In North America, the phrase ‘business woman’ might trigger the image of power suits, striking presentations, and hurried cups of coffee while taking yet another conference call. But one group of women in Guatemala is proving to be so much more.
The pressures of climate change, the hunger crisis, and COVID-19 showed us that, while business women look different in different contexts, they are resilient. Many women kept up the responsibilities of their careers, while also juggling the difficulties of children’s remote learning and caring for their families during lockdown. Around the world, business women faced challenges head on—and the members of the self-named, selfmade Women for Sustainable Development in Acul, Guatemala, are no exception.
In fact, they are proving to be exceptional.
Women for Sustainable Development is made up of twelve hard-working, forward-thinking women from six different Savings and Loans groups. Each group has delegated two representatives to the cooperative and in total they represent 57 women from across the community.
After receiving agri-business training and start-up supplies from FH five years ago, the six groups went into business together. It started with a greenhouse. Since then, the six groups have been working together to increase their income and opportunities. Now, by helping to oversee their Savings groups through coordinating activities, managing new spaces, and promoting their seedling business, women from across Acul and their families are thriving!
These ladies are well aware of the power and potential of their cooperative. So much so that they don’t simply refer to it as a group or cooperative; it’s an “empowerment platform”. It’s done so much more than just raise a few extra quetzales.
“We used to think we couldn’t work or generate income, but as [our group] grew, we gradually felt more secure,” said a representative of the cooperative. “Now, we feel like entrepreneurs—and even business women—because our voice is taken into account and we can help make decisions at home and in the community.”
“For me, the [group] is a source of learning that has helped me in many areas of my life. It’s a means of business and income, which helps improve my life by covering the needs of the home!” said another member.
For these business women, developing a means of sustainable income was crucial. To achieve this, they diversified their income stream by setting up a chair rental service while also growing their greenhouse operation.
Using the agricultural and business training provided by FH, the women work daily to grow a variety of crops, which has expanded to include onion, cabbage, broccoli, chili pepper, jalapeño pepper, chard, and cauliflower—many crops that do not grow well in gardens in their climate, but are sought after. Plenty of these delicious veggies will be sold in the communities and end up on the dinner plates of families for a nutritious and filling meal. Meanwhile, some of the seedlings are reserved for a different purpose.
The women sell the seedlings to others and even local NGOs, including FH, where the plants will be used to help others learn the benefits of gardening! This is an impactful demonstration of the ripple effects of development. After being empowered by FH, these women are using their training to produce items that will now help empower others.
Together they are able to overcome unique obstacles, too. In the early days of their seedling business, they struggled to transport their products, as the road to the greenhouse was too narrow for vehicles. Each delivery meant bundling up the plants and supplies and attempting to carry them safely down the narrow road without damage. It was a difficult task that took time away from other duties and their families.
Instead of sitting back and watching their business suffer, they jumped into action.
With newfound confidence from FH’s motivational coaching and self-esteem workshops, they presented a case to the mayor, explaining how a wider road wouldn’t just benefit them, but the entire community as well! The mayor agreed. Rallying support from the community, they worked to widen the road. Now, the women move their products with hired transport trucks instead of trundling down the unsafe, narrow road themselves. They’ve paved the way for a successful business, both metaphorically and literally, for themselves and other small businesses in the region.
This confidence and problem-solving mindset are big changes from how things used to be for many women in Acul.
Before Acul partnered with FH, women didn’t often participate in community activities. Men would work, while women cared for their individual homes and families. Some women even thought that community activities were a waste of time. After all, when it’s tough to put food on your own table each day, there isn’t much energy left to think about the well-being of the community.
When FH began to walk with Acul, this all began to change.
A key factor in helping any community move from stuck to thriving is empowering women to step into leadership roles. When women’s voices are lifted up, they’re able to speak with fresh perspectives and offer insight that has previously been overlooked, all for the betterment of the community. Through FH-facilitated coaching, self-esteem training, and leadership development—for women, men, and children alike—women in Acul are empowered to step outside of their comfort zones. Now, they actively participate in community meetings and regular decision-making.
“We have changed the way we see life,” said one woman. “Before, I only took care of things at home, but when I joined a Savings and Loans group and now the platform, I realized I can do much more with my life. I can contribute. I can generate. I can work. There are opportunities I can take and I am capable of doing more things.”
As a result, Women for Sustainable Development’s impact continues to spread. Through growing and delivering vegetable seedlings, they’ve also inspired many families throughout their community (and beyond!) to plant family gardens. The members work to create new Savings and Loans groups, strengthen existing groups, support the development of micro-enterprises, promote and deliver seedlings that improve family health, and partner with FH to reduce childhood malnutrition.
“Working for the families of the communities is a blessing. Losing fear and being able to manage is one more step [forward] in our life. Being part of a group means to continue making ourselves known and opening spaces for participation and intervention.”
And they do not plan to slow down. “We will continue to unite more women to our group. Our vision is to have an office where we can create jobs for girls and boys in the community and save our children from bad influences.”
The members of Women for Sustainable Development proudly own the titles of business women and entrepreneurs, but there’s another title they wear just as proudly. “We are still moms,” explained one representative, “but this platform has strengthened our self-confidence because we now realize we can generate an income while also being a mother. The independence of generating our own income has positively contributed to our roles as moms!”
This self-confidence is extending beyond the women in the platform. Women for Sustainable Development members are acting as role models for other women in the community and the next generation. “Children are impacted because they see a change in the roles of women. Now, children are aware that their mothers have the competency to also generate income. This is empowering because it sets a positive example of the roles of women for future generations.“
Acul is changing—physically, nutritionally, economically, socially—one woman at a time. True transformation sparks when people rally together, just like the members of Women for Sustainable Development are rallying together to bring change to Acul, and just like partners like you are rallying around vulnerable communities!
This story is only possible because you provided support for start-up materials, agri-business training, and leadership coaching! Thank you!