Helping Women Build Better Businesses in Latin America
The Impulsa Tu Empresa (“Boost Your Business”) program is a business accelerator program, which aims to help 850 small and growing businesses across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Burkina Faso. With support from the Argidius Foundation, the Multilateral Investment Fund, the Walmart Foundation, the Citi Foundation and the PIMCO Foundation, TechnoServe provides participating businesses mentorship, market connections, and access to capital to help them grow and expand. The program hopes to increase revenues of these businesses by $25 million and generate 750 new jobs by 2017.
Discover how Verónica, founder of IKO Imagen, grew her business while transforming her community with TechnoServe's assistance.Learn More
UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED BY WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS
Women in Central America face unequal access to economic opportunities as business owners, leaders, employees and suppliers compared to men. As a result, there are fewer small and growing businesses (SGBs) where women have leadership roles, and of those SGBs with women leaders, there are often greater profitability and growth constraints relative to those led by men.
Some of the key challenges women entrepreneurs face when growing their businesses include:
- Balancing family care and business responsibilities
- Accessing finance without legal ownership or a guarantee
- Joining traditionally male-dominated business networks
EMPOWERING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS THROUGH IMPULSA TU EMPRESA
To better support women entrepreneurs, the program team focused on improving the gender approach to the selection and recruitment process, as well as the business training and advisory aspects of the program. To help with gender mainstreaming in Impulsa Tu Empresa’s selection process the team:
- Incorporated gender inclusive language and included images of women on marketing and communications materials
- Reached out to other programs working with women-led enterprises in the region to build the list of potential SGB candidates
- Included basic gender analysis questions in the application and interview forms
- Composed the selection committee of both men and women
Once businesses were selected for Impulsa Tu Empresa’s business advisory and training services, there were other adaptations to programming made to recognize the needs of female entrepreneurs such as:
- Providing an online training and networking platform, which increased the flexibility of training services, so women could still meet their family and business duties
- Business advisors began offering meeting with entrepreneurs during off hours and at business sites to facilitate participation in the program for women entrepreneurs
- Tailoring content to address challenges women entrepreneurs face, such as soft skills like negotiation
- Advised business on best practices for creating human resource frameworks, such as job descriptions and transparent criteria for promotion, to help increase SGBs ability to recruit and promote women
The team also recognized the importance of the business climate in Central America, where many of the business owners have close community ties as well as strong relationships with their employees. This meant that staff had to engage and convince business owners of the necessity of including a gendered lens in their business decisions
To date the program has supported over 590 small and growing businesses, of which 39 percent are women-led businesses, meaning that the business has a female senior manager or a woman in a key decision-making role. These businesses have increased revenues by an average of 35 percent and created 733 new jobs with TechnoServe’s support. The program has also managed to address issues of access to finance for female entrepreneurs by mobilizing over $860,000 to women-led businesses.
Yadira Verónica Bucardo and her husband began IKO Imagen, a textile and handbag company, with little capital and used equipment for screen printing. In 2010, Verónica heard about Idea Tu Empresa, TechnoServe's business plan competition program, and decided to apply, entering her business idea into that year’s business plan competition. The company won first place, securing $10,000 in capital, which allowed them to purchase new equipment to increase production and grow the company. TechnoServe’s market connections enabled the company to reach out to new clientele and expand into different markets. Building on these early successes, Verónica joined Impulsa Tu Empresa in 2013, to take IKO Imagen to the next level of growth.
Verónica Bucardo, Co-Founder of IKO Imagen
IKO Imagen’s business model breaks the mold of local labor practices. The company offers decent work, for both women and men, with fair wages, social security benefits, and a respectful workplace environment with a focus on contributing to the community to reach better living standards. The staff is comprised of a full-time team of five women and eight men, and contracts five additional women for part-time work when they need to turn in larger orders. Many of these women are single mothers with few job opportunities, who can now count on daily sustenance to support their families.
The business also tries to incorporate gender-neutral human resource policies. At the time of hiring, both men and women can apply to whichever jobs they feel fit their capabilities. The company provides training to all staff on all equipment and technology. In addition, they have partnered with other institutions in the area to provide personal development training for all of their staff.
The employees’ families receive numerous benefits from the company as well. The company has partnered with two community schools to guarantee that employees’ children receive an education. IKO Imagen has an agreement with a private physician, who attends to employees’ children of all ages, ensuring that the families receive sufficient medical care. Another benefit that the employees enjoy in IKO Imagen is flexible work schedules, meaning that women employees can still take time to fulfill their family duties such as taking their children to school in the morning, feeding them at lunch and helping them with schoolwork.
Verónica Bucardo and her team are extremely involved in community outreach. The recognition they have received has allowed them, in partnership with La Universidad Centroamericana, to offer scholarships to the best students of the community. Verónica is also currently looking for partners to help with a housing project, which aims to improve the living standards of her employees.
The help Verónica has received from TechnoServe will help her grow her business and continue to improve the lives of her employees and community. Recently, IKO Imagen launched a new line of high-quality shoes and handbags, growing their market share. The company’s emphasis on creating an inclusive and supportive work environment lies at the heart of its success.