Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Mexico

Unleashing the potential of marginalised women entrepreneurs in the Oaxaca State

Being a woman entrepreneur in Mexico is not an easy business. Poor economic conditions and the absence of enterprise development services limit women’s possibility to gain skills to effectively manage their businesses. Gender norms in the region add an additional layer of complexity. Women are often left solely responsible for managing their households and children, have limited decision-making power and are frequently excluded from the networks and opportunities available to their male competitors. This leaves them exposed to exploitation by intermediaries and has an impact on their confidence. 

And yet, a needs assessment conducted by Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and its local partner Solidaridad Internacional Kanda (SiKanda) in 2018 confirmed that entrepreneurship has a crucial role to play in the livelihoods of this population – especially for women. Running a business allows women the autonomy and flexibility to decide where, how and when they work, enabling them to combine their ongoing roles as caregivers with an income generating activity. Women see their businesses as an opportunity to improve their situation and the future of their children; their desire is to grow, improve efficiency and increase sales.

We are partnering with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women on the project “Mujeres A.V.E.”* that aims to strengthen women’s capabilities to manage their business and improve the livelihoods of their families. The programme is implemented in the Municipality of Villa de Zaachila, a particularly marginalised area of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Here, two thirds of the population live in poverty and proximity with one of the largest landfill in the state has enormous socio-environmental consequences on the local community.

The thriving informal economy in Oaxaca offers many opportunities for growth, but women from this community lack access to the skills, knowledge, networks and capital that enable their businesses to prosper. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and its local partner Solidaridad Internacional Kanda are offering a holistic business strengthening programme to 300 women who are running micro-entreprises. 

“Mujeres A.V.E.” cuts across sectors and services, drawing together the essential resources that women entrepreneurs need to realise their full potential, but often struggle to access. The services include in-depth guidance and support, business management, tailored training, coaching, counselling, networking opportunities and childcare services. Engagement with male relatives and gender equality awareness sessions also help to tackle the more personal barriers that may be affecting women’s business performance.

To ensure the continuity of its business support services, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has created a permanent “one-stop-shop” where tailored business support is offered to the local enterprising community.

We are proud to partner with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, whose extensive experience in women’s social and economic empowerment is crucial to unlocking the potential of female entrepreneurship and creating a prosperous future for the local community.

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*The name Mujeres A.V.E was selected by the women entrepreneurs participating in the programme. "Mujeres" means "women" in Spanish and A.V.E stands for “Actuando, Vinculando and Emprendiendo” or acting, connecting, entrepreneurial. The name reflects how the project will bring women together and encapsulates, for the entrepreneurs themselves, the true nature of entrepreneurship.

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Read the story from a programme's beneficiary: Amalia the tortilla seller

(This story was written by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women's staff and was first published here)

Meet Amalia Martínez, a tortilla seller and woman entrepreneur. Amalia has just completed one cohort of our Mujeres A.V.E programme launched in partnership with Trafigura Foundation and SiKanda in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The programme exists to provide entrepreneurs with a safe space in which they can meet other women, to discuss topics that interest them, alongside receiving tailored business skills training, coaching, counselling and childcare. Implemented in the vicinity of the largest landfill site of Oaxaca, one of the main contributions of the project is focusing on networks and community building.

The training, implemented by our local partner SiKanda, also explores ways that women can work collectively. This is because collective strategies to buy from suppliers, manage risks and promote businesses can impact both the individuals, but also strengthen overall social cohesion in the community.

One of the key examples of activities that can achieve this is a peer-to-peer exercise where women share their business experiences with each other to identify services or product providers that they have in common.

When the Foundation came to visit the project this summer Amalia shared with us that she was the sole supporter of her family. A mother of seven, three of her children still depend on her income. Amalia, who speaks the Zapotec language, explained that before joining the project she was very lonely and generally sad because of the many problems she faces at home and in her business. By participating in Mujeres A.V.E. though, she feels more supported, and enjoys sharing her time with and learning from other women.

Access to information is scarce in Zaachila because few women have access to internet, a phone, or leave the municipality on a regular basis. The information provided by the programme and its central learning hub or ‘One-Stop-Shop’ has been key and had strong immediate impacts on the women. Where the entrepreneurs were unaware of many of the other services offered by their existing Community Centre, including early education activities for children under six and computer literacy lessons, some have now already taken these things up. Others have started to use the library and children’s room providing a safe convening space for themselves and also for their families.

The training of our second cohort of entrepreneurs is now underway with a new small group of entrepreneurs. We look forward to bringing more updates from the project in 2020.

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