This profile was prepared when Brendan Martin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Brendan is creating a new type of credit that responds to the needs of low-income entrepreneurs in a more adequate manner than typical microcredit schemes. While the advent of microcredit has been crucial to changes in the culture and practices of lending to the poor, this model often fails to generate wealth and create economic growth on a large scale. In 2005 Brendan created La Base (The Basis), a microfinance institution. The Basis provides small loans to groups of workers operating cooperatives or small businesses in order to help them expand their ventures, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth. Instead of focusing on long-term loans, The Basis provides these cooperatives with repeated short-term investments that allow them to grow incrementally and sustainably. Business planning support from staff is included in The Basis’ services, which usually takes the form of a series of short-term (6 or 12 month) business plans created at various stages of the lending process. As a result, the groups of workers The Basis assists continually acquire skills in business planning and management. The Basis promotes collective learning and risk taking as important elements that help to guarantee institutional sustainability. Therefore, The Basis requires that its clients govern their loans through democratic decision-making mechanisms. Accordingly, cooperatives are often the clients of choice, although The Basis also extends loans to small businesses that agree to build participatory governance structures to make collective decisions relating to the use of the loans. This approach ensures that financial literacy opportunities are imparted to large groups of workers at once.Brendan has provided some 160 loans to 47 cooperatives and other small businesses in Argentina, and has created a parallel structure, El Mercado (The Market) to help The Basis’ borrowers export their products to the United States and Europe.