Colombia: Balancing Mission and Bottom Line

How do you make a viable business out of “serving the underserved?”

July 1, 2013


How do you make a viable business out of “serving the underserved?”

For credit unions in Colombia, working with a World Council of Credit Unions program, it’s not only possible, it’s great business.

World Council began a credit union strengthening program with Colombian government funding in 2008, nearly 10 years after a financial crisis debilitated the credit union system there.

Savings mobilization was inactive, supervision was inadequate, and governance was weak. Membership was growing, but credit unions weren’t reaching areas most in need of financial services to move the economy forward. It inspired a program of financial inclusion.

Last year, World Council began training 12 credit unions to deliver financial services in communities where potential members lived and worked and did not have access to basic finance.

World Council’s program promised to bring, in the first two years, 50,000 people who had never saved before into credit unions. In 18 months, more than 60,000 people became credit union members.

Learn more about Colombian credit unions’ success and World Council’s work in the new, interactive issue of Credit Union World at

NEXT: More photos from Colombia


Youth make up about 25% of COOMULDESA CU’s membership, many of whom are saving for higher education. World Council has worked with the CU to develop youth savings products that grow as members get older


Yeimy Perdomo Macia, holding her son, is the group leader for 16 CU members who meet weekly in their community with a CU field offi cer to make savings deposits. Four members have received microloans since the group was established less than a year ago.


COOFISAM CU has a branch office in the town of La Plata, Huila, which sends a field officer to outlying communities to bring financial services and financial education to members using a smartphone, Bluetooth printer, and poster-size flipcharts carried in a backpack canister. 


Rosmira Mambuscay (far left) receives her certificate of completion for a course on cooperatives through COOFISAM CU. She left school in fifth grade and joined the CU to save for her three children’s education. Her community recently commercialized its coffee cooperative with sponsorship from the credit union.


COFINCAFE CU field officer Luis Estiber Jaramillo (right) meets with María Elisa Castro, who co-owns a coffee shop with her husband Ricardo Delatour (in background). Through the CU’s COFIEXPRESS service, Castro is able to schedule weekly visits from Jaramillo to check her account balance and make a deposit without having to leave her business. Jaramillo records the transaction through a smartphone, which takes only a couple minutes.


Chelo Hernandez is community and CU group leader in a farming village outside of Guayabetal, Cundinamarca. His group began with 12 members in November and doubled in number in less than six months.