Working for the EnVia Foundation in Oaxaca, MEX.
It was a hot summer day in Teotitlán del Valle, an indigenous Zapotec village in Oaxaca, México. I was guiding one of my first tours for the EnVia foundation around town heading to Reyna´s house. When we got to her house, she welcomed and guided us to the heart of her business: the kitchen.
Reyna is one of more than 200 women of the Tlacolula Valley who receive interest-free loans through the microcredit program of the foundation. Reyna was using her loans to buy corn and wood to cook “elotes y esquites” (boiled corn flavoured with lemon, salt and chilli powder) which she sells at the elementary school´s corner.
Her kitchen was located inside a wooden shack which covered a multipurpose rudimentary stove made out of stones, where she would set a big pot and boil the corn or change the pot for a huge pottery plate and make tortillas. The walls were all black from the smoke and it was very hot inside. She explained to us about her small business and how important it was for her and her family.
During the chat one of our tour participants asked her about the lessons from the business courses. She mentioned how much the courses given by the foundation had supported her business, by teachering her how to set herself goals and objectives. For a long time she had dreamt of buying herself a grinder, so that she would not have to walk long distances with very heavy buckets of mais to the next village grinder. During the course she realized it would not be a dream too hard to achieve with the right savings scheme. Then, she bought it!… That was the first time I witnessed the impact my job had on the women’s businesses and lives.
I was not changing the world, but I was inspiring and facilitating knowledge to entrepreneurial women, so that they could pursue their goals.
Reyna was one of my +200 female business students, most of whom were indigenous. As the Business Education Program Coordinator I had to deliver useful and understandable knowledge for each of them, even when their businesses ranged from raising chicken and pork, making handmade tortillas, selling catalogue products, to producing astonishing handcrafted textiles.
For the courses I followed the EnVia’s 12 month curriculum and turned it into workshops to make it more meaningful. The women learned strategies to manage their business money by separating it from the household money, they learned marketing strategies by announcing their products in creative ways and learned upselling techniques. They liked the “goals and objectives” workshop very much as well, but it was me who learned the most out of it. Assessing each woman’s business goals always led to their aim for providing for the well-being of their families.
Even though the foundation had two conditions in order to grant the women interest-free loans, most women were very glad to host a tour and assist at the monthly business courses. After all, they knew this was the way the foundation could finance the loans. The reality for rural women in Mexico, specially in Oaxaca, is that they would hardly get an affordable loan otherwise. For them getting a loan is very difficult because they must have collateral. However, most women do not or are not allowed to even legally possess land. It can also be very expensive with interest rates that can cost up to 200% and more.
Loans with interest rates can become a big burden if the borrower does not know how to manage it. Nevertheless, financial support is crucial to overcome poverty and so is financial education. The business education courses keep giving the EnVia women the opportunity to get knowledge and steer the wheel of their future and families. That is why I believe this has been one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences I have had so far in my life.
It is clear to me that Oaxacan women play a crucial role on triggering the development we so desperately need in southern México, but I also know that we have to keep looking for ways to strengthen their role within their communities. This is something that I will keep researching through my master’s thesis, in order to enhance the efforts of providing women like Reyna with the rights and opportunities that the system has failed to grant them so far.
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Eugenia lives and studies in Germany but she grew up in the colorful State of Oaxaca in Southern México. She comes from a very modest family of women entrepreneurs, and was always surrounded by a very rich culture, but also lots of poverty.
Inspired by her family stories she has pursued a career in the fields of tourism and sustainability focusing in the role of women for development.