From displaced people to micro-entrepreneurs in Colombia

With the support of the program, Betsaida started her own company. Photo: UNDP in Colombia

In March 2013, Betsaida Estupiñán hugged her two daughters and her husband and said: "We have no other choice but to get out of here." Despite having their own home and bakery, the family left the port city of Tumaco and set out on a well-travelled path that has already witnessed an exodus of more than 5 million Colombians displaced by the armed conflict.

With little money, the family arrived in the south of Bogotá. By now very vulnerable, they considered returning to the port. To their dismay, they learned that the house they had so painstakingly built in Tumaco had been destroyed. "But we wouldn't let ourselves be defeated,” remembered Betsaida. “We looked at each other, and then thought of the girls. It was of the utmost importance to provide them with an education. We could either break down in tears or start working. We opted for the second option, and here we are today."

Highlights

  • Since 2012, 1,100 businesses in 25 cities have participated.
  • Just over a third of the population lives below the poverty line.
  • Over 96% of the business sector is composed of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

Helped by a church, the couple found a place to stay and started to sell the pies and cheese sticks they made. However, there was barely enough money to pay for the bills, food, and education of the girls.

"It was just one of these seemingly chance events, but the misfortune of being displaced resulted in the fortune of finding out about the Suppliers Development Programme (SDP), through a consultant who visited us. The program has changed our lives," says Betsaida.

This program, initiated in 2012 with the support of several agencies of the Colombian Government, seeks to promote economic inclusion while improving the competitiveness of small and medium-sized companies. At present, 1,100 businesses in 25 cities throughout the country are involved, and over 250 of these businesses are owned by individuals displaced by violence. The business units cater primarily to the food, utilities, clothing and crafts sectors, and it is anticipated that the program will be replicated in other regions.

The project is based on a six-stage methodology (promotion, diagnostic assessment, interaction, improvement plan, implementation and replicability) which optimizes the business practices of the participating enterprises.  Specialized consultants assist the companies for a period of 6-10 months.

"The program objective is to ensure that micro-entrepreneurs can increase their income, establish a business network with major companies in the country, and create sustainable businesses that improve the quality of life of their families," says Fernando Herrera, Coordinator of the Poverty and Sustainable Development Area, UNDP in Colombia.  “We set out to help individuals living in a state of poverty and vulnerability, many of them victims of the armed conflict."

Unemployment in Colombia reached 8.8 per cent in the three months between July and September 2014, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). Just over a third of Colombia´s population live below the poverty line, and 1 in 10 people lives in a state of indigence.

With the support of the program, Betsaida followed her instinct: "Here the shrimps are not as good as in Tumaco, nor are the rice with coconut or the fish. So why not start our own company providing food like they serve in Tumaco?" she thought.

The couple founded "Sabor Tumaqueño", a small family-run business that sells lunches based on typical Pacific recipes and rice pudding. "It has proved to be a great success. We already have a regular flow of customers. Our restaurant has taken off to the extent that we can afford to rent a property in the Bosa area and provide an education for our daughters," says Betsaida.

"Our dream is to buy our own home and to have a restaurant or business of our own also, and then to travel back to Tumaco to visit our family ... We always dream of returning. But for now, we thank God and life for the opportunities that we have been given."

UNDP provided initial funds to launch the project, and currently selects and trains consultants to provide specific advice in each of the business units. 

This programme is based on the successful models that UNDP first implemented in Mexico, El Salvador and Haiti and extended to Africa in 2014.

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