Our partner MiBici operates over 200 microfinance credit co-ops in all seven regions of Costa Rica, however, the co-op in Batán is special because it is one of two in the country that is run, staffed and primarily serves women. In the Matina area of the Limón Province, where Batán is situated, the co-op serves an important purpose as a community center in an area that has seen a significant decline in job and economic opportunities over the past 40 years.
Once the backbone of the banana industry in Costa Rica given its location between San Jose and the main Caribbean port of Limón, the Batán area was negatively impacted by the closure in the 1980s of the main railway line through town. This saw economic opportunities and jobs dry up, communities die and many people move away for better job prospects. The area is now comparatively poorer than it had been with the remaining jobs primarily being those available on large commercial banana plantations in the area operated by Del Monte and Dole. This means long days and long commutes for the men and women of Batán who must get to the fields each day--and this is where bikes play an important role in the community.
The majority of workers on these banana plantations are men which means that employment opportunities for women are somewhat limited. This is where the co-op in Batán plays a big part in empowering women and providing the resources for them to supplement their family's income and encourage their entrepreneurial endeavors. Whereas the average loan issued through MiBici's co-ops is about $1500 the co-op in Batán focuses on smaller amount loans in the $500 range. This allows the total amount of capital to be spread to a larger number of clients and make a deeper impact in the community by allowing women to access money for home-based businesses like baking bread, picking vegetables, and clothing repair.
Repairing and selling bikes via the co-op has been a big boon to the members because it has generated more capital, more interest in the activities of the co-op and legitimized the community-backed model that MiBici promotes. The women on the Batán co-op have done an amazing job providing bikes to students, women and agriculturalists in the area which has increased the demand for bikes and proven that bikes are an affordable, sustainable and logical transportation choice.