7. Professional training for fruitful microcredit loans
Microcredit at Banco Palmas, as seen in Figure 6, is a central piece of a larger array of activities aimed at enhancing local development. Thus, Banco Palmas’ central philosophy is based on developing a ‘solidarity network’ which integrates local producers and consumers in such a way that a large portion of the local wealth circulates locally, thereby maintaining the wealth in the community rather than generating income and employment elsewhere.
At the time when Banco Palmas was being created, there was a scarcity of professional qualifications among community members. As a consequence, ASMOCONP felt that a microcredit strategy in Conjunto Palmeiras would only be fruitful and sustainable if it was accompanied by complementary capacity-building actions. To address this lack of qualifications among local workers and producers, a variety of professional training courses and workshops are offered by Banco Palmas since its inception. The aim is to provide the members of the community with specific professional and business skills which will help them make fruitful use of the microcredit loans. Therein lays one of the most important premises of ASMOCONP’s developmental philosophy which is that: promoting financial support, without triggering conditions which allow people to become true agents of their emancipation as citizens and entrepreneurs, is a recipe for failure.
Part of these capacity-building actions was accomplished by a number of empreendimentos solidários (solidarity businesses), which are small production units founded by ASMOCONP and run as part of the Banco Palmas. The most important ones include Palma Fashion (small sewing factory), Palma Limpe (producing cleaning materials), Palma Natus (producing natural soaps) and Palm Arte (producing handicraft products). Each solidarity business (Figure 9) is an independent and financially sustainable business operation. They are all located within the Association’s building in order to reduce operating costs. Their purpose is to temporarily employ local workers and train them in specific professional and business skills, hence, enabling them to thereafter work for themselves or for other local businesses.
Figure 9: Solidarity businesses founded by ASMOCONP
The capacity-building actions are also complemented by a variety of training-oriented projects, sustained through partnerships with development agencies, NGOs and universities. One of these projects, the Bairro-Escola (Neighborhood School, Figure 10), is a training program aimed at the community youths aged between 16 and 24 years. The program offers them the possibility to learn a new skill through a three-month internship in a local, formal or informal, business. Both the trainees and the business owners receive small grants during the program, and in many cases the trainees are hired on a permanent basis after the internship. This project is funded by the Inter-American Foundation and was initiated in 2005 with the aim of training 1,000 youths in the first three years.
Figure 10: Bairro-Escola
Another project, the Academia de Moda (Fashion Academy, Figure 11) ‑ taught by undergraduate and graduate students from two accredited fashion colleges in Fortaleza ‑ is oriented towards young women, who are offered courses in sewing, tailoring, fashion design and marketing. Upon completing the courses, participants are eligible for microcredit loans from Banco Palmas to start their own sewing businesses.
Figure 11: Academia de Moda