This summer Julie Andersen got married and asked me to take some photos at the wedding. I worked with Julie for several years in the 1990s. She was executive director of the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua, and I was the loan fund manager for its NICA Fund, a project that channels loans from socially responsible investors in the United States to support economic development projects in low-income Nicaraguan communities. She now works with the Wisconsin Apprentice Organizers Project, which teaches community organizing skills to young activists.
The Nicaragua work was challenging but satisfying. I had been involved with WCCN for years as a volunteer before going to work as a member of the staff, and I had only been on staff for a few months when Julie was hired. Our loan fund project at the time was called the Nicaraguan Community Development Loan Fund (NCDLF), and it was just getting started. Under the rules of the NCDLF, all of our investments were channeled to a single organization in [w:Nicaragua] - the Nicaraguan Council of Protestant Churches, whose acronym in Spanish is CEPAD. They had been working in Nicaragua on economic development and disaster relief projects ever since the great earthquake that devastated Managua (Nicaragua's capital city) in 1972. They had a reputation for doing solid relief and had seen the country through wars, revolution, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, but after a couple of years of working with them we came to the conclusion that they weren't well-suited to be our partner on the loan fund project. There is a big difference between lending money, which is what loan funds do, and charitable relief, which is what CEPAD was used to doing. Charity usually consists of giving people something, and for a loan fund to operate, the recipients need to understand very clearly that they have to pay back their loans. It is very hard for a single organization to do both well.
We eventually concluded that we needed to change our relationship with CEPAD and set up the NICA Fund, through which we could lend to several [w:microcredit] organizations in Nicaragua. This wasn't easy to do and led to some very difficult conversations with CEPAD, whose leadership not surprisingly felt disappointed (betrayed is probably a better word) that we were ending our "special" relationship with them. Julie was the one who had to take the lead in some tense conversations and negotiations with them.
In the end, things worked out as well as could be hoped. CEPAD's end of the loan fund, PRESTANIC, eventually split off and became a separate organization, and today they are a much better-run and efficient operation than they were in the past. The NICA Fund has grown over the years, and at present it has more than $5 million in invested funds on loan to various alternative credit programs in Nicaragua, PRESTANIC included.