Entrepreneurship and business ownership is becoming an increasingly attractive career path for many young women in Latin America — with the help of programs like the CIPE-supported EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership courses in Peru.
In recent decades more and more women have begun to enter into the labor market and formal private sector, leading to an increased productivity for businesses and higher economic growth rates. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned at a recent conference, between 2000 and 2010, women’s participation in the labor market in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by 15 percent. Without such growth, the World Bank estimates that the level of extreme poverty in the region would be 30 percent higher. These facts demonstrate the importance of women actively participating in the formal economy.
Nevertheless, such participation is not always easy. Would-be women entrepreneurs have to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve economic independence. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, as in many other regions, certain obstacles make it difficult for women to enter the formal private sector or become entrepreneurs. While in some cases legislation can create unnecessary hurdles, many times obstacles come in the shape of family members, societal norms, or even a lack of confidence that causes women to underestimate their own entrepreneurial capacity.
Programs that target women and youth are trying to capture this potential and develop it to create more productive members of society. For example, there are educational programs that focus on strengthening the leadership and entrepreneurial capacity of young women and men through workshops, such as EmprendeAhora in Peru. The CIPE-supported EmprendeAhora program, organized by Instituto Invertir, has already benefited over 640 university students from the poorest regions of Peru and continues to do so.
A recent interview with two EmprendeAhora alumni, Alexia and Antonella, demonstrates the impact this kind of program is having in the development of entrepreneurs and leaders—particularly among young women in Peru.
Alexia Villacorta and Antonella Romero are both exemplary alumni of the EmprendeAhora program who developed into women entrepreneurs after participating in the program. Antonella is an alumna of the 2010 EmprendeAhora program from the Ica region. She is 23 years old, and has established two cafes, “Káva – Café Peruano,” at two universities in the Ica region, providing jobs for twelve people.
Alexia is an alumna of the 2011-2012 EmprendeAhora program from the Tacna region. She is a 24 year old mother, and established her cupcake business, “La Villa Cupcake,” after she graduated from EmprendeAhora.
When speaking about her entrepreneurship experiences, Alexia explained how, even though she always had a sense of wanting to be an entrepreneur, EmprendeAhora was the key that helped her unlock and develop her entrepreneurial spirit, reaffirming the convictions that she had once left aside for various reasons. It was through EmprendeAhora’s workshops that she learned what it meant to be an entrepreneur.
In Antonella’s case, the story was a bit different. For her, it was EmprendeAhora itself that ignited the entrepreneurial spark. Before this program she had not given entrepreneurship much thought, but after completing the program and creating her own business plan she realized that she could set up her own business in the region where she lived.
Of course, their experiences in creating and establishing their own businesses were not always easy. Many times it was their age that became an obstacle. Unfortunately, some people believe that youth can take away from the seriousness of a business.
For Antonella, this was the case when she dealt with vendors. Many would not believe that she owned her own business, so they would ask for the contact information of her boss and would refuse to talk to her. Alexia encountered a different kind of obstacle when she established her cupcake business, facing challenges in promoting her product, as cupcakes are a novelty in Peru.
Many other women and men all over the world have experienced similar entrepreneurial challenges. These are common difficulties that arise when trying to establish a business, not only as a young person and a woman, but also as an entrepreneur of any age or gender.
Although Antonella and Alexia did encounter their share of obstacles, they both agreed that the financial and personal gains definitely outweighed the difficulties they had to overcome. And when asked about sharing any advice with other women on entrepreneurship, they said that even though obstacles will surely arise, as a woman and as an entrepreneur you have to stay strong and persevere, and that becoming an entrepreneur is only a matter of making the decision.
As in the case of Alexia and Antonella, many other EmprendeAhora alumni have also followed the same path to entrepreneurship, providing them not only with personal benefits, but also benefiting their societies by creating jobs and, in turn, a healthier economy. These young entrepreneurs are helping redefine the image of an entrepreneur in their country and continuing the trend towards greater women’s participation in the market.
Claudia Hasbun is Program Assistant for Latin America and the Caribbean at CIPE.