How Friendship Bridge Helps Empower Women and Eliminate Poverty

March 29, 2022

Investing in women is smart from both an economic and a social perspective. When women learn how to turn their talents into a profitable business, they invest back into their families and communities. Developing economic opportunities to empower Guatemalan women was the mission of this year’s Colorado Resourcefullness Award winner. Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit with an international reach, empowers artisan women to build a more financially secure life for their families and reduce poverty in the most needed communities.

Friendship Bridge’s revenue-generating campaign initiative demonstrates how a nonprofit can positively impact the fate of a nation’s people. Their goal is to improve the Guatemalan artisans’ business skillsets and economic opportunities. This award-winning nonprofit increased its gross revenue $76.1K in 2020, with a plan to increase gross revenue to $355.2K in 2022.

Campaign Initiative – Handmade by Friendship Bridge

Established in 2015, the Handmade by Friendship Bridge program aims to provide Guatemalan artisan women with handcrafting skills, learning experiences, education and technical assistance to enable them to sell independently in local, national and international markets.

Artisans are all women who live predominantly in rural regions with the majority operating businesses in beaded jewelry, sewing/textiles, weaving, basket-making, ceramics and postcard creations. These artisans are able to sell their handmade goods on an online marketplace where they can export their goods to international markets. Twenty-five percent of the sales proceeds go back into Friendship Bridge to support continued operations and programs.

Since 2015, Friendship Bridge has served almost 500 artisans in its training programs. During 2020, the Handmade by Friendship program sold nearly 5,000 items through the online store, resulting in $65,000 in revenue that went to 33 artisan clients in Guatemala and their 129 employees.

Some of the positive outcomes from this campaign initiative include:

  • Creation of jobs
  • Increased incomes
  • Sustainable community growth
  • Maintaining centuries-old culture and traditions

As for the artisans, they experience an increase in self-esteem, connections to new business network, development of new products, as well as the confidence to negotiate and create sales independently. Aside from the economic benefits, this initiative serves a purpose more deeply rooted: it preserves the heritage, cultural skills and traditions passed on through generations and centuries.

“Homemade by Friendship Bridge started as a glimmer. How could we bring the beauty and the specialness of what our artists and clients do to a greater audience around the world? We started very slowly trying to understand could the clients not just continue their art form that they have learned through generations, but could they make product that we could actually sell to a market that was willing to pay for it.”

– Karen Larson, CEO, Friendship Bridge

Resourcefullness in Action

This program is innovative because there are few, if any, other microfinance organizations in Colorado offering an online marketplace for clients to export their goods and services. Friendship Bridge also administers “Circles” in Colorado and across the U.S. which are comprised of groups of individuals who raise funds and advocate on behalf of the organization.

The Handmade program allows Circles the opportunity to showcase artisan products at local events and activities which results in greater reach and awareness throughout Colorado and the United States. In 2019, Circles sold $50k of handmade items at Circle events raising funds for clients and programs.

Goals of Handmade by Friendship Bridge

Over the next four years, Friendship Bridge is seeking full sustainability of this program, which requires continuing to advance the skillset of clients so they can successfully export and grow their businesses. In turn, this will decrease the likelihood of migration, while also reducing poverty. In addition, the sustainability of this program will allow them to serve more clients, while providing a revenue source for the entire organization, which helps support their additional programs.

They plan to develop and deploy a series of trainings focused on basic and advanced skill development, with the specific aim of leading clients toward global exporting. Topics will encompass various aspects of business, economics, exporting and accounting, to name a few.

“Approximately 4,000 of Friendship Bridge’s clients earn their income through artisan activities. They’ve expressed interest to improve their business skills, which is why we created this new program, so we can provide education to improve their skills, create new products, so they can reach international markets.”

– Marta Julia Ixtuc, Client Communications Coordinator, Friendship Bridge

About Friendship Bridge

Established in 1990 and headquartered in Lakewood, Colorado, Friendship Bridge is a micro finance institution with focused efforts in Guatemala. As a nonprofit social enterprise, their mission is to create opportunities that empower women in Guatemala to build a better life, working primarily with indigenous women in rural areas where the rate of poverty and illiteracy is the highest. Learn more.

Key Insights for Nonprofits

To create sustainable programs for your nonprofit, implement some of Friendship Bridge’s resourcefulness from their revenue-generating campaign initiative:

  1. Develop initiatives to help the people you serve to become more self-sufficient
  2. Learn as much as you can and troubleshoot extensively when piloting new programs
  3. Utilize technology to generate revenue and expand the reach of your campaign initiatives

Has your nonprofit developed new innovative campaign initiatives? Be sure to enter our 2022 Resourcefullness Awards. The application process is set to open July 14, 2022 and all U.S. states will be eligible to apply. The firm will award a $50,000 prize to one 501(c)(3) organization.