live well. give well.


Focus: savings-led microfinance and individual empowerment

Location: San Pedro Sula, Honduras

the local hero

Initiated in 1993 by a small group of women who refused to accept poverty and marginalization in a male dominated society, COMFEL has become a significant force of change in the deprived neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula.  Together its members lobby for equal human rights to create awareness and empowerment.  Notably, COMFEL’s main focus is on providing its members with the tools to improve their lives right now rather than waiting for the government to improve matters.  Concretely, COMFEL functions as a savings-led microfinance bank and self-help group; it requires members to contribute monthly savings and to attend talks or trainings on a regular basis.  Through the talks women learn to value themselves and to believe in their dreams while the trainings in technical and business skills help them to implement their dreams. Financing is obtained through microloans which women receive dependent on their level of savings.

What began with a handful of women in 1993 and a grant of US$3,000 has grown into an organization over 1,500 members and savings worth over US$300,000 – proof of the power of community and that anything is possible.

their neighbor

COMFEL’s members live in the poorest neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula where most people work informally as for example unlicensed street vendors or occasional construction workers; and a large number in the foreign owned factories (maquiladoras).  Houses are built with tin roofs, often lack a drainage systems and trash is thrown into the streets which turn into mud during rain seasons.

Few women receive more than six years of education and grow up with the assigned role to stay at home, please their husband and bear him many children.  The idea of attending COMFEL meetings, opening a business and having a semblance of independence is a controversial one - often rejected by the women at first. However, the COMFEL talks and comradeship opens their minds and they start becoming more active – in their families, their personal lives and society.  One typical outcome is for a woman to say “no” to abusive relationships, to open a small shop and to take on responsibility in church or other organizations.  Once women discover their human agency through the cooperative they set out to make their world a better place.

your philanthropic opportunity

As mentioned, the cooperative raised and manages a significant amount of money, especially when taking into consideration that the minimum annual savings per women is 365 Lempiras (about US$19).  Of course, the larger the total capital the more loans can be granted without putting the institution at risk.  Better training and a wider set of skills would be a way for the members to achieve this goal because their undertakings would generate more profit and they could contribute more to the cooperative.  Thus one of their goals is to build a technical training center where women can acquire jobs that are higher paid such as plumbing or carpentry.

Another way to increase COMFEL’s effectiveness would be the establishment of a scholarship fund for the women’s children.  Currently, many loans are used to pay for tuition fees and school materials instead of going towards recoverable investments and enlarging the cooperative’s fund.

So there are many ways for you to become involved and to support the cooperatives organic growth.  Help the women become better at what they do by going to see them in person, learn from them and brainstorm meaningful initiatives which are implemented together.  COMFEL’s members do not want pity or become dependent on a large donor.  They want their achievement to be known in other countries where women may be inspired to follow suit; they want to be respected and not overlooked and above all, they welcome anyone to share ideas and experiences with.

san pedro sula, honduras