Crossing Cultures: Entrepreneurs

As a reader of this newsletter, I’m sure you know that a large part of our developmental ministry is doing micro-loans, which just means small amounts (by our definition) loaned to small businesses. I’ve recently done more thinking than usual on this subject due to some conversations with Anna Heikkilä about her thesis topic options and realized some cultural trends that I had simply not noticed before. 

In my mind, being a business owner implies some sort of access to the needed resources, be it knowledge of how to run the business, capital to do so, a marketable skill that is somehow needed in the immediate area, sheer volume of new ideas and energy to pursue them, or a combination of these. Basically, it’s a big deal to step up and decide to start a business and be solely responsible for it. Not many would choose to do so, knowing the risks. 

But around here, it’s incredibly common. Rather than simply finding a job that leaves the true liability in someone else’s hands, many people choose to do their own thing. We have borrowers that do everything from sewing to running restaurants or clothing stores or simply managing a little neighborhood shop or cutting hair or building furniture. Often, they choose these careers as a way to support their families without having to go somewhere else in the city, allowing quite a few moms to work from home so as to still care for the children. And the specificity of their jobs can be impressive. We have one borrower who sews work gloves all day, every day. It boggles my mind how this city can need that many gloves, since she pumps out something like 12,000 pairs a year. How did she end up finding this particular niche in the economy of Arequipa, Peru that sustains her young family? Somehow she did and stepped into that gap. 

But just because they have made it work so far doesn’t mean they are truly equipped to run a business. Many do not keep accurate books of their accounts. They lack an understanding of the value of saving, planning for future projects, or how to maximize growth through capital improvements. They may manage to support their family on a fairly consistent income, but it probably stops there and fails to grow into something that provides real security or a way to improve their quality of life. Naturally there are exceptions, but for the most part, these business owners need our input because they simply lack the ability to take the next step. 

It is exciting to see how being in our loan program can change those struggles, as we provide training and information beyond just loaning money. But rather than seeing them as struggling workers who need a boost, it has been refreshing to me to realize the courage they all demonstrate in the simple act of stepping up to the plate, choosing a job and doing it, even if no one guarantees their paycheck. They don’t wait until they have it all planned, figured out and funded. They get to work and do the best they can. As someone who likes certainty, backup plans, and defined goals, I am impressed by how successful they are able to be just by doing their best.