By Andrea Ramirez, KF16, Costa Rica.
Today I was a judge for the first time. I had the honor of being invited to represent Kiva as part of the jury for Fundación Mujer’s 8th annual Woman Entrepreneur Awards for 2011. Today was a day full of stories of strength and success, told by some of the bravest women I have ever met. I knew these women had to be pretty amazing, but my imagination wasn’t wild enough to have predicted the struggles that these women have and continue to face. If you’re looking for inspiration to start a new project, face a difficult situation, or just to get off the couch – keep reading.
Patricia is in her late 50s, and she owns a catering business. She owns two cars, and caters events for large banks, government, and private companies here in Costa Rica. Not too shabby, right? Well, it’s been an uphill battle to get to where she is today. About 15 years ago Patricia lost it all, including her house. She used to be a housewife, her husband was rather successful and the family was well off. Patricia painted Chinese pottery as a hobby. Her kids all attended private school. Unfortunately Patricia’s marriage ended, and at the same time her husband’s businesses started go down. This is how she became head of her household, and also facing the mortgage payments that her husband left her with when he refinanced the house before leaving. Not long after the bank knocked on her door with the police, and gave her two days to find a place to live. She first started selling her painted pottery, but competition was stiff, so Patricia decided she needed to do something else based on the demands of the market. It was Christmas time, so Patricia made Christmas cakes (popular during the season in Costa Rica). After Christmas came and went, she found herself struggling again. Then, Valentine’s day came, so she made chocolates for sale. She sold them in gift boxes, and sold 150 of them. At the time she would also cook lunch for her daughter to take to work with her. Her daughter’s boss saw what she was having for lunch, and since it looked so delicious asked her to have Patricia send her two meals for her and her husband. Another co-worker of Patricia’s daughter bought meals to take home and not have to cook dinner. The husband of that co-worker worked at another private company, and they hired Patricia to cater an event. Little by little, by word of mouth Patricia established a reputation. She also was not afraid to knock on any door, offering her food products at office buildings near her home and calling everyone she knew to sell her creations. She sometimes even sold products she didn’t know how to cook! She would go online, look up a recipe, give it a try, and improve it up to her standards. Almost 15 years later she caters events for some of the largest organizations in San Jose,Costa Rica. Today at Fundación Mujer’s offices, she was granted the “Superacion y Esfuerzo Award.”
Fundación Mujer not only works with the individual lending methodology, but also with solidarity groups. In a solidarity group, women are each-other’s co-signers. This methodology also enables them to have a support system to voice their concerns about their business, and also requires them to save together in case one of them has an emergency. A representative from one of these groups spoke up during the ceremony, explaining that thanks to the training programs given by Fundación Mujer she was able to realize that she needed to stop blaming everyone else when things didn’t work out for her. She realized that she was often times the obstacle for herself and for others. She said working with Fundacion Mujer has helped her to continue to work and improve her self-esteem.
There were so many other inspiring stories, and it was so hard to choose the winners. However, today I had the opportunity to measure the impact that microfinance had on these clients. All the women I met today expressed that having access to credit, and being able to repay their loans, has given them the confidence to take on any challenges, and to face the world beyond their communities. Some of them expressed that they would not leave their homes or travel to the capital before they started working with Fundación Mujer Today they see themselves as micro-entrepreneurs who are equal to their husbands, and who have an opportunity to grow beyond the opportunities they were born into.