In an earlier post I mentioned one of the ways that Fundación Paraguaya serves its constituents by broadening its scope beyond just making microloans. In that post I wrote about the Fundación’s self-sustaining agricultural and hospitality education program for high school students.
Another way that Fundación Paraguaya equips people to make better use of microfinance and emerge from poverty is through Junior Achievement’s business education program. As it happens, Fundación Paraguaya’s Junior Achievement program, in addition to the traditional Junior component, also includes a Women Entrepreneurs element for adults.
The program covers a range of topics including development and management of budgets, teamwork, business revenue and expense tracking, planning, sales strategies, break-even analysis, human resource management, self-esteem and “life map” development.
A bit of cultural background: I’ve been told that, among lower income families in Paraguay, women often run the household while the men labor to bring in income. The training provided via the Women Entrepreneurs program seeks to build on the management skills that these women already have developed and refine them such that they too can contribute to the family’s income by starting a small business.
Recently, the JA/Fundación Paraguaya program held a fair at which participants in the women entrepreneurs program set-up tables and showed their wares at a mall in greater Asuncion. I went there to meet some of the women and learn about how their entrepreneurial activity has affected their life.
To a one, they recited the litany of quality of life improvements that one would expect to read in a press release: a richer daily life due to their customer interactions, enhanced self esteem and confidence, a more financially secure household, no longer having to rely on pawn shops and usurers to help them through periods of reduced cash flow, and first-time purchases of household appliances – an oven, a refrigerator, perhaps even a toilet -- that are taken for granted in more developed parts of the world.
The ladies' ambitions followed a similar pattern. While most of their businesses currently take the form of door-to-door sales, they all hope to have a proper store and even to hire people within 5 years or so; perhaps even to have a store in the very mall where the fair took place!
For a few minutes, the cynic in me entertained the possibility that they’d all been briefed on their talking points and were more or less sticking to a script. But that was only for a moment. The smiles and twinkling eyes made it clear that these were not in any way mere recitations of talking points. The training and the microfinance loans, without a doubt, have had a significant positive impact on the quality of life of these women.
To those of you who’ve made loans to entrepreneurial women I say “good on ya,” it’s working!
To those of you thinking about making such a loan and wondering if it really will make a difference I say, the eyes and smiles don’t lie; go for it!
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Rob grew-up on a small finca in the Puerto Rican countryside, the son of New Yorker professionals with an adventurous streak who decided to explore an alternative to living and working in Manhattan. His childhood exposure to a variety of Caribbean cultures, including Haiti during "Baby Doc" Duvalier's reign, left him with an enduring taste for cultural variety and a first-hand appreciation for the broad spectrum of socioeconomic inequality. After studying Romance Languages and International Relations in college, Rob embarked on a career in the international business world; ultimately earning an MBA and working in the market intelligence area of several large multinational technology corporations. While this career path has been rewarding in many ways, Rob is excited to focus on "giving back" via a new career in the nonprofit sector; lending support to people who may find themselves closer to the less advantageous end of the socioeconomic spectrum and are working to improve their circumstances.