 out of their 128 clients are unable to pay back their loan. Although the loan officers have many clients, this shows they are able to build a trusting relationship with each of them because they understand what their clients are capable of doing, and set them up to be successful.

The visit in Bogotá was fun, informative, and safe thanks to our great hosts and security crew!

You can read more from Nida's trip to Colombia on the STA Group Blog.

Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Nida is a Business Architect with STA Group.  She enjoys travel, sports, food, and volunteering.  From 2011-2012, she served as a member of the National Board of Alpha Phi Gamma Sorority, Inc.  For the past four years, she has been dedicated to feeding the hungry through volunteering her time at the St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, AZ. Since May 2014, she’s been working with Opportunity International through STA Group.

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