Creating Youth Opportunities In El Salvador: Entrepreneurship, Job Creation, & Women’s Employment

Discover the journey of Gabi Garcia, the manager at Cochecito, a baby clothing boutique in San Salvador. Her experience highlights how small businesses are a lifeline for many young Salvadorians facing limited job opportunities. Through a TechnoServe program creating youth opportunities, small businesses like Cochecito are creating jobs, strengthening communities, and ensuring a brighter future for youth and women in El Salvador.

Nestled in the neighborhood of Escalon in San Salvador, El Salvador, stands a big, beautiful house. The sound of babies giggling, parents shopping, and the hustle and bustle of a thriving business echo throughout the space. This is Cochecito, a women-owned and operated shop for everything children under three years old need. Katherine Gabriela Garcia, or as clients and colleagues know her, Gabi, manages the business. The 29-year-old works in close collaboration with Nieves Rocio Requeno the 30-year-old owner of the business. 

Cochecito was founded in 2019, shortly after Nieves became a mom and started to look for supplies for her baby. After traveling to the U.S. and seeing a gap in the baby products market in San Salvador, she started an online business that grew into two brick-and-mortar shops in 2023.

What is Youth Economic Opportunity?

Youth Economic Opportunity focuses on empowering the world’s young population, especially those in developing countries, to secure sustainable employment and overall economic growth. With approximately 90% of global youth living in these regions and nearly a billion anticipated to enter the workforce over the next decade, it’s crucial to address their needs for prosperous futures. TechnoServe helps this new generation of leaders access information, capital, and markets in order to create better employment opportunities — for themselves and their communities.

Creating Youth Opportunities in El Salvador

To understand Gabi’s journey with Cochecito, we need to look at the job opportunities in El Salvador. In San Salvador, migration has torn multiple generations of families apart. A staggering 1.6 million people left the country in 2020, often leaving behind their loved ones and an economy that misses the vibrancy of younger generations. Over 36% of the economically inactive population is between 15 and 19 years old. These youth face a gloomy future due to limited job opportunities and unemployment. In 2019, over 10% of them were forced into the informal sector or were considering the difficult decision to migrate. 

El Salvador is not alone in this issue. Global demand for jobs is surging. The world needs to generate 600 million jobs by 2030 to provide for a growing population. Micro, small, and medium-sized businesses are key to addressing this challenge, at least in the Global South, where they account for over 70% of employment. Cochecito, Gabi’s workplace, is one great example.

Katherine Gabriela Garcia is a 29-year-old from San Salvador, El Salvador. Photo by Julieta Ocampo for TechnoServe.

Gabi’s Journey: From Aspiring Emigrant to Fulfilled Woman Building Economic Resilience in San Salvador

For Gabi, Cochecito is more than just a job. It’s where two of her passions meet: top-tier client services and babies. “Like everyone else, I wanted to prosper,” Gabi recalls. “I wanted to emigrate to another country.” Just before joining Cochecito, Gabi had everything planned to leave the country, but the trip fell apart the night before her planned departure. “I said, okay, I’m not going to force it […] I prayed for a good job, for a stable job, and to have a baby.” A few weeks later, Gabi found out through a mutual friend that the store she had been following for months on social media had a job position open. She immediately sent her resume, and within a week, she was working with Nieves. 

Since Gabi started, she has experienced both personal and professional growth, including career development.  Gabi began as a sales assistant before being promoted to sales manager, and she is now the store manager. On the personal side, she has had a stable income to contribute to her family and is also the mother of a 10-month-old girl who was a response to all of her desires when she decided to stay in El Salvador. “Thanks to Cochecito, I’ve got big plans. I want to study more and see our shops grow. I want to be part of making Cochecito even better.”

Creating Economic Opportunities Through Local Entrepreneurship 

From the outset, Nieve’s entrepreneurial spirit has driven Cochecito’s success. Her positive evolution as an entrepreneur is evident: from a one-woman online project to employing nine people and running a successful business with two brick-and-mortar stores. Nieves sees her success not just in terms of business growth but also in her ability to impact the lives of her employees and the community positively. “I work hard to make a workplace where the passion for our work is clear and strong. I’m convinced that this has a positive impact not only on the team’s performance but also on their personal satisfaction,” she says. 

The journey wasn’t always easy. During the pandemic, Nieves struggled to keep her business afloat. When the situation receded, she sought help to continue developing her business in the new economic landscape. That’s when she learned about the CRECE program, funded by the Citi Foundation and implemented by TechnoServe. CRECE is a business accelerator focused on young people ages 18-35 with early-stage enterprises that have the potential to achieve high revenue growth and job creation. The program aims to prepare young entrepreneurs who lead urban small and growing businesses (SGBs) in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica.

The CRECE methodology includes workshops in: 

  • Business modeling/planning 
  • Traditional and digital marketing
  • Strategy and innovation
  • Financial management
  • Access to markets
  • Financial services

Nieves immediately saw the benefits on her business. “Growth has been pretty big since I attended the CRECE training because, for every class I finished, I would find a way to apply those learnings immediately.” 

With the support of CRECE, Nieves realized that she couldn’t build her business alone. As the business progressed, she slowly started to build her team, which now includes nine people ranging from 22 to 28 years old. Gabi joined her team over two years ago and is now an integral part of the business.

Nieves Rocio Requeno is the 30-year-old owner of the business. Photo by Julieta Ocampo for TechnoServe.

Results of the CRECE Program: Youth Opportunities

The most recent version of TechnoServe’s CRECE program supported 321 participants representing 295 youth-led businesses across Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, and Honduras. Over 70% were women-led businesses. By the end of the project, 90% of participants improved their business skills, and 68% of the businesses increased their sales by an average of 78%. Entrepreneurs participating in the program invested $314,000 in their businesses. The program evaluated the top 20 entrepreneurs in the region with the support of Citi volunteers and external experts and awarded 15 entrepreneurs a total of $14,700 in capital to improve their businesses. 

For Nieves, Cochecito isn’t just a business. It’s a community. She believes being dedicated and loving your job can be as good as having a university degree. “When you love what you do, others can see it,” says Nieves. “That’s the secret.” 

The CRECE program doesn’t just help businesses get better; it also supports local economies by helping these businesses offer more jobs. Young people can find work and build a brighter future at home. Through programs like CRECE, TechnoServe gives young entrepreneurs the tools to make their businesses thrive, bringing jobs and opportunities to local communities.

The stories of Gabi and Nieves prove how supporting SGBs creates positive change that travels far beyond improving business performance. Their journeys show that when businesses like Cochecito thrive, they don’t just generate income; they become platforms for economic progress, stability, and economic resilience. By championing SGBs, we aren’t just backing a business model but investing in the futures of young individuals, especially women, who would otherwise face exclusion from the economy. Supporting the success of SGBs also empowers youth and women to succeed economically, making every investment a step toward a brighter, more inclusive future.