From rural Guatemalan women with big dreams and little education who learned to generate income by making bracelets to their daughters now attending college and working for corporations . . . it’s been an amazing journey . . . all because of the power of dreams and partnerships.
With pride and gratefulness, we can say now that these dreams are in process! The children of Wakami women are starting to go to college, they are starting to work in corporations and most exciting . . . THEIR DAUGHTERS are finding success in a country where the role of women is still limited.
As each of these young people get an education or get a job, at Wakami we celebrate it as if it was our own kids. This is also a time to celebrate our partners who have joined us in this journey and have been key to make it happen. And yes, it has been a long journey – but worth every part of it.
In Wakami we recognized from the start that in order for women’s dreams to become a reality, it was necessary for them to have a source of income. The question we had was – how do you create a source of income for women working in remote villages with no resources and few work-related skills? How do we help women with big dreams of changing the life of their children, but with little or no schooling?
That was when the motivation behind starting a brand that would reach global markets with products that could be made by these women. To do this, 14 years ago, when we started, there were organizations that partnered with us – organizations like ICCO from the Netherlands, like the Embassy of Norway in Guatemala, like USAID from the US. They gave us the funds to start incubating these groups of women and transform them into formal businesses that could meet international standards. They gave us the first seed capital to start a brand that in our dreams would reach out to the world and allow many rural women to have a source of income.
We began to create products, under the guidance of Queta Rodriguez and the design of Lis Giron and started to look for a market. After three years, with the support of Agexport and Casa Cotzal, the first order for export came – it was for 25 Earth Bracelets from the Greater Good Network. We will never forget that order.
As a part of Wakami’s hand-made fashion accessories, we also told beautiful stories to inspire our customers and Wakami started to grow in the export market. We found alliances with partners in the US, in Japan, in Korea, in Australia. An initial group of 30 indigenous women making products became a group of 300 women supporting their families. Sinapi Foundation, with the leadership of John Quinn, became key to help us incubate more women and create more rural businesses. Other local foundations like Juan Bautista Gutierrez, Fundacion Castillo Cordova, and ALCSA also supported this effort. Impact investors also started to invest in Wakami, allowing us to have more capital to grow. IDC and Pomona Impact where the first ones! Awards from Chivas The Venture and DVF were key as well, not just for the resources, but for the visibility and credibility.
But as we grew, we faced many challenges: we needed to systematize the methodology, we needed to grow markets, we needed to strengthen Wakami as a brand. That is when the Inter American Development Bank and its MIF unit partnered with us. Through a 5-year project, Wakami started to transform into a stronger brand, with systematized methodologies that would generate income for rural women and other vulnerable groups. Wakami grew to 20 rural businesses and 500 women.
But then we also realized income alone would not change the quality of life – not in a country where key basic services are not available to everyone – services like access to health, education and sanitation. That is where our next key partnership came –with Rotary International, under the leadership of Julio Grazioso and Bob Halagan. Rotary helped us establish programs that would support the education and nutrition and health of the children of Wakami producers. And so Wakami children started to be better nourished and had more access to formal education.
As we traveled this journey, we also realized that Wakami needed to have a place of its own – to create a center where all the opportunities would be centralized – both the income generation and the education and nutrition for their children. We were not sure what it would look like, there was only one premise – we wanted it to be beautiful. And that is how the Wakami Center was born. Finca Luisiana gave us a piece of land, Arq. Francisco Samayoa gave us the design and for the last 4 years, through the Wakami Traveler Program with Rotarians and Sinapi Friends we built this center. Just recently the Tigo Foundation and Telus partnered with us to bring top technology to the center. In 2017, I, as part of Vital Voices, won an award from Goldman Sachs and Fortune Companies that allowed us to partner with Funsepa and Valentina to create a program that would teach high school graduates skills that would make them employable by local corporations. And yes, as of last week, 4 of our first 8 students got a job.
So many people, so many supporters! The best thing though is THAT NOW WE HAVE A PATH, that allows rural and vulnerable women with big dreams to make their dreams and ours become real – dreams of creating a world with opportunities for more people!
We know how, together, we can create change! It’s with partnerships; it’s with collective dreams that we can do this!
And at the end of the day, the greatest gift is that one of HOPE! There are so many challenges in Guatemala and the World, but together we can create change! I believe it. We, Wakami and our many partners, believe it.
There are many more people that I did not mention that are part of this and I want to thank all of you because collective dreams are unstoppable, and this is what keeps us going!