Cooking up an enterprise

American author Steve Maraboli once said, “There is no greater force for change than people inspired to live a better life.” And with his words, we share the story of a female entrepreneur who has worked nonstop to improve her life and succeeded.

We step inside the “Hermanos Ortega” restaurant in Santiago, Panama, where its owner Teófila waits for us. Standing among her cooking stoves, she recounts how her life and other people’s lives have changed, based on preparing homemade dishes sold at a very good price. Her enterprise is the outcome of her effort and the support of Microserfin, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s Panamian MFI.

Teófila ennumerates her milestones: expanding her restaurant; an increased income which allowed her to finish constructing her house; purchasing two vehicles for food delivery and most importantly, sending her four children through school. “One of them is a teacher, another is a social worker, the other one specializes in Special Education and the youngest just graduated in Criminal Science”, she proudly shares.

My clients always say that the food I serve is very different from the rest

This was not how her life has always been, though. Before opening the restaurant, she used to sell food on the streets. Oftentimes, she wasn’t able to sell everything and this made it difficult for her to keep up with her day to day needs and expenses. This type of uncertainty also pushed her to pay her loans tardily, which negatively affected her well-being and that of her family. “I knew I could move forward. I’m a strong woman of character and I have always known how to treat my clients and provide good quality meals. They would always tell me that the food I serve is very different from the rest”, assures the cook, while showing varied dishes for the day.

Little by little, the restaurant has expanded and started to offer more variety of food. Teófila’s work and Microserfin’s assistance have been essential in this process. Not only does she receive economic support to develop her enterprise, she also gained training on money management.

The restaurant has also positively altered the lives of the people from her community. “I’ve hired people to help me cook, do the groceries, drive the delivery trucks and wait on clients. I think this helps the community because it gives people a livelihood”, she explains, satisfied upon knowing that she’s contributing to improve the lives of others in her own way.

Like her, a lot of women work day to day, making up 53% of the Latin American workforce. Out of the 300 million women in the region, only half of them access the labor market and the majority face discrimination and wage gaps. The BBVAMF contributes to improve this situation by supporting female entrepreneurs like Teófila, who set up their own businesses so they can progress. Through financial inclusion, the Foundation and its six MFIs foster women’s economic empowerment- women who with their eagerness and perseverance arrive at wherever they set their minds to.