The Economic Inclusion Project: Helping Venezuelan refugees begin again
If you had to start from scratch in a completely new place, how would you do it? What would you need to survive? What would you need to thrive?
For millions of Venezuelans, these aren’t just hypothetical questions—they’re an everyday reality.
Venezuela has been in the midst of political turmoil and economic collapse for more than a decade. Millions of refugees have fled the country, seeking a new life in other parts of South America. As conditions in Venezuela have continued to deteriorate, what many had hoped was a temporary displacement has since become a permanent resettlement.
Humanitarian aid for new arrivals is specific and acute: refugees need necessities like food and water, shelter and sanitation. Support to resettle and establish a new life is different. Long-term refugees need tools to integrate into their new community, such as help with job placement and skills training, support for entrepreneurial endeavors, and access to financial services.
The Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions has been raising money to support a six-year program called the Economic Inclusion Project (EIP) that is focused on addressing these exact needs for Venezuelan refugees in Peru and Ecuador.
If you think that sounds complicated, you’re right. It’s an impressively complex initiative involving the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and dozens of local organizations and community partners in multiple countries.
And it’s about to get even bigger.
EIP is now entering a phase two that will expand the project in several ways, including greater prioritization of youth and LGBTQI+ programming, more support and training for local organizations, and an added focus on green partnerships to support climate change adaptation.
Phase two also includes a geographic expansion, as well. EIP will add eight new cities to its reach, for a total of 11 locations throughout Peru and Ecuador.
“We have already begun building out phase two of the Economic Inclusion Project and look forward to helping more Venezuelans and local vulnerable populations achieve greater economic security over the next three years,” says Oscar Guzman, Chief of Party for EIP.
“Having an account with credit union (COAC) San José is emotional for me,” explains Mayerlin Ramos, a Venezuelan refugee who has lived in Quito, Ecuador for five years. EIP worked with the credit union to broaden documentation requirements, so Mayerlin was able to access financial services. She continues, “Now I can program my savings. I can apply for a loan or credit card.”
So far, EIP has tracked some impressive results in the three short years since inception:
- $10M in loans disbursed by EIP financial partners
- 100K people opened savings accounts or loans
- 15K people received financial education training
- 12K entrepreneurs and jobseekers received training
- 2K professionals had their degrees revalidated
- 500+ survivors of gender-based violence received support
It’s also important to note that 64% of all EIP participants are women and LGBTQI+ individuals.
Georgina Meléndez is a medical surgeon specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, as well as a Venezuelan refugee who fled to Peru in 2019. She worked with EIP to revalidate her credentials and says, “The migration process was really difficult and challenging for me. I missed being a surgeon. However, now I feel as though I am a step closer to returning to my field.”
The work is far from over, but the framework that EIP has developed is promising. With some big goals set for phase two, EIP plans to support thousands more Venezuelan refugees with the critical financial and economic resources they need to not just survive but thrive.