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Pro Mujer (PMI) is a nonprofit development organization dedicated to providing women in Latin America with vital financial, health, and human development services that are typically out of reach, but essential to breaking the cycle of poverty. The organization provides women living in impoverished communities in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru, with easy and convenient access to a holistic package of services that includes:
- Financial services: Small loans, savings, insurance etc.
- Business, empowerment and health training: Financial literacy, life skills and preventive health education.
- High-quality, low-cost primary healthcare: Screenings and treatment, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes, breast and cervical cancers, hypertension, etc.
Pro Mujer's international headquarters are located in New York City. PMI supports the organization's national, regional and local operations in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. This makes it possible to centralize administration for development programs and international cooperation and optimizes the considerable financial, human and material resources required.
Pro Mujer was founded in 1990 in El Alto, Bolivia by Lynne Patterson, an American, and Carmen Velasco, a Bolivian. The two school teachers first crossed paths in 1989 in La Paz, Bolivia, the capital of what remains to this day as the poorest country in South America. Their initial training programs focused on helping women develop invaluable life skills in business, health and leadership. Lynne and Carmen believed that women were key to breaking the cycle of poverty, but in order to do this, women first needed to be the leading protagonists of their own lives. For this to happen, they needed easy and convenient access to basic human services.
They provided a space where women could connect with one another for mutual support and encouragement. It was not long before the women they served told them that they desperately needed access to capital in order to put theory into practice. They aspired to improve their lives and those of their families and only needed the easy and convenient access to the right opportunities to do so.
A small grant from USAID allowed Lynne and Carmen to add financial services to their offerings, while similar support from the Bolivian government enabled them to maintain their health and human development services. This powerful combination would become Pro Mujer’s holistic platform for helping women break the cycle of poverty.
At that time, the microfinance movement was burgeoning. Industry leaders told them to eliminate the health and human development components and focus solely on microfinance, but the advice went unheeded. Their grassroots initiatives continued to be embraced by the communities they served and they soon replicated their program in Nicaragua in 1996, established Pro Mujer’s international headquarters in New York City in 1997 and continued to enter new countries in an effort to reach impoverished women in Peru (1999), Mexico (2001) and finally Argentina (2005). With each entry into a new country, Pro Mujer refined and adapted its programs to meet local needs.
As a result of Lynne and Carmen’s vision, Pro Mujer is today one of Latin America’s premiere development and microfinance organizations for women. Pro Mujer continues to lead the way with its innovative and holistic services, delivered in a safe and supportive social space that provide women with respite from the difficulties they face every day.
Over its more than 22-year history, Pro Mujer has disbursed more than US$1 billion in small loans that averaged $407 at the end of 2011. In addition to financial services, such as savings, loans and insurance, Pro Mujer has provided business and empowerment training, preventive health education and primary healthcare services to approximately 1.6 million women and their 6.4 million children and family members.