Our Impact on the Ground
When my colleagues and I arrived, EDESA founders María Marta and her son Luis welcomed us to their office in San José. It was nice to finally put faces to the names of the staff as we all celebrated this landmark investment.
But the most impactful part of the trip for me was visiting the community credit associations, local lending organizations that will benefit from EDESA’s increased lending capacity, and the rural businesses they finance. EDESA is co-owned by approximately 70 of these community credit associations.
María Marta and Luis accompanied us as we ventured into the mountains outside of San José, to a town called San Cristobal Norte. There, Credit Association Sacrin employees greeted us and showed us where local business owners come to apply for a loan. Afterwards, we all set out to visit some of these business owners.
Our first stop was the Cordero family’s coffee farm. Walking through the lush countryside draped in coffee trees, we came to a small warehouse that housed coffee beans in plastic bags. There, the friendly farm managers taught us about coffee production as sunlight beamed on the bags of coffee, the fragrant smell permeating the air. We walked outside to a sunlit tent with waist-high tables covered in coffee cherries laid out to dry. “Touch them,” they invited. And so we did, running our fingers through the surprisingly smooth, damp coffee cherries that left our hands feeling soft, like a natural moisturizer. After seeing some of the machinery used for milling the coffee beans, we studied the finished product wrapped in colorful bags.
Next, we drove up a path off the main road to a small house. There we met Lisbeth, a painter. Her workshop bulged with crafts of various sizes, most notably giant carretas, Costa Rica’s famous painted oxcarts. I grew up seeing replicas of these oxcarts in my family’s home, but actually seeing how real ones were made was special. Lisbeth enthusiastically pointed out the various items she paints with unique, colorful patterns or delicate images of the Costa Rican countryside, including pieces of wood, wheels, and even a shovel. She proudly informed us that their annual festival uses many of these items.
Our last stop of the day was a farm owned by Eliecer and David, who showed us the cows, pigs, and other livestock they raise. On the rolling hills behind us, we saw farm workers harvesting corn, carrying bundles of long stalks on their back. A perfect end to a meaningful day.
The next morning, Luis brought us to a newer credit enterprise, Credit Association Los Santos in Frailes, also in the hills beyond San Jose. Los Santos has already provided loans to many businesses in the area, including Alberto’s granadilla (passion fruit) orchard. Alberto took us down a winding path until we came upon rows and rows of heavily-laden granadilla vines. He gave us each one to eat. I tore mine open with my fingers and ate the gelatinous, sweet center. We trekked back up to his house on the hill. His son and daughter happily waved to us as we passed to see his other ventures on the property. The little girl beamed as she told us the names of each of the cows they are raising. The family has been cultivating sustainable fertilizer using waste from their cows, and she bravely picked up the drying fertilizer with worms crawling in her hand, proud to show off their work.
For our last stop, we pulled up to Gustavo’s new home under construction, right next to his strawberry fields. Gustavo has been growing rows and rows of strawberries that he exports to other countries. The loans from Los Santos will help him buy more seeds and equipment to help his business grow.
A Bright Future
The trip inspired and enlightened me. Not only did I get a chance to celebrate our new agreement with María Marta, Luis, and the other staff at EDESA, but I also got to meet the credit associations and small business owners who will benefit from their enhanced ability to lend. There are so many ways that a loan can help a small business grow. Loans pay for tents, coffee mills, packaging, painting supplies, cow pens, and strawberry seeds.
This trip showed me how many people benefit from loans from the community credit associations that formed EDESA. I already knew about Costa Ricans’ positivity and pride, but now I understand their hard work and innovation better. And the best part about this investment is that within eight years, we expect to have earned back our initial investment, which we can then reinvest in future community-led projects. I can’t wait to hear how our impact investment helps these businesses grow.