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IDB recognizes Gases de Occidente's "BRILLA" project

Article - September 27, 2013
The natural gas company in Valle del Cauca, Gases de Occidente, has turned a utility into something even more useful
GASES DE OCCIDENTE
Gases de Occidente's "BRILLA" business model was highlighted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as an attractive non-bank financing option that helps reduce poverty.

Natural gas was discovered off Colombia’s shore some 40 years ago, but only in the past 15 years has it been put to residential use. And in this very short period of time, gas has transformed the way millions of Colombians live – especially in terms of replacing highly dangerous cooking gasoline, which caused scores of deaths and injuries in homes. 
 
“Gasoline had been a serious social problem because it comes in little bottles, it’s highly flammable and dangerous and the number of accidents it caused was enormous,” says Arturo Gutierrez de Piñeres, General Director of Gases de Occidente. “Natural gas helped solve this problem that was most widespread among the poorer classes. So, natural gas has had a tremendous, positive social impact on the country.” 
 
Gases de Occidente (GO), the department of Valle del Cauca’s sole natural gas distributor, has close to 900,000 customers. Nevertheless, natural gas isn’t the only thing the company is making available. Through a program called Brilla, GO provides unbanked families with financing they would normally not have access to.
 
The way it works is rather simple – hence its success and popularity. Customers who cannot afford to pay the connection to the gas line in one single instalment have the option of paying GO back over six years. 
 
“We don’t demand anything – it’s simply a matter of them coming, saying they want gas, they take it and then they pay it back over six years,” explains Mr. Gutierrez, adding that customers’ reaction has been “excellent” and that ultimately GO’s customers “behave better than the banks’ customers.”
 
Once the payback period has ended and the customer has built up a clean “credit history”, he or she has the option to take out another loan.
 
“Once the six years are up and we see that the customer has paid punctually throughout that time, we’ll tell him, continue paying the same rate you were paying for the installation. Before we lent you a million pesos and you paid it back on time. Now, take another million and buy whatever it is you need and you pay it back with your gas bills,” says Mr. Gutierrez. 
 
So far, 150,000 people have subscribed to the Brilla program, but the General Director feels this is just the beginning. With Gases de Occidente putting natural gas to double use – energy and financing – this is a brilliant plan indeed.

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