Today, the Dominican Republic is one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America, but less than a decade ago, it was in the throes of a financial crisis. At the outset of the crisis, the government responded with a program of direct food aid, distributing groceries to residents from trucks. But this had serious drawbacks, including the potential for theft and the exclusion of local community merchants. In 2004 the government partnered with Visa and Dominican financial institutions to launch the Solidaridad Card -- a way to distribute benefits to citizens in need in the form of funds on a reloadable Visa prepaid card that can be used at locally-owned micro-businesses. The program not only is more secure, but it enables local grocery stores, called Colmados to benefit as well, shoring up local economies. It has been a tremendous thing for me, for my business, says one shopkeeper. Business has grown 60 percent more than it was before. Importantly, the program has proven to be an important first step toward financial inclusion for cardholders and for merchants, who are less reliant on cash or physical goods.

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