Microfinance: Profile of a Passionate Leader

Ben Hess is a CRS international development fellow living in Guatemala and working with savings-led microfinance programs.

Microfinance leader

Jania Diaz conducting a mock presentation to a savings group at the training-of-trainers workshop in San Marcos in September. Photo by Ben Hess/CRS.

Soft-spoken and reserved, Jania Díaz is not the sort of person to call attention to herself when you first meet her. I met Jania during the training-of-trainers workshop in San Marcos in September 2008, when she was introduced as the Solidarity through Savings project coordinator.

Although she seemed to understand the concepts well, I had a few concerns about whether she was assertive enough to introduce the savings group idea to new communities, motivate and support the animators, and help coordinate the organization of new groups.

My fears proved to be completely unfounded, as I discovered during a recent visit to San Marcos. Jania has played a key role in the successful formation of three women’s savings groups, presenting the method to community leaders and residents, accompanying the new groups, and helping “scale up” the project by establishing contacts with other groups interested in implementing the savings-led microfinance model.

She is a fountain of information, spouting off group meeting dates and times, the names of members, and amounts saved. She appeared equally passionate when describing the recent achievements and challenges. She also expressed confidence that the first savings groups would inspire the creation of new groups in neighboring communities. What impressed me most, however, was her ability to provide valuable support to the groups without dictating answers. Maintaining the group’s sovereignty is essential, so knowing how to offer guidance without infringing upon the members’ decision-making authority is a tough skill to acquire. As I watched Jania, I could scarcely believe that she’d only been doing this for a little more than a month.

When I congratulated Jania on her accomplishments, she modestly deflected the praise to the Social Pastorate and the other animators.

“We support each other,” she replied, adding, “but I always learn more when I’m helping other people.”

– Ben Hess

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