Running a Business Empowers Guatemalan Women

El Petén has long suffered as one of Guatemala’s poorest areas despite its bounty of natural resources. Two thirds of El Petén’s residents live below the poverty line and half lack sanitary services. Many of the children living in this area are severely malnourished, jeopardizing Guatemala’s future generations.

Gladis Rodriguez recognized both the need and the opportunity to use a product found naturally in her community to sustainably address this poverty and malnourishment. The answer lay in something highly valued by her Mayan ancestors: the Ramon nut.

Gladis got the inspiration after she took part in a training session highlighting the nut’s uses and nutritional benefits (high fiber, calcium, potassium and iron). She began cooking and baking with the nuts, and was asked to lead some local training sessions on the subject.

“I then got the idea of buying a small mill and began to sell to my neighbors. I started working with two friends, and we saw the potential to help more women have a small income of their own, and we created the company,” she says.

In 2006, they established Alimentos NutriNaturales, a women-run organization aiming to harvest, process and commercialize Ramon nut food products. Gladis and Alimentos NutriNaturales offered hope to many poor women in the community – hope that they could bring in extra incomes for their families and take on new responsibilities outside the home.
“Here I can do almost anything: I clean, take care of the mill, bake and sell. I have seen a big change in my life,” says Elodia Celis, an Alimentos employee. “Before I would only take care of my family.”

Despite Alimentos’ promising start – it registered 56 woman shareholders during the first year – the group was having trouble selling its products because of limited resources. Hand-made ovens, burdensome grinders and lack of space impeded the women’s ability to turn a profit.

TechnoServe recognized the potential for Gladis’ vision and invited her and the other women to participate in Idea Tu Empresa, Guatemala’s national business plan competition. As finalists, Gladis and her team were rewarded with $10,000 in seed capital.

TechnoServe is also providing ongoing support. “Soon after [the competition], TechnoServe helped us secure a further $10,000 grant to buy new equipment. They are also supporting us with a part-time consultant who is helping us in organizational development and sales,” Gladis says.

The new equipment is changing the way the women do business, since its installation they have seen their raw material losses cut in half. They are able to more efficiently, and with less waste, roast and mill the nuts, steadily moving them toward profitability.

Alimentos NutriNaturales has provided much-needed hope and opportunity to women in a struggling community. The women’s additional incomes are allowing them to provide school books and pencils for their children and to serve as inspirations to other women.

They are also taking their futures in their own hands. Many of the women, most who only completed one or two years of primary school, have gone back to school to continue their education.

“This is a huge opportunity for me because before I would only take care of my seven children at home and would barely go out. Now I have a great motivation and joy, and this also means more income for my family,” says Benedicta Dionisio, an Alimentos employee.