Monday, 10 September 2012

Ecuador: Microfinance and Women Entrepreneurs

‘No tengo con quien dejar los niños’

Mariana Robalino, an entrepreneur from Ecuador

Looking through the types of business supported by lendwithcare in Ecuador, it is notable that many women manage shops, raise poultry or provide sewing or tailoring services – typically, activities that are undertaken from home. When during a recent visit to South America I asked women entrepreneurs why they favoured such enterprises, invariably the response was ‘No tengo con quien dejar los niños’ or ‘I have to look after the children’. Working from home enables women to earn an income while looking after young children – they can close the business while they drop off and pick up their children from school or attend to other urgent tasks such as taking an ill child to the doctor.

The experience of Carmen Castillo, who in May 2012 received a loan to buy another computer for her Internet café, is typical. Doña Carmen used to work as a radio controller for a taxi firm but found it difficult to combine work with looking after her three young children. She decided therefore to start her own business. She converted the ground floor of her home into an Internet shop while continuing to live on the first floor. Carmen opens the shop at around 10 am each day after making breakfast and taking her children to school. She then attends to customers throughout the day, closing briefly when she has to pick the children up from school. When her partner returns from work she switches to other tasks such as cooking, cleaning and making sure her children do their homework while he continues to look after the shop until it closes at 10 pm. 

Carmen Castillo © CARE

Women who have businesses that require them to work outside the home, for example managing a stall in the public market, rely on other family members, particularly grandmothers, to look after their children. Lendwithcare’s microfinance partner, Fundacion de Apoyo Comunitario y Social del Ecuador, estimates that in approximately one-third of families the father is absent. However, even in the remaining two-thirds of households looking after children is still considered primarily a ‘mother’s responsibility’ - although among younger parents in particular such attitudes are changing. I asked some of the many women who sell fresh fruit and vegetables in the markets how they used loans. Primarily, loans enable them to pay wholesale suppliers in cash, rather than taking items on credit. This is important because not only do they receive a discount, but they can also select the freshest and best quality produce available. The valued outcome is that they are able to sell their stock quicker, close the stall and return home early to care for the their children.

Undoubtedly, the types of business activities that women prefer to undertake or the time they spend outside the home is influenced by their ability to depend upon other family members to assist with child care, as well as the accessibility and cost of childcare facilities. Unfortunately children’s nurseries tend to be either heavily oversubscribed or too expensive for lower income families, while outside the larger towns and cities childcare facilities are simply non-existent. Creating more affordable places at nurseries would make women’s lives easier and it might also impact upon the range of business activities that they consider undertaking. In fact, in some respects the challenges facing women in Ecuador are not too dissimilar to those faced by women in industrialised countries such as the United Kingdom.

By Dr Ajaz Khan, Microfinance Advisor

Loans can be given as a gift voucher to a friend or family member, who can choose which entrepreneur they would like to support. The entrepreneur uses the loan to help grow their business, and later pays the lender back. The lender can either withdraw the money and keep it, or lend the same money to another entrepreneur.

Gift vouchers range from £15 and are available in various designs, which can be sent via email, downloaded and/or printed. They are available at

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