Entrepreneurship has always implied risk, and even more so in a pandemic. When COVID-19 coronavirus paralyzed Peru, most companies turned to their savings to sustain themselves during what initially was thought to be a two-week quarantine. But limitations continued. “The hardest thing was closing our minimarket and being locked up for several months, hardly capable of believing this was actually happening,” says entrepreneur Liz Garay. While some businesses fell others, such as Liz and her family, completely reinvented themselves. “We kept adapting and as such, this adversity provided new opportunities,” she says.
“An entrepreneur is not only someone who opens a business, but also someone whom, despite what might happen, maintains the desire to move forward,” says Ms Garay, inspired by her mother who in this emergency started a gastronomic venture. “The idea was born out of a conversation with her and my brother. We always told her she has magic hands because she has the talent for cooking,” she says about the desserts sale her family has undertaken to cover their debts.
During April, May and June, more than six million jobs were lost throughout the country. Small businesses, which represent 85 percent of formal employment, were hardest hit. UNDP worked with IKIGAI Social Laboratory, the Belcorp Foundation, MeUno and several organizations allied in the Together We Take Charge movement, which brought together the private sector, civil society, and the Peruvian government to respond to the emergency. Warrior Entrepreneur was born. Since August, the programme has had the support of Tu Empresa, a programme for small businesses led by the Ministry of Production, which has allowed Warrior Entrepreneur to reach businesses in more than 20 regions.
“At the beginning we thought the quarantine was going to end soon, but when it lengthened, we no longer saw a future,” says Cinthia Vargas, who days before the pandemic had liquidated her party decoration business. “But a true warrior entrepreneur is the one who reappears despite everything that is happening in the world, and even returns with more strength and energy than in her first business.” Ms Vargas who, faced with the new needs caused by the virus, started selling disinfection and cleaning items. “With the little we had, we had to get up. I was scared, but I was strong for my children.”
From April to August, Warrior Entrepreneur provided mentoring to entrepreneurs amid the anguish and desolation that COVID-19 brought, decided to move forward. Through a six-week digital training, they were taught various modules as to improve their sales and digitization strategies, learning financial skills in this new context, and improved their business resilience. They had personalized and direct technical assistance from more than 300 professional volunteers.
Warrior Entrepreneur has been expanding its training modules alongside private companies and universities to provide tools for entrepreneurs so they can respond to this new normal that has accelerated electronic commerce to unexpected levels. According to the Lima Chamber of Commerce, in June 2020 online purchases jumped more than 225 percent compared to the same month the year before. So, as for entrepreneurs to advance in this transformation, the programme provided the necessary strategies for establishing their own digital sales channels and affiliation to existing digital markets.
Ms Garay came to the programme through social networks. “Learning is a constant. Warrior Entrepreneur not only helped me to establish new forms of management for my business, but also to carry out good social network management to face this new type of work,” she says.
What sets Warrior Entrepreneur apart from other programmes is professional volunteering.
“Volunteering has allowed me to support two families in this difficult situation, because both entrepreneurs are fighting for their families with a dream,” says Diana Quiroga, a volunteer who assisted Vargas and another businesswoman from Arequipa. “I am motivated by everything that lays behind these women, their effort and will to learn and to move on forward.”
The pandemic has also challenged the way volunteering is implemented. The programme considered the connectivity gaps of microentrepreneurs, changing on the spot volunteering for digital support through tools such as Facebook, and WhatsApp. “Despite the distance, they completely engaged with energy that was very stimulating,” says Quiroga. “Their ventures were just taking off, but you could see their eagerness to learn, always on time and with their tasks completed.”
“Peruvian entrepreneurs are an agent of change who can transform our country into a better one,” says Aurelia Castromonte, a volunteer who assisted a businesswoman from a dental clinic and an office furniture entrepreneur. “By having these personalized meetings, I had two stories to encourage and make more resilient.” Resilience is precisely one of the capacities most invoked in this crisis. Although not simple to teach, it is a basic common Warrior Entrepreneur thread as to enable entrepreneurs to cope with the abrupt change these months.
“I have learned that business resilience is important in a country like ours,” she says. After a complete overview of the business, the entrepreneurs participate in mentoring meetings given by the volunteers, so they learn to identify their emotions, reinforce their leadership skills and target their personal purpose through practical exercises and quick-relief exercises. “Resilience is now in how these entrepreneurs are dealing with their struggles, and in how they are not satisfied with how everything just happens. When facing a difficulty, they get up to continue with perseverance,” she says. To complement this, entrepreneurs have learned about good recovery practices in other countries with economies similar to Peru, as well as different strategies to adapt, diversify, innovate and reopen a business.
The results of these three Warrior Entrepreneur editions in have been a success. Ninety two percent of all participants have adapted the tools provided by the programme in their businesses. The programme aims to reach more than 10,000 entrepreneurs by 2021.
One of them is Zoila Velásquez who has learned to improve her digital sales of handmade jewelry through the program. Motivated by her experience, she wants to create content on social networks so that other women can undertake this activity. “This can help them empower themselves and get involved in something they were unaware of. We have to lose our fear. Sometimes there will be setbacks and some will discourage us, but if your dream is to create something great, you will know how to fight, because women do not allow themselves to be defeated that easily.”
Story: Sally Jabiel; Photos: UNDP Peru/Jasmin Ramirez Romero