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ACCION: Two women entrepreneurs carve out economic opportunity

Paula Coxaj Acabal

Paula Coxaj Acabal was born in Momostenango, a rural town in the western highlands of Guatemala where most people rely on farming to earn a living. She married and moved to La Gomera, a town closer to the Pacific coast. When Paula’s husband passed away at a young age, she found herself in desperate need of a job to provide for her children. “I was a single mother – a widow at 35 with 7 children. Alone with no help and unable to read, I was determined to give my children a chance at a better life,” she said. Motivated by her family and with few other options to earn a living, she decided her open her own business.

“I started selling vegetables. I loaded the produce in a sack. I was afraid to go to a bank [for a loan] due to my lack of confidence. I didn’t dare,” said Paula about her early days as an entrepreneur. “But I found out about Génesis, and I went to ask for my first loan of 1,000 quetzals. That’s how I started working 30 years ago: I realized that I could get ahead with credit and grow in my business, and soon they gave me a second loan of 2,000 quetzals.”

With years of hard work and training from Fundación Génesis Empresarial to help her learn to manage her business and credit, Paula turned her first informal produce business into a small empire of stores around her community. “I thank God because he allowed me to have the support of Génesis to buy my first store,” says Paula when reflecting on the 40,000 quetzals loan that allowed her to purchase her own brick and mortar store. Fundación Génesis Empresarial, Accion’s longtime partner, is a microfinance organization serving small businesses in Guatemala.

Paula’s businesses have allowed her to provide a better life for her children, send them to school, and give them jobs so they can support their own children. Thirty years after that first loan, she’s managed to weather every challenge and continue growing her businesses, even expanding into selling other products like clothing. She now owns nine businesses, providing jobs for dozens of people in her community, including her children. To this day, she continues working with the support of Fundación Génesis Empresarial and considers the Génesis team to be part of her family.

In northern Guatemala, Jovita Ester Chub Prado lives in a rural community where health care and medicine are scarce. Most people don’t have access to a car to drive to the nearest hospital, which is far from their homes. With her background in nursing, Jovita saw a way to help her community stay healthy.

“My dream began when I saw the needs of my community, who didn’t have access to medical assistance or medicine. I wanted to help my neighbors. There was a great need for health care, and people came to me for help because of the knowledge I acquired when I worked as a professional nurse in the hospital,” she says.

Jovita decided to open a pharmacy and health care center in her community, located near Playa Grande in El Quiché. Like Paula, she received a small business loan from Fundación Génesis Empresarial to purchase equipment and secure space to open her practice. She stocks her pharmacy with conventional medicines and natural remedies, runs basic health tests in her lab, and offers medical consultations to her neighbors in their local language of Qʼeqchiʼ. Her business gives Jovita a way to earn a living in a region that lacks economic opportunity, but like many other small businesses, it also serves her community. Jovita’s center fills a critical need for her neighbors, who are otherwise unable to get the medical attention they need. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, having accessible health care in the community is invaluable.

We are proud to partner with financial providers like Fundación Génesis Empresarial, who are opening economic opportunities in Guatemala by supporting small business owners like Paula and Jovita. With eleven other leading businesses and organizations, we joined US Vice President Kamala Harris’s Partnership for Central America to open economic opportunity in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. We’ve committed to helping grow micro and small businesses in the region over the next three years, ultimately benefitting more than 400,000 people.

On top of the persistent poverty and violence that many people in the Northern Triangle face, more than 300,000 jobs have been lost in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Micro and small businesses need our support to stay open and recover, especially in parts of the world facing growing disparities. By working with our partners to bring grocery shops, tailors, and smallholder farmers into the digital ecosystem, we can further improve the financial health and resilience of small businesses. Just as Paula has created jobs in her town and Jovita has brough health care to her neighbors, when entrepreneurs succeed, their success ripples through families and communities. Opening opportunities for these business owners to adapt and grow is essential for an inclusive recovery and a better future.

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