On my most recent visit to Pro Mujer Mexico I had the opportunity to meet with three inspiring entrepreneurs and learn up-close how our investments impact real lives. Pro Mujer is an outstanding microfinance organisation with operations across 5 Central and South American countries and Deetken Impact provides them access to capital to lend to their clients and support their operations in health and education services.
A Naturopathic Practice With Indigenous Roots
My first visit took place in Tezontepec, a small town about 2.5 hours east of Pachuca, home of Pro Mujer’s head office. The road narrows from freeway to rural highways through agricultural lands and eventually the narrow streets of the town centre on a hillside. We pick up Lenin, the head of the office, who also happens to be the loan officer for Marta. You can see that they know each other well, and it isn’t surprising given that Marta has been a client for 10 years and 29 loan cycles.
Marta is an example of the success of Pro Mujer’s programmes. She has gone from selling tortillas to owning a successful business which includes nutrition and spa treatments inspired by their indigenous community.
Marta became interested in these therapies from her husband who practices in the same field. Their house was too small to use as a full-time practice. Funding from Pro Mujer has not only allowed her to buy the land and construct a building but also for her and her daughter to earn diplomas in naturopathic medicine. She is a specialist in medicines and her daughter in massage. Loans then allowed her to expand her services and broaden the range of products that she offers. This includes a greenhouse for medicinal plants and a special sweat lodge used in combination with other therapies.
As her business includes the use of traditional plants and techniques I am hopeful that it can help in the preservation of the region’s indigenous knowledge. What’s next for Marta? We’ll soon see as she has a proactive personality, continuously looking to expand her knowledge and business.
The Neighbourhood Home Cooking Canteen
We have returned to Pachuca, an industrial city two hours east of Mexico City, and we visit Pro Mujer entrepreneur Maria de los Angeles in a sprawling part of the city outside the historic centre. Here Maria has created Cocina Economica which means “Affordable Kitchen”. It provides popular Mexican food at low cost, yet it still includes table service so workers from the neighborhood and the school across the road can rest their legs.
Maria had no experience managing a restaurant or a kitchen but the opportunity to rent a spot across from the busy school was too good to pass up. She opened it originally as a breakfast spot and teachers would come every day. The teachers were followed by school staff and then more people from the area. Her loans have helped her set up her business, have cash to pay the rent up front, and slowly add tables and chairs.
Maria has been a PM client for 3 years and 6 months and her Pro Mujer loan officer, Fabiola, has been there along her side during her journey. Before Pro Mujer, Maria took care of children and the house she lives in. She was also selling goods via catalogue, which is a common starting point for many women in Pachuca. Maria’s loan group is now at 16 members and they are on their 12th loan cycle. Maria finds everyone in the group to be very responsible and also very supportive of each other.
These days, Cocina Economica gets quite busy and sometimes her friend Ibis, her son and daughter all help out. Despite the success, Maria is ambitious: she has heard that another similar sized restaurant is available and she may be soon taking on both businesses.
A Boost To The Little Corner Store
Back on the road and 475 winding and beautiful kilometers to the south we arrive in Oaxaca, an area recently affected by two powerful earthquakes. Oaxaca is among the most culturally rich locations in Mexico, its cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings are striking to an outsider like me. Despite its beauty, Oaxaca has significant poverty. Here I meet Maria-Elena and her daughters.
Maria –Elena has been a client for 1.5 years and is into her 5th loan cycle. Before opening her store, she was a street vendor and then worked in a cookie bakery. Her daughters Ibis and Geysi, one of whom has now graduated university, previously sold these cookies from the same factory, going store-to-store. Her store has grown from a fruit and vegetable kiosk to offering personal care products, meat, cheese and milk. Loans have helped her to sell these higher value products and build out the store with shelving, counters and appliances.
Her daughters, Geysi and Ibis proudly tell me their mother is in the “leading lending group” in the city. I’m thinking this healthy competition drives even more excellence from Pro Mujer clients. They are all a force: bright, charismatic and full of confidence. As I leave, I thank them for their warm hospitality and they boldly tell me that they will come visit me at my home in Canada. I, of course, gladly extend the invitation to my new associates.