Initiative funded by Coca-Cola aims to help Latinas become self-sufficient and thrive

At one of the LAA’s auditoriums, a group of Latinas is talking business on a recent Tuesday morning.

“All businesses, at some point, will need a capital injection,” says Sandra Achury, an electrical engineer from Colombia who has an MBA.

Achury is teaching some 20 Latinas the steps they need to take to launch their own business. One student raises her hand. “Going to a bank can be difficult because there are so many requirements,” the student says.

IMG_5786

This spring, the LAA started offering a 20-hour course for Latinas who are interested in opening their own business. The business course, titled “Mujeres & Negocios,” is the centerpiece of the LAA’s newly launched Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program, which aims to empower Latinas so they can become more self-sufficient. Demand for the course has been so strong that the LAA offered three inaugural sessions of the business class, attracting 60 women. The first group of 20 completed the course last week, and there is a waiting list for new classes that will start soon.

Participants in the business class, which is free, have also been meeting regularly outside the classroom to share their ideas and get feedback from staff and professionals. Some of their ideas for businesses include package delivery to Mexico and Colombia; services such as accounting; a dressmaking and sewing shop; design and sales of jewelry; house cleaning using eco-friendly products; and teaching Spanish to non-native speakers of all ages, among others.

The LAA’s Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program, launched with a grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation, offers education, business mentorship, networking and leadership development to Latinas. Its goal is to empower Latinas to improve the welfare of their families. The program also offers personal finance and credit classes, as well as computer classes in Spanish. It eventually will offer participants access to microloans.

“In addition to the business courses, the Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program provides all participants with support, inspiration and motivation, regardless of their educational and income levels,” says Maria Soledad Azuri, a social worker who manages the program. “We give women the opportunity to get together and exchange ideas, which is proven to be essential in successful microenterprise development.”

Hispanic women are much more likely than non-Hispanic women to live in poverty. Many times they lack the education, experience and skills – even the self-confidence – to pursue gainful and stable employment, says Azuri.

Economic empowerment, which refers to the capacity to bring about economic change for oneself, is the single most important factor to help reduce economic disparities among Latinas. Investing in the economic empowerment of Latinas allows them to realize their full potential, as well as reduces poverty at the household and community levels and realizes economic gains among generations.

“Essentially, we are creating a place where Latinas can get the knowledge, training and entrepreneurial know-how necessary to become economically stable,” Azuri explains. “Our program has a strong cultural and linguistic foundation and is tailored specifically for Latinas.”

Magally Bonilla, who worked as an architect in her native Colombia, just finished taking the eight-week business course. She found the class to be very thorough, covering everything from “how to choose the name of your business to financial statements.”

“I learned that a crisis can be good,” says Bonilla, who wants to open a full-service renovation business. “The course covers all that goes into launching a business.”

The class offers a comprehensive curriculum of microbusiness topics, including refining business ideas, marketing, business plan development, operations, cash flow, launch strategies, generating sales and pricing. At the end of the 20 hours, participants are expected to present their business plan and know where to seek resources to launch their business. The program also continues to add workshops and access to resources for participants after they complete the course.

“I want to see the students get ahead and be successful,” says Achury, the instructor. “It does not necessarily mean that they will launch a business. If they feel more self-confident or get motivated to get a job, I consider that to be success, too.”

For more information on the Latinas’ Economic Empowerment Program, contact Maria Azuri at mazuri@thelaa.org