Colombia aims to be one of the first mid-income countries to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals. A key target is to reduce extreme poverty, and our Colombian business Bavaria has been working hard to help

For a country just emerging from a civil conflict that raged for almost half a century, Colombia is doing well – a decade of economic growth, currently around 4%, has put it ahead of the average economic performance across Latin America.

But the conflict has left a long-term legacy. An estimated five million Colombians fled from their homes, and around 8% of the population is in extreme poverty, living on less than US$1.25 a day.

In 2012, Bavaria became the first private sector company in Colombia to set up a ZOLIP – which stands for Zonas Libres de Pobreza Extrema, or ‘zones free from extreme poverty’ – and has since launched two more.

The Colombian government’s ZOLIP programme aims to deliver rapid, effective and highly practical action to lift families in a specific area out of extreme poverty over a five‑year period. The programme is delivered by public-private partnerships between national agencies, local government, and commercial companies.

Potential ZOLIPs are identified using a massive government database that identifies pockets of extreme poverty down to the level of individual households, and Bavaria has committed to creating a total of six ZOLIPs, with each one close to a Bavaria brewery. A fourth ZOLIP will be launched later this year, and the remaining two will be established in 2015.

Bavaria already has a strong record in helping its local communities, via its charitable body Fundación Bavaria, and its Uni2 volunteer programme, which allows employees to give their time and part of their wages to local community projects (the company matches all employee donations by 200%).

The first ZOLIP, covering 153 households suffering extreme poverty, was launched in Tocancipá in Cundinamarca department, with Bavaria leading a group of six corporates. Bavaria’s volunteers organise fund-raisers, hold events in the community, visit families in need, deliver mentoring for individuals, help job seekers to create CVs, and also turn out in numbers to work on building and other projects.

The programme encourages entrepreneurial local people to launch their own small businesses, recognising that the new enterprises may end up creating fresh jobs and bringing new income into the community. During 2013, 121 local women received business training, with nine of them from families in extreme poverty. A dozen proposed new businesses received financial and other help, including seed capital, equipment and supplies of stock, and nine shop-keepers received training and help through our own 4e, Camino al Progreso (Path to Progress) programme for Latin America.

During the financial year 2013/14, Bavaria’s Uni2 teams donated US$40,000 to the two ZOLIPs at Tocancipá and Tibasosa. José Vicente Reyes, whose shop was one of the business proposals supported by the ZOLIP programme in Tocancipá, was thrilled:

Thanks to Fundación Bavaria, we received… a computer, a weighing scale, a printer and a cash register.
José Vicente Reyes | shopkeeper

It was enough to get his enterprise up and running on a professional basis.

The programme also helps extremely poor families to improve their lives through simple measures such as improvements to their homes; providing bunk beds to relieve overcrowding, creating proper bathrooms and toilet facilities, and replacing leaky roofs.

Each ZOLIP spends its money carefully. For example, the Tocancipá programme spent COP182 million (US$94,000) in November and December 2013 on business and housing help for 37 families, averaging a little over US$2,500 per household – but even relatively small amounts of cash can make a big difference to people who have almost nothing.

People like Cecilia Rivera, who says her life has been changed by the donation of a new kitchen: “The kitchen I used to have was in poor condition – it didn’t look like a kitchen, I felt bad when people came over to visit…” Starting to cry, she finishes: “Dios mio, I feel so happy with this – it has been a really beautiful gift.”

A brand new home – in just one day

José Israel Cortes, 68, lives in extreme poverty in Tocancipá. One pressing problem for José was his poor accommodation – a tumbledown shack, with an earthen floor, that gave little protection from wind and rain. The ZOLIP committee decided that he should be given a new house.

A 22-strong team of volunteers – all workers at the nearby Bavaria brewery – turned up one morning to assemble a pre-fabricated, single-storey building, complete with a proper floor, lockable doors and opening windows, and by the end of the day José was able to move into his new house.

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