Cristina Díaz began her path as an entrepreneur facing a reality that, at the same time, served as her driving force: the need to start a business in times of unemployment. The company through which her husband sold baked chickens dissolved eight years ago, and she decided to support him so that he could continue selling this product, already positioned in her community, for another seven.
Thus, both assumed to carry out Tasty Baked Chickena venture that for Cristina has meant an achievement due to the rapid and growing reception that her product has had for the communities of Villas Agrícolas and Cristo Rey, in Santo Domingo, allowing them to sell about 25 chickens on weekdays and up to 45 units on Saturdays and sundays.
“We focus on selling a quality product, made from totally natural ingredients, without artificial additives, with well-cared for chicken. That is what has kept us here ”, he highlights. The growth of his business, which now has three employees, began to demand the installation of another showcase to offer a greater number of garnishes for his product, as well as a pump that would guarantee permanent water for his operations. However, this required a monetary investment which he lacked at the time.
By then, the Francine Foundation –an institution that provides tools to promote social inclusion, labor productivity and entrepreneurship for people with visual disabilities– executed the Labor Inclusion and Autonomy for Women with Visual Disabilities (VIA) project. As a member of this foundation, Cristina was chosen as one of the 30 participants in this program.
“I have congenital optic neuropathy. For me, this visual condition has been my way of life, because I have never seen otherwise. It has been a challenge, because wherever I went as a child, there were always barriers, there were always limitations that I set out to overcome (…) with the desire to move forward, just like any other person,” she said, after stating that He has always had a vision of getting the most out of what he has at hand.
The initiative allowed the entrepreneur to be part of a community of women from various provinces of the country and with different degrees of vision loss who, like her, had businesses that needed a push to expand. Or that, on the contrary, they should learn to formulate and implement her business idea.
During the months in which she and her colleagues received training on personal image, digital marketing and business management, the owner of Sabrosísimo Pollo al Horno recognized that good financial management is vital to boost ventures.
“For me this has been a unique experience, where you realize that you are not the only person in the world who has a condition, and that there are people who are really struggling with more difficult situations. That’s when I started to say ‘wow, I want to be part of what leads to the full realization of all people with disabilities’”.
At the end of the project, Cristina was part of four ventures selected to receive seed capital of RD$30,000 that allowed her to buy the cabinet and the water pump she needed. However, when she found out later that the 30 project participants would become members of a cooperative for women with visual disabilities, she was willing to be part of the board of directors and be the treasurer of the initiative.
More than a cooperative
coopvioleta It is the first cooperative that brings together women with visual disabilities to promote, through associativity, training and the culture of savings, their economic empowerment.
Although Cristina has established a life routine based on her attitude, commitment -and in a way because of the “visual rest” that makes her appear to lack any condition at first glance-, for many women in the Dominican Republic the story is another . They are exposed to marginalization, economic dependence and even physical and verbal violence from their relatives, just because they have a visual disability.
The president of the foundation that bears her name, Francina Hungría, expressed that it is this reality that makes projects that promote the financial autonomy of women through their ventures and labor inclusion so necessary. This, more than impacting them, directly benefits their loved ones, in the case of those who are heads of the family.
The financial entity has developed three specific axes to meet this objective. The first is training, with training in business, self-management and personal development through workshops organized with banking entities, public institutions and other allies.
The second is the encouragement of entrepreneurship, with the consolidation of solid capital that provides loans and seed capital to members to promote or expand their business initiatives.
The third is the possibility of accessing ordinary loans, according to the savings of the members and the profitability of the cooperative. “The main thing is to cultivate that culture of savings, but we are also trying to access some seed capital funds that will be provided by Conadis (National Council on Disability), since these funds will contribute to the businesses of the members of the cooperative, but also to the businesses of the cooperative that employ its members”, stated its president, Katherine Flete.
The savings of the members can start from RD$300 as a minimum non-refundable monthly amount, although each one established the amount that they could save according to their possibilities. Entrepreneurs deposit to the account designated for it via transfer or in person.
So far, they have delivered RD$100,000 in seed capital last year to Cristina’s venture and to three other selected businesses that completed the VIA project, and the entity expects to have the financial capacity to support other initiatives in the coming months.
For Francina and Katherine, one of the main lessons learned from being in charge of this project lies in how important psychosocial support is.
Both the VIA project and Coopvioleta have encouraged their participants to form a support network that has allowed them to share their experiences as entrepreneurs who are overcoming barriers and limitations in their environment.
Francina understands that this space has been one of the foundations of the project’s success, since the women had the opportunity to understand the precariousness of their environment, reconcile with themselves and their loved ones, and find support from the members of the cooperative.
“With these women personally, I have learned that there is nothing more motivating than you seeing how another person advances (…). This is the case with the productive chain. You say ‘come here, but if she could undertake, I can do it too’”, Katherine highlights.
Coopvioleta emerges from the VIA project, which received funds from the European Union, through the ONCE Foundation for aid in Latin America. During the development of the program, the Francina Foundation signed an agreement with the Supérate program, to expand the social protection of the participants.
After the establishment of the solidarity entity, the institution has also met with the National Council for Disability (Conadis) and the National Council for the Promotion and Support of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (Promipyme) to obtain solidarity loans that financially support businesses of saving members. The board has also had contact with private banking companies to agree financing for future projects.