How Microfinance Creates Big Change for Small Business

by Samantha Paige Rosen |December 1, 2022

For plant nursery owner Elizabeth Flores, her business is deeply rooted in family.

Her parents, sister and husband — with whom she has two young children — help Flores with her nursery, which she established four years ago in Santa Rosa Xochiac, Mexico. "My brother, who passed away, has been the inspiration for this nursery. His name is Jesus Flores. And he has been a wonderful light and an inspiration for all that we have created," says Flores through an interpreter.

Flores began selling roses and other flowers 12 years ago at a small stall on the street. After she applied for credit from Banco Compartamos, Mexico's largest microfinance institution, she began to grow her business. Today, her nursery, The Oak, sells a variety of plants, flowers, soil and gardening tools.

"Life is difficult here where we live. But now we can cover our expenses, the education of our children and all the needs of our family," says Flores. "It has also been a benefit for other families because we have provided some work."

Gloria Nieto, Executive Director of Customer Experience at Gentera
Gloria Nieto, Executive Director of Customer Experience at Gentera - Photo courtesy of Gentera

Long-term customer relationships

Building relationships with customers like Flores is central to Banco Compartamos' mission, which aims to serve low-income, underbanked populations. Founded in 1990 as a local finance company, Banco Compartamos is now the largest microfinance bank in Mexico, providing over $1 billion in loans to more than 2 million small businesses, 90 percent of which are women-owned.

"We start with trust, with going into the communities and learning what they need," says Gloria Nieto, executive director of customer experience at Gentera, whose main subsidiary is Banco Compartamos. "We believe that if we can play that role of also being a coach, we can generate a bigger impact."

Beyond providing products and financial services, they also focus on imparting financial education and business development opportunities. "We respect our customers," says Nieto. "We believe in their potential to grow, to improve, to create their businesses and a better life for their families. And we are just happy and proud to be able to work with them on that path."

Commitment to financial inclusion

Paving the way for greater financial inclusion for Banco Compartamos’ clients requires access to funding and capital markets, and a nearly two-decade collaboration with Citi has helped to make that possible.

“This is not something we can do alone,” says Nieto. “When we collaborate, the sum of our efforts has a bigger impact. If we get more resources, then we can get more opportunities for people. So, we really value that in our relationship with Citi.”

When we collaborate, the sum of our efforts has a bigger impact. If we get more resources, then we can get more opportunities for people. So, we really value that in our partnership relationship with Citi.

In 2021 Citi collaborated with development finance institutions to provide Banco Compartamos with $70 million in financing to reach 135,000 small businesses, approximately 90% of which are women-owned. That year, Citi made a $1 trillion commitment to sustainable finance by 2030, which includes social finance activities such as education, affordable housing and basic infrastructure, healthcare, economic inclusion and food security.

Jorge Rubio Nava, global head of social finance at Citi, noted the progress of the relationship over time, citing that Banco Compartamos’ customer base has grown from 300,000 to four million. “That's because they had access to finance and the capital markets. It exemplifies how well this collaboration between a global bank like Citi and an institution with local reach in the most isolated areas of the country can cooperate to build a more inclusive system,” says Rubio Nava.

As part of its social finance focus, Citi also aims to invest in opportunities for 15 million low-income households, including 10 million women, globally by 2025. This loan is one example of that commitment in action.


Elizabeth Flores carries a large bag of planting soil

Encouraging entrepreneurship

When Flores first joined a group of entrepreneurs receiving small loans from the bank, she was 18 years old. "We didn't know how to invest money," she recalls. "We didn't have direction." But employees at the bank educated Flores and her fellow entrepreneurs about loans, investing and reinvesting. Flores invested the money she was loaned into her business, and she now helps counsel other entrepreneurs.

Flores' accomplishments have been recognized beyond her village. In 2021, she was chosen from hundreds of applicants and awarded the Compartamos Entrepreneur Prize for Mexico City. "I was excited," she says, "I won several prizes, and it was an excellent opportunity because I could see that actually, my dream was coming true with this nursery."

"The most honorable thing is family," says Flores. "That's the reason that I invited my family to be part of it. If they have a little dream, maybe it can be very little, but they can make it bigger and bigger. We are here to work and do the best for ourselves."

Over the 12 years that she has been working with Banco Compartamos, Flores has invited her cousins, aunts, uncles and friends to join the bank to help them grow not only their own businesses, but also to expand possibilities for the larger community.

Samantha Paige Rosen

is a writer and teacher. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Catapult, Electric Literature, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine and Post Road.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.