Training entrepreneurs for financial independence
By Mary Murrell
On December 3 a group of adult entrepreneurs gathered in the offices of APOYO, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the poor attain financial independence. Twenty-five women and men had traveled to San Miguel to attend a series of workshops about how to run a business. They were able to complete their studies without cost and develop a business plan as part of an application for a small, interest-free loan.
Many of the students already had experience with small businesses and wanted to improve their skills. For others it was a chance to understand how to set up a business in the future. Everyone was eager to graduate and get their diplomas to be framed and put on the wall in their home or their business.
One of the graduates, Julia Tapia, is outgoing, interested in other people and says she loves to walk. When she decided to set up a business, she focused on the needs of people in the small communities around her village and what she could sell and deliver easily. Julia lives in Estancia de San Antonio, a rancho located down dirt roads about three miles from the highway. She knew it was hard for families to get clothing at reasonable prices, especially things like shoes for their children to wear to school. So she started taking orders for styles, colors and sizes to buy on her trips to the wholesale market in Celaya. She is a “personal shopper” who looks for quality at the lowest cost for her clients.
It is clear she loves her work because Julia breaks into a big smile when she talks about her business. Her shopping trips require walking to the highway where she can catch a bus into San Miguel. In San Miguel she gets another bus to Celaya. It is four hours of travel plus the time for selecting the merchandise her customers want. With her orders completed, she brings everything back and delivers each order on foot.
Through the business training at APOYO, students like Julia learn the most critical aspects of day to day business management, how to identify and solve problems like finding more customers or dealing with competition. The importance of their personal motivation for attaining success is discussed very openly with their fellow students and workshop instructors.
Many of the students wrote a business plan during the workshops and submitted it for approval to get an interest-free loan from APOYO. The loans will allow them to build their business and also serve as an important learning tool for managing money to make their payments on time to APOYO. The typical loan is for 4,000 pesos or approximately US$350.
Another APOYO graduate, Irma Hernandez, has been involved in several businesses over the years in a small village called Los Ricos de Abajo, near Atotonilco. At one time she sold snacks to the children at the local school but more recently she has opened a store in one of the rooms in her house. All the sales happen at the window, with customers standing on her front porch to buy canned goods, snacks, milk and other items. She has been testing some new products to offer and expand her inventory. She was eager to have more training from APOYO about selling to her customers.
Irma is a widow and has set up a store in one of the rooms in the front of her house. Having the store in her house has made it possible to keep an eye on her elderly parents and her children while running the business. Like many of the entrepreneurs Irma works in her business and also at other things to provide for her family. She cooks food for the pilgrims in Atotonilco when it is a big religious holiday and she also earns money as a housekeeper several days a week.
APOYO was started by a young man, Ezequiel Mojica, who dreamed of making a better future for families living in the ranchos and poor neighborhoods in San Miguel. Ezequiel knew from his own family experience how difficult it is to start a business without any access to financial assistance. So with the help of a group of retired business owners, he began a small organization focused on providing support to aspiring entrepreneurs who presented a business plan for approval. They could qualify for a small loan to buy the things they needed for their business and receive mentoring about solving problems and learning new skills. APOYO became a Mexican nonprofit corporation in 2005.
Over time, business training has become the major focus of APOYO’s approach and the results are impressive. Businesses set up by APOYO clients succeed at rates similar to those of new small businesses in the United States. Loan repayment levels are quite high (90 percent) and similar to those seen worldwide in micro lending programs.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about APOYO is the amazing ROI (return on investment) the organization achieves. It only costs US$150 for an entrepreneur to go through the training workshops and the average loan size is US$350. So for a total of US$500, parents can begin to build a future of financial independence and help their children learn key business skills at home. One of the APOYO entrepreneurs summed things up very well when she said, “I tell my children their future is having a business. It’s the most important thing I can teach them.”
If you would like to sponsor an entrepreneur and help them to achieve financial independence for their family, make a donation through the San Miguel Community Foundation and you will receive a receipt for US tax purposes. Make your check payable to the San Miguel Community Foundation and write APOYO on the memo line. You can leave your check at La Conexion, Aldama 3, for the San Miguel Community Foundation. If you prefer to donate via PayPal, visit www.sanmiguelcommunityfoundation.org and click on the Donations button. Be sure to indicate APOYO as the organization you want to support. If you have questions or need more information about APOYO please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.