Stacks of large metal shelves that have either baked loaves of bread or dough prepared for baking.

Growing Together in Colombia .

Rural communities in Colombia have developed savings and loans plans that are funding and fueling small business growth.

A strong foundation is the key to all structures, creating a solid base so that better things can follow. In rural Colombian communities, a strong financial foundation isn’t simply built by one person; it is a collaborative effort that depends on an entire community working together.

However, when political, social, or economic tensions rise, community foundations can become unstable. Local banks in Antioquia, Córdoba, and Tumaco were finding it difficult to provide personal and business loans. Community members felt discouraged from even applying for the loans, thanks to the complex and time-consuming application process. This had a domino effect: Without the necessary financial services in rural areas, municipalities couldn’t maintain roads, bridges, and buildings. In addition, many potential entrepreneurs lacked access to the funding they needed to start and grow businesses.

Overcoming these obstacles required building a stronger financial foundation that communities could maintain. This was the reasoning behind the Grupos de Ahorro y Crédito (GLAC), a savings and loans program that USAID’s Consolidation and Enhanced Livelihood Initiative North/South (CELI N/S) established in 2013. Along with the Colombian government’s microfinance inclusion program, Banca de Oportunidades, and the business-oriented Colombian NGO, Corporación Vital, CELI N/S launched the GLAC program across 16 conflict-affected municipalities in Antioquia, Córdoba, and Tumaco. Implemented mostly by women’s organizations, the GLAC program is based on a community banking model that promotes savings and loans among small groups, each under 20 people.

In Antioquia, Córdoba, and Tumaco, the process of establishing a GLAC began with the CELI team meeting with communities to explain the process of how GLACs work with and for the community. These communities then decided whether or not they wanted to establish a GLAC. Once a GLAC was approved and established, Banca de Oportunidades provided its members, through the CELI N/S program, with institutional support. This support has ensured that the most vulnerable populations have access to financial services.

The effects were nearly immediate. In the first year of implementation, more than 1,700 GLACs were created, leading to more than $3.5 million in savings and more than 37,000 people, including vulnerable populations, gaining access to increased finance. More importantly, the GLACs cultivated a culture of giving back to the community to continue a self-sustaining cycle of economic growth.

“Initiatives like Cómo en Casa have benefited the community by creating employment and income for conflict-affected communities.”

Jose Felix Montoya, chief of party of CELI

Women benefited greatly from the GLACs, using the opportunity to create micro-franchises that sell food, clothing, and diverse services. For example, in June 2016, Fundacion Vivir Mejor (Better Living Foundation), a women-led grassroots organization in Valencia, Córdoba, launched Cómo en Casa, a bakery that sells bread, desserts, and dairy products to micro-franchises in the county seat (the center of government for each county in Colombia). Its products are also sold to 15 micro-franchising GLAC members.

This approach has expanded the range of products and services sold throughout rural areas. In addition to the bakery and dairy products that Cómo en Casa provides, other services include credit for minutes on mobile phones, micro-insurance, natural gas, and copy services. Since its launch, it has already created 19 jobs in Valencia, and is looking to expand. This will in turn create more jobs, and more community GLAC funding.

“Initiatives like Cómo en Casa have benefited the community by creating employment and income for conflict-affected communities,” says Jose Felix Montoya, chief of party of the CELI N/S project. “Citizens in rural areas can consume freshly baked goods produced with top-quality local ingredients, and grassroots organizations from other regions of the country have visited the project to better understand how to implement the model in their communities.”

The revenue generated from GLAC programs has had a significant economic impact. As more community members increase their incomes, they are contributing back to the community savings and loan programs that originally helped them. This has allowed communities to further invest in infrastructure improvement projects, and to continue to provide loans to those who need it most.


GLACs (savings and loans program groups) created

$3.5 million

in savings


people, including vulnerable populations, gaining access to increased finance

“CELI N/S’s intervention has helped us strengthen our organizational and cost structure through training,” explained Ana Gómez, a manager for Cómo en Casa. “By launching the bakery, CELI N/S has also helped us learn how to apply best practices for the marketing of our products.”

Despite the obstacle of economic isolation, local businesses and communities have found an opportunity to expand by growing from within. GLACs provide financial education and promote economic development that gives hope to these once cut-off communities.