Strengthening entrepreneurial spirit: women’s power in the countryside

A snack bar, a clothes shop or a small chicken farm – young women show their ideas and entrepreneurial spirit in Nicaragua.

Nohemi Orozco Molinares has a good eye for feet and shoes. And she is constantly improving. Every day she trains her eye for the make, material and size of these vital old shoes – after all she is on her way to becoming the first shoe seller in El Paraíso village in the municipality of Terrabona. Indeed, she is about to become the owner of a shoe shop.

Opening the second-hand shoe shop offers the 23-year-old prospects, “I hope that my household income improves so my husband no longer needs to look for work in Costa Rica every year, leaving me and our daughter behind here on our own.”

From cheap labour…

It is not as if young women like Nohemi living in the Nicaraguan hinterland used to be idle and sit twiddling their thumbs. On the contrary, they lent a hand with the housework from an early age and laboured in the fields without even earning a single cent. As a housemaid or factory worker in the duty-free zone the pay was slightly better, but just as miserable.

There was hardly any hope of making a self-determined, secure living, having a job or a good education. Setting up an independent company was impossible because the women had no money and could not secure loans from the banks. This only changed when SWISSAID partner organisation FUMDEC (Fundación Mujer y Desarrollo Económico Comunitario) became active in El Paraiso and the other villages in the department of Matagalpa.

…to student…

The FUMDEC Foundation supports small business initiatives started by young women by offering further training, consultancy and small loans. The aim is a sustainable improvement of living conditions and prospects for families living in precarious situations. Twenty-five women from fifteen villages attended the three 3-day modules of the training course for prospective founders of small enterprises. Here they learned the most important basic principles to successfully implement their small business ideas. For instance, they focused on carrying out market analysis, calculating production costs and key knowledge about administration and marketing.

…to independent businesswoman

During the course the prospective young female entrepreneurs analysed the market and the chances of their business ventures succeeding as well as compiling a business plan. For example, Ingrid quickly had to give up on her initial idea of setting up a second-hand shop for children’s clothing, because of the weak demand. Instead, her market analysis showed that people longed for a snack bar where they could buy a simple bite to eat at any time.

“I know that this will not be easy and will demand a lot of sacrifices. But if I work hard and apply what I’ve learned, my business will be successful and improve our living conditions”, says the 18-year-old would-be snack bar owner with a fighting attitude.

Keeping going

The road to the boss’s chair is a rocky one, “It was very difficult for me to participate in the course because I live in a very remote place where there are hardly any means of transport. I had to walk seven kilometres on foot to get to the main road to take the bus to Matagalpa”, recalls Nohemi. FUMDEC helped the young mother to organise childcare for her young daughter while she attended the course and funded part of the transport costs. So on her return journey Nohemi could travel back to her village on horseback instead of having to carry her child and take the difficult route on foot.

FUMDEC also continues to support its protégées once they have set up their company: six out of ten small businesses in the pre-start up stage have already received technical advice and support. The businesswomen therefore overcame initial challenges like excessive debt due to high start-up investment costs (for a flour mill or snack bar), lack of feed for the cows due to the sustained dry weather or conflicts in the family.

Youth is the key to the future

FUMDEC knows that the young women are pioneers for the future. It therefore also helps them to formulate their requests and present these to the local authorities, as well as informing them about their rights. Further training courses, street theatre, an official advisory service for young people, awarding scholarships and renovating the school building – this is all part of the programme. It demonstrates that the initiatives, which FUMDEC is setting up in Matagalpa, will have a long-term effect. Young people are the key to the future and full of drive, energy and creativity.

Project code: NC 02/12/05

Project duration: 2015

Project costs: 50,232 Swiss francs

Number of beneficiaries: 300 young women