Displaced Venezuelans in Colombia: integration in sight

Elizabeth Martínez de Marcano, director for the Andean Region of the International Financial Corporation (IFC)

The crisis caused by the displacement of people threatens to checkmate the entire world in the medium term. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), every two seconds somebody is forced to flee in search of greater security. At least 79.8 million people world-wide have had to escape from their homes.

One of the best ways to promote the financial inclusion of migrants is by empowering women.

The Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (1984) refers to forcibly displaced persons as individuals who have fled their country or place of habitual residence to avoid indiscriminate threats to their life, physical integrity or freedom. Such threats could stem from widespread violence, breakdown of public order, sociopolitical instability, economic crisis or natural disasters.

Migratory flows exercise significant pressure on the host societies. In recent years, the crisis has hit Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) with special intensity. UNHCR data show there are over 11.6 million displaced persons in the region. Most of them have left Venezuela, the majority of such Venezuelans being hosted by Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. Cities become natural recipients for migratory displacements. Not just because they are deemed to offer opportunities for jobs and economic growth, but also because they provide a certain level of infrastructure, housing, health, social care and services. This includes access to funding for services.

As happens in all spheres of development, the State cannot fully tackle the intrinsic challenges stemming from the displacement of people. And these challenges are probably set to worsen with the increasing sociopolitical conflicts, the economic crisis and the scarcity of resources triggered by climate change. Private sector participation is crucial to resolve the problem. Aid to displaced persons, however, rarely forms a substantive part of corporate social responsibility programs.

This, however, is beginning to change. And the epicenter of the change seems to be the Andean area. On August 31, the International Financial Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, signed a cooperation agreement with Bancamía, a BBVA Microfinance Foundation entity and the largest microfinance enterprise in Colombia, to boost the provision of financial products and services to Venezuelan migrants, especially women, to help them successfully integrate into the country’s social and economic dynamics.


Elizabeth Martínez de Marcano, director for the Andean Region of the International Financial Corporation (IFC)

Driven by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, We-Fi, the agreement is to implement tools that can identify the Venezuelan migrants’ needs, challenges, preferences, experiences and aspirations with respect to financial and banking services. Support to micro and small enterprises, above all those run by female entrepreneurs, will be imperative to bring about the integration of these immigrants into the economic fabric of Colombia, especially within the context of the economic crisis triggered by Covid-10.

One of the most inspiring aspects of the agreement is its gender focus. Half the new saving accounts and loans stemming from the project will be for women. In IFC we are totally convinced that one of the best ways to promote the financial inclusion of migrants is by empowering women to seek a better life for themselves and their families.

The private sector must identify opportunities for the migrants and their host communities along four vectors: financial inclusion and the promotion of entrepreneurship; the delivery of basic services like education and energy; the establishment of policies to foster business creation, and the sharing of lessons learned with stakeholders and like-minded institutions.

Displaced persons not only have to live through the traumatic experience of leaving everything behind to seek out better living conditions but are also vulnerable to exploitation in societies unable to accept the migrants’ otherness. Perhaps the majority never find a new home. With more active participation from the private sector, the likelihood of escaping such misfortune will grow. We all deserve the possibility of a new start.