H.M. the Queen has paid a visit to two of BBVAMF’s Colombian women entrepreneurs in Cali, Colombia, during her international cooperation trip. The Queen was able to see for herself how they have escaped poverty thanks to their entrepreneurship.
Women migrants: a vulnerable segment
The visit began at the warehouse door of one of the entrepreneurs: Jessica Milagros Flores. This 37-year-old Venezuelan mother of three had to leave her country four years ago because of the economic and political crisis. She got established in Cali, where she cleaned houses for a wage and later opened a food business with her mother, until she decided to set up her own business selling chontaduro (peach palm), the fruit of the Amazonian palm tree. She bought a little handcart which she used to sell on the streets; with the support of Bancamía, the BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF)’s institution in Colombia, she was able to buy 13 more and rent the warehouse where she stores and refrigerates the fruit.
Jessica now employs 11 people, most of them Venezuelan migrant mothers and family breadwinners, who sell peach palm in different parts of the city. During the visit, Viviana Araque, executive president of Bancamía, highlighted the importance of supporting migrants:
“Four years ago in Bancamía, we decided to further our support to Venezuelan migrants, committing to mentor them in their financial, productive and social inclusion, because we are convinced that this is the best way to achieve positive reintegration in the country. Today we serve around 8,000 Venezuelans, 55% of them women, and we have delivered over 16,600 credit, savings, investment and insurance products to people like Jessica who now create jobs, using their dynamism to develop their surroundings”.
Colombia is the biggest recipient country in Latin America of migrants, according to the “Financial inclusion through entrepreneurship in Latin America” (available only in Spanish) report drawn up and presented recently by the BBVAMF. Despite the dangers that migrant people suffer in their passage, migration in the region keeps increasing due to persisting political, economic and social problems. According to recent government reports, the last five years saw the arrival of 2,477.582 Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
In Colombia, tens of thousands of women are displaced due to violence, they are victims in their own country
The Queen was also able to converse with Meregilda Zúñiga, a 50-year-old entrepreneur mother of five who was displaced by violence. In 2022, 339,000 forced movements have been registered due to armed violence, the highest figure in a decade, according to official data. One of the most affected departments it also cited is Valle del Cauca, where Cali is located.
Meregilda is one of the victims of the country’s internal conflict. With almost no formal schooling, she was selling cocadas (coconut sweets) in Timbiquí (Cauca), where she was born. Tired of living with the violence, terror and death in her community, she decided to leave with two of her five children in search of a better life. When she reached Cali she was forced to sleep on the streets, until a stranger gave her a place to stay for a few days with her children. She worked as a house helper and the money she saved enabled her to reunite with her husband and her other children, aside from renting a home.
Knowing that she had to work hard to support her family, Meregilda worked several jobs until she found employment in a cocada factory. There she met Rosa, a colleague who became her business partner. Together they decided to start a business in 2008 and set up a joint street stall. Thanks to small loans from the BBVAMF’s Colombian institution, she has succeeded with making and distributing cocadas and indirectly employs 20 women who are also heads of their families. Her husband and her five children also work in the family business.
Meregilda is one of the three million low-income entrepreneurs supported by BBVAMF in five countries across Latin America. Of these, more than half (1.6 million) are women. The Foundation accompanies them with financing and other products such as insurance or tailored savings products adapted to their small but growing businesses.
The Queen, at the service of Cooperation
The Queen’s visit to the women entrepreneurs of BBVAMF was made during a visit in which she traveled to Colombia to see the work being done by Cooperación Española (AECID) in the country in healthcare, governability and gender equality, rural development, and food security.
AECID projects in the country include the Cooperative Fund for Water and Sanitation (FCAS in the Spanish acronym), the Fund for the Promotion of Development (FONPRODE), the European Peace Facility, ERICA & DIRENA innovation and knowledge exchange programs, the ART-REDES program for local development, together with UNDP, and INTERCOONECTA.