Oikocredit invests in organisations that support women like Gladys Arcos, an entrepreneur leading a family business in Ecuador. Here we see how access to finance matched with her entrepreneurial drive, helped provide for her family in difficult times and created opportunities for a better future.
Family businesses are important to a country’s economy and they help keep local traditions alive. But they are much more than that: family businesses are livelihoods, helping to provide food, education and security. They also provide the hope of creating stability for future generations.
In the northern region of Ecuador, sandwiched between two volcanoes: Casitagua and Pululgagua, you will find the small parish Calacalí. This rural area is where Gladys Arcos was born and raised. It’s also where she, like many Ecuadorians, grew up with the country’s beloved treats espumillas. Upon first glance, these traditional treats look like ice cream, when in reality they are quite different: fluffy egg meringues served in ice-cream cones. And Gladys spent over 25 years keeping the local tradition alive.
For the first 15 years of her espumillas making journey, Gladys worked for and relied on two women for her income, until everything changed. One of the women that Gladys worked for passed away, and shortly after the other moved out of the country. The business was shut down and Gladys, a wife and mother of two children, was left without work and without an income. But Gladys’ troubles were not over. Soon after she lost her job, Gladys’ husband had an accident.
Her family needed income – and they needed it fast. With her years of experience in making espumillas and a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Gladys decided to start her own business to support her family and keep the local tradition alive.
“I restarted the business,” Gladys said, “because I didn’t want our local espumilla tradition to be lost.”
Gladys started selling espumillas from a wheelbarrow, but in order for Gladys’ business to be a success, she needed financial support. That’s when she discovered Oikocredit partner Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito Cooprogreso Ltda (Cooprogreso). Founded in 1969, Cooprogreso is a savings and credit cooperative in Ecuador that serves microentrepreneurs – like Gladys – in urban and rural areas.
“It all began with Cooprogreso,” Gladys explains, “I didn't own my own home or a car, or anything like that. So most lenders didn't trust me. But Cooprogreso was there when I needed them.”
Gladys used her first loan from Cooprogreso of US$ 4,000 (approximately € 3,400) to invest in her espumilla business. She also focused on expanding her business to other street food items and purchased cattle as a means to diversify her income.
With continued support of Cooprogreso, Gladys was able to upgrade her business from a wheelbarrow to a street cart and eventually purchased a plot of land. She now owns her very own shop.
But Gladys is only one of many entrepreneurs that Cooprogreso has supported. And there are organisations like Cooprogreso all over the world. But how are they able to continue to empower low-income people in rural areas, like Gladys?
Partnerships for positive impact
In order for Cooprogreso to continue its important work of supporting low-income communities in Ecuador, it needs investors.
Stories like Gladys’ draw Oikocredit to want to partner with organisations like Cooprogreso, and help them take their work a step further.
When discussing the partnership between Oikocredit and Cooprogreso, Lorena Torres, Oikocredit’s Investment Manager based in Ecuador shared: “Cooprogreso has been our partner since 2015 and over the years this microfinance institution has demonstrated genuine commitment to improve its social outreach.”
Helping its partners improve their social outreach is extremely important for the global cooperative. Oikocredit goes beyond providing credit and equity investments, working to help its partners maximise their social impact. It does this by combining funding with additional capacity building support.
“Oikocredit has evidenced [Cooprogreso’s] improvement through its capacity building support. This has been the benchmark for others, creating a culture of good practice in the industry,” said Lorena.
This support has helped Cooprogreso in improving its work to serve women like Gladys. Now in her early 40s, Gladys is a successful business woman who has supported her husband through his recovery and put her children through school. Gladys shared with us her dreams for the future: “To build a house and for my family to continue working and being united.”
To find out more about Oikocredit’s work to maximise social impact, read our Impact Report 2021.