By: Kush Brahmavar
One might argue that success without challenge is possible, and exists. But let’s be honest, we all need a little challenge in our lives on our paths to success. I’m not saying that one needs to overcome every challenge in order to reach success, but challenges serve as a motivator and help guide out vision towards success.
Over the past three months I have been working with a group of 14 women entrepreneurs in Lima, Peru. As a part of the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer program that Thunderbird oversees in Peru. The participants of the program are graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 women’s program. I help the women entrepreneurs to seek new markets, up their sales, and improve their marketing material. Needless to say, each case is different and each of them face unique challenges that impede their progress. These challenges vary from organizational to financial and often even of the personal kind, of both, simple and complex natures. Some are as a result of Peru’s awareness and infrastructure, or lack thereof, and others are simply deep rooted in the local culture. It takes patience to understand and effort on our parts to help guide these women through these obstacles.
We often tend to present “success stories” in our blogs, but let’s take a look at what some of these women battle through. One woman for example owns a little yogurt stand in their local market. To her advantage, she has no competition, as she is the only yogurt seller in the market. She offers eight different delicious varieties of natural flavored yogurt, however she has her fair share of challenges. Product placement: She has one presentable glass display towards the entrance of her stand that faces the street. One would expect that she placed her premium product – yogurt, in that space for all to see and want. However, she places them in jars bunched up in a corner with no labels, completely inconspicuous to her customers. She has a timid personality and struggles to demonstrate the aggressiveness necessary to create a street presence to attract more customers. This shyness is common among many of the women. She also lacks a logo and brand identity that would help her market her product better in the neighborhood. Little tweaks in the way she organizes her store, marketing, and identity should help her gain more clientele.
Another woman sells alpaca meat for consumption. Alpaca meat is a common source of proteins in the highlands of the Andes Mountains such as Cuzco and Puno, however the biggest issue seems to be that the Lima market is not a big consumer of this meat. Popularity of alpaca in the city is limited to just it’s fur. The challenge this entrepreneur faces is to not just to find a market but also to create a market through education and promotion of the meat in general. Few restaurants offer alpaca meat on their menu, and typically demand on the best cuts. This works out to be unsustainable for the meat producer as five kilos of prime meat demands the slaughter of ten animals. These animals are bred on natural grass of the highlands, hence the transportation to Lima, meat processing and packaging costs result in higher prices than comparable meats such as beef or lamb. We are currently trying to work through a local culinary school to help promote the meat, educate the local market about the nutritional benefits and also erase the misconceptions of versatility and taste of alpaca.
A number of women operate out of their own homes, often seeking the help of family members. Their “processing plant” is really a crudely modified extra bedroom or backyard. Even when demand goes up, they are forced to limit sales due to lack of capacity. Other domestic issues make it difficult for some to operate in such environments and are forced to seek out rental workshops, which of course come with a high price tag. Women who share such spatial issues are looking to come together and operate out of a shared rented workshop, which, one day they hope to collectively own.
Some of the women face product differentiation challenges. Case in point is a woman selling poultry (chicken, duck, and turkey) at the local market. In every market in Lima, you will find dozens of chicken vendors selling all kinds of cuts at a highly competitive price. How does one differentiate their product and services from the other? Even though most of the chickens are farm grown and ecologically raised for consumption, organic certification is expensive and the process is arduous. Small chicken vendors cannot account for such costs. To help her situation out, we are currently developing a line of pre-breaded and pre-seasoned chicken products she could offer.
Another entrepreneur sells pork products from a town called Haucho, three hours north of Lima. She has one store/restaurant in Huacho, and one in Miraflores – an upscale, popular tourist district of Lima. Her products are unique and excellent, however the neighborhood is unaware of the presence of this restaurant. Admittedly it’s a little hidden from the main thoroughfare, but even when one passes by the venue, it doesn’t present itself as a restaurant. At the very least a simple architectural facelift is needed. To add to the dilemma, their marketing material contains unprofessional photos that often render their fliers unappetizing, deterring potential clients. We developed new photos, fliers, and a distribution plan to target the tourist population at hostels and parks in this neighborhood.
Last but not the least of the challenges the women face, is financial. These are small to medium sized entrepreneurs, and loan rates are typically much higher than what is common in developed countries. Borrowers need to have a solid credit history before being considered for subsidized rates, but this poses a challenge for small businesses strapped for cash and looking to grow their businesses. It’s a classic catch 22 situation. We are in the process of working with a local lender to provide subsidized rates for our group of women that would help with their next step.
As volunteers our challenges are to increase the entrepreneurs capacity so that they can sustain the business contacts that we help them make after we leave. Our biggest challenge is to teach the women to maintain these contacts and function independently long after we are gone. We need to motivate them enough and build their confidence to stay committed to the growth of their respective businesses. We serve as not just consultants, but as mentors who truly empower these women entrepreneurs towards success.
Some of these challenges are certainly surmountable, while others might just take a little longer. The idea is to be creative with options and keep trying them out until we hit tangible results. All the hard and soft skills we learn through school, work, and life in general come into a play in this challenging environment, and account for a promising success story.