The entrepreneurial spirit is catching in South America. According to the World Bank, 63 percent of Latin Americans believe they have what it takes to start a successful business. Meanwhile, local governments are offering support to local entrepreneurs. In Chile, the environment is so strong for startups that it has been dubbed “Chilecon Valley.”
Despite this, there is still widespread poverty in the region. An estimated 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $4 a day. The situation is even worse for women, as only 53 percent participate in the labor force. Fortunately, three women are aiming to change that by helping their local communities and being role models for prospective female entrepreneurs in Latin America.
Leila Velez is a Brazilian entrepreneur who is aiming to bring the efficiency of waste management in the fast food industry to beauty salons. She started her business, Beleza Natural, at 19 years old with the hope of bringing the accessibility of places like McDonald’s to the beauty industry. Now, her company has locations all over Brazil and employs 3,000 people, many of whom Velez says are single mothers in their early 20s.
While Velez may have modeled aspects of her salons after fast food, she did not want them to become another low paying job people take on temporarily. She wanted to provide career opportunities that give her employees sustainability in life. She says working at her salon is the first job of 90 percent of her employees and she wants her company to offer the opportunity to build a career rather than be a temporary stop.
When Jimena Flórez began her initiative to educate rural farmers about sustainability, she had no idea it would lead to an international snack food company. Chaak Healthy Snacks, originally called Crispy Fruits, works closely with local Colombian farmers to provide healthy snack foods like low sugar brownies to 90,000 kids per month.
Flórez’s company started out trying to help out local Colombian farmers by helping them use organic techniques she learned from relatives in Germany. When she visited her family’s German brewery after college, she knew she could bring the information back to help Columbians. This led to a dry fruit company that later rebranded to healthy snack foods to appeal to an international audience.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama invited Florez to attend a Global Entrepreneurship Event where he thanked her for “helping to lift up his community.” As one of six young entrepreneurs invited, Florez is primed to expand and continue to provide healthy snacks all over the world as one of the many rising female entrepreneurs in Latin America.
Marian Villa Roldán
Being a female entrepreneur is difficult anywhere, but in Latin America, where a certain level of masculinity called “machismo” is integral to the culture, it is more difficult. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found that 40 percent of Latin American women have been on the receiving end of violence in their lives. This negative attitude toward femininity goes all the way to the top, where only 17 percent of executive positions are held by women.
Marian Villa Roldan and her company Eversocial are out to change that. Eversocial, an online marketing and design company, has supported numerous initiatives that empower Latin American women, including PionerasDev, which helps teach young women how to code. Eversocial has also supported Geek Girls LatAm, a similar organization that helps Latin American women get into STEM fields.
Success for Female Entrepreneurs in Latin America
Latin American women pursuing careers in entrepreneurship are succeeding in a tough environment, but they do not let that stop them from giving back to their communities. Whether it be through providing employment, offering a helpful product, or supporting noble causes, these women fight poverty and serve as role models for the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Latin America.
– Jonathon Ayers