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Loreen Gilbert leads the way in empowering women entrepreneurs in Nicaragua through micro-lending

Story by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

At this very moment, Laguna Beach resident Loreen Gilbert, founder and president of WealthWise Financial Services, is in Nicaragua, practicing what she preaches every day: that smart management of money can make an enormous difference in people’s lives, providing a secure base upon which dreams can be turned into reality.

Money can only be managed, of course, if you have some – which is why Gilbert, NAWBO Institute Chair Elect and Opportunity International Ambassador, is leading a Women’s Micro-lending trip to Nicaragua. 

The goal is to empower women in poverty to develop their own businesses and gain financial security. 

Ever the entrepreneur, Gilbert formed a partnership between NAWBO and Opportunity International (OI) for the project. She is the lead from the NAWBO side, accompanied by NAWBO representatives including National CEO Jen Earle, plus the Opportunity International representative. The group of four women left the US on Nov 27 and will return on Dec 3.

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Submitted photo

Loreen Gilbert with Maria Lopez, wholesaler

Why Nicaragua? In part because Nicaragua is the most impoverished country in Latin America: 43 percent of the people live on less than $1.90 per day.  

Also, Gilbert says, “We chose Nicaragua for a variety of reasons:  we wanted an area that was easily accessible from anywhere in the US, not too expensive to travel there, a place where we could invest for the next 10 years, and a safe enough place for our members to go.”

This long-term thinking is typical of Gilbert, who celebrates the 20th anniversary of her firm, WealthWise, this year.

“We just met with a Trust Group yesterday of 21 people getting brand new loans. The total amount loaned for the 21 people was $8388. For some people, it was their first loan and for one woman, it was her 10th year of getting a loan,” Gilbert explains.  

“These loans are for four months and are paid back every two weeks as the trust groups meet together. The loans are cross-collateralized and therefore everyone is on the hook for all of the loans. OI has a 98 percent repayment rate.”

The goal of the micro-lending program, according to a press release, is to empower women “like Ana Acuna,” whom NAWBO describes as someone who grew up in a rural village walking four miles for water. 

With the organization’s help, Ana secured a loan to supply building materials for various infrastructure projects in her community.  

Acuna has now broken free from poverty, transformed her community, built a road, installed electrical lines, dug a well and reroofed a local library.

Gilbert is meeting with a number of women with similar success stories.

“Maria started out with a $533 loan and her latest loan was for $2,000. This is the very large side of loans through OI and is only given when a person has proven themselves over the years with smaller loans,” Gilbert explains.“Maria sells as a wholesaler and is now exporting to Honduras and would like to export to more countries.

“We’ve also met a furniture maker, convenience store owner, someone selling used American shoes, selling fruit, and selling spices.”

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Submitted photo

Women entrepreneurs work in many fields, include furniture making and sales

Gilbert feels that the project is a great way to use one’s skills to give back to others to build a better life.  

“If you are interested in enlarging your vision, expanding your borders and giving back to women business owners, this trip is for you,” Gilbert notes. “I have experienced first-hand how lending a hand up through microlending and microsavings programs is a perpetual gift that keeps on giving.  Let’s change the world, one business owner at a time.”  

Asked her takeaway from what has been characterized as an “inspirational immersion trip”, Gilbert says, My aha moment [was this]: these women did not chose to be entrepreneurs, rather they defaulted into entrepreneurship because there were no other opportunities for employment.”

And what better way to gain independence and financial stability, particularly for women in countries where wages are not regulated and employment conditions can be extremely challenging?

All they need is a chance – and a little seed money. 

In other words, the support and guidance of people like Laguna’s own Loreen Gilbert, who understands what a big difference even the smallest loan can make in someone’s life.

Loreen Gilbert serves on the Executive Board of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), representing more than 13 million women business owners in the US. Gilbert is also the Chair Elect of the NAWBO Institute, which provides resources and tools to women business owners around the globe. 

Opportunity International is a NAWBO international alliance partner and a leader in global women’s entrepreneurship. For more than 46 years, millions of women entrepreneurs have been served with access to transformational financial services, education and training in over 22 countries across the globe.

To learn more about NAWBO’s partnership with Opportunity International here: www.nawbo.org/partners/international/opportunity-international

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