ABOUT NAMASTE DIRECT
Namaste Direct is a non-profit organization that is laser-focused on empowering Guatemalan women who run small businesses to lift themselves out of poverty.
Our mission is to directly contribute to Women´s Economic Empowerment by providing business development programs that increase the business cash flow of low-income women.
Namaste Direct has been in operation since 2004 and since then has empowered over 4,000 women through our signature Creating Prosperity Program (CPP). The CPP combines personalized mentorship, financial literacy training, and customized microloans to help women entrepreneurs formalize their business models, manage their finances, and dramatically increase their profits.
Our vision is to reduce the incidence of poverty and gender inequality throughout Guatemala by empowering marginalized female micro-entrepreneurs to grow profitable businesses.
OUR STORY STARTED WITH EXPERIENCE AND COMMITMENT
It all started in 1973 when Namaste Direct founder Bob Graham visited Guatemala during his Kellogg Foundation Fellowship. He was struck by the tragic circumstances endured by so many Guatemalans. He promised himself one day, if he could, he would help these people with both resources and money.
Fifteen years later, Bob was one of the first “social entrepreneurs” for microfinance in Latin America. In the 1980’s he was a founding pioneer for one of Central America’s first microloan NGOs, the Katalysis Partnership, which received early support from USAID. In 2004 when Bob turned Katalysis over to its regional non-profit partners, Bob’s microfinance work encompassed 21 NGOs in 5 countries with more than 200,000 borrowers and a loan portfolio of $60 million. By now Bob has had 25 years of experience doing development work throughout Central America, the Eastern Caribbean, Mexico, India and Africa.
For microfinance to work best, Bob recognized not just the need to make money available to people in poverty, but also the critical need for effective mentoring and education to accompany loans. With this goal Bob, joined by Bob Ilse and Sherrie Ilse, started Namaste Direct in 2004 (and later its sister organization Fundación Namasté Guatemaya) to work with low income women entrepreneurs in Guatemala.
LESSONS LEARNED 2004 – NOW
There are a number of distinctions that make us a unique NGO. We have come to the conclusion that we can best help by focusing on one goal: increasing women’s incomes. We let women decide how best to spend their profits. We have faith in our clients’ ability to lift themselves out of poverty through individual entrepreneurship. This is in sharp contrast with many NGOs in Guatemala, which look to provide comprehensive development. Our Basic Business Development program focuses on financial literacy and business. We measure our success solely on the amount that our client’s profits have increased.
We initially partnered with well-established microfinance institutions (MFIs) but later decided to administer the loans ourselves due to our disagreement with the way some MFIs were choosing to do business. Many MFIs charge very high interest rates. In contrast, our interest rates are among the lowest in Guatemala.
We have become known as an accountable NGO with impressive tracking capabilities. We were dissatisfied with how most NGOs evaluate their effectiveness based on the amount of resources applied to a problem. We evaluate our effectiveness based on the outcome of our work in the hands of the individual client. We also use “Western World” consulting methodologies, rarely used by most NGOs.
Because Bob Graham had a successful business career in California he has an affinity for numbers and measurable results. He asked Tenmast Software to build a custom online database to manage, measure, and evaluate our outcome based development initiatives. They very generously did so, on a pro-bono basis! We are meticulous about gathering accurate, up-to-date measures of women’s incomes and profits. We input information daily from our Business Advisors about each client’s progress. Then we evaluate the information using QlikView, the number one business intelligence tool in world. (Also generously donated by them!) We can pull up real-time statistics about our clients at any time, and we constantly seek new measurements and pilot programs to track and improve our progress.
We have formed many effective partnerships. Our financial literacy training material comes from Freedom from Hunger, an NGO that provides microcredit and business training in 17 countries. In 2011 the Canadian NGO Open to Grow began to provide funding of our microloans. In 2013 we began a partnership with Kiva, the first online lending platform connecting lenders to entrepreneurs. This partnership has enabled us to reach a whole new audience of lenders using detailed stories of the work we are doing.
In 2013 we launched “Starz”, a higher-level business development program to offer our high capacity clients larger loans ($2,500-$4,000) and further education, to make the leap from microenterprise to a medium sized business. Each Starz client has completed our initial Business Development Program and on becoming a Star, receives further intensive training and coaching. She also completes a 60-hour business education curriculum from which she receives a diploma in Small and Medium Enterprise Management from INTECAP, Guatemala’s leading training institution. We designed the course content with INTECAP specifically for our new Starz program.
In 2014 all paid staff positions were transferred to local positions in Guatemala and more Guatemalan Board Members have been recruited for our local operations. Currently, our nine-member board includes five Guatemalans.
Namaste Guatemaya Chair
Ginger served a stint in Washington DC as Deputy Director for Bread for the World before coming to Guatemala in 1986, where she became a serial entrepreneur. She operates a multi-location restaurant in Antigua as well as teaches yoga and Ayurveda medicine in the US.
Andrea came to Guatemala in 2010 to work in microfinance. In 2012, she founded Unmarked Streets, a NGO devoted to providing women with opportunities to achieve economic independence. She is an analysist for CaseGlide, which provides business intelligence services.
A Sri Lankan by birth, Chutta has had financial experience in his home country, Africa, and the US. He is on the board of Franklin Resources and loves to work with entrepreneurial people who are developing businesses.
Doug has been a professional fundraiser, business executive, and NGO microfinance specialist with Friendship Bridge. He is involved with a number of social capital initiatives in the U. S., Guatemala, and Africa.
U. S. by birth, Elizabeth has lived in Antigua GT since 1969 and is a citizen of the country. Active with local foundations, she has operated Antigua Tours since 1992. In 2011, she was awarded the Diego de Porres Gold Award in by the Guatemalan government for 42 years dedicated to the preservation of Antigua.
Namaste Direct Chair
As a 16-year-old exchange student in Mexico, Karen discovered her love for all things Latin American. She served three years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and Uruguay. Karen is Vice President, Strategy & Impact, at TechSoup Global.
Dr. Alise Cortez
Dr. Alise Cortez is the chief purpose officer at Alise Cortez and Associates (management consulting) and chief ignition officer at Gusto, Now! (a multi-lingual e-learning platform offering well-being and leadership development courses). She is also an inspirational speaker, social scientist, author, and host of the Working on Purpose radio show.
Wendy is the Co-Founder of MILKnCOOKIES, the first digital agency in the central american region. Throughout her career, she has helped companies in their digital transformation process, improving the way they bring products and services to their audience, aligning business objectives, technology and customer experience.
Head Geek at Digital Labs, Antigua, Edwin is passionate about technology and social enterprises. He specializes in web solutions and digital marketing and is responsible for the Namaste site.
Namaste Direct & Namaste Guatemaya, Founder
Bob has been a businessman, CPA, philanthropist, and author. He pioneered microloans in Central America and consulted on business development in Tibetan refugee settlements in India for the Dalai Lama. He devotes his time to consulting and coaching the Namaste staff.
Executive Director, Namaste Guatemaya
Eugenia is responsible for all operations in Guatemala, where she is supported by a staff of 15. She joined Namaste in 2012 after 16 years of management positions with CIBA-GEIGY (now Novartis) and stints with a construction company in China and in developing a Hass Avocado farm.
Development Director, Namaste Direct
Desiree has more than a decade of experience fundraising for leading nonprofit organizations, such as Direct Relief and Net Impact. She is deeply dedicated to the empowerment of women and passionate about Guatemalan culture, and advances Namaste’s mission as Development Director.
Ali serves as our IT Manager. She began working for Namaste in January 2015. She joined our team from Xerox where she was a software engineer and development lead for four years.
Accounting Department Manager
Armando is a CPA and has a Master’s Degree in Financial Management. He joined Namaste in 2014 and oversees all financial aspects of our training and loan programs. Formerly, he was an internal auditor for the Government of Guatemala and an accountant for the NGO, Alianza.