Divided in Two

By Kati Mayfield, KF11 Chile

Let’s hear it for everyone who works hard: supporting themselves, supporting their families, and trying to balance their professional and personal lives!

We all know that this balance is nearly impossible to achieve, but the formula becomes especially complicated when you run your own business.

While microfinance very much opens up otherwise inaccessible business opportunities to micro-entrepreneurs and their families, the obligations of running these businesses and repaying loans can be a cause of great strain and tension.

At an annual conference called Corazón Emprendedor (Heart of the Entrepreneur), Kiva’s Chilean field partner Fondo Esperanza gives its clients a chance to share these burdens and propose strategies to mitigate them.

There were 168 clients [100% women, called “socias” in Fondo Esperanza-speak] in attendance at the event last month in Valparaíso, who got together for two days to discuss this year’s topic of “Women: At work and at home”. After listening to presentations by a panel of women’s advocates, the socias got together in small groups to talk about their experiences.

The breakout groups were guided by facilitators asking the women to fill out “personal testimony” booklets, responding to a series of questions about how each of them juggles their roles as mother, wife, and business owner. At the end of the conference the booklets were collected, and will be used to select one of the socias for the Corazón Emprendedor prize (see the YouTube video of Jessica González, last year’s winner), which includes a check for 600,000CLP (about 1200USD), and a scholarship to a local university.

As is to be expected in a group of hundreds of women brought together in solidarity, the atmosphere was powerful. But as I facilitated one of the breakout groups, a few things were surprisingly compelling to me:

First: how emotionally productive this gathering was. Wearing the stony facades they put up during their daily grind, the women in my group were at first taken aback when asked to respond to personal questions like “Name the three things that have been most difficult for you and your family in running your business”. But after one of their idols, Malucha Pinto, walked into the room and opened up about her struggles as a single mother in a monologue called “Dividida en dos” (Divided in Two), these hard exteriors melted into nods of agreement, sighs of relief, and even a few bashful tears. Major group therapy.

Second: how literally productive this gathering was. Recognizing that they had not only difficulties, but also opportunities in common, the socias pulled out their mirrors [to wipe away and re-apply tear-smudged makeup], and their agendas to start planning. Together they created measurable goals to better manage their families and their businesses (“I will start keeping separate accounts for my family and business expenditures”; “I will try to put away xpesos/day for my daughter’s education), and they shared the strategies and resources they had to help achieve these goals.

Third: how powerful the process of self-reflection really is. We Kiva Fellows are in such a continuous process of self-reflection that I often forget how against-the-norm it is for some people to put themselves in that contemplative space. One of the featured speakers at Corazón Emprendedor delivered a presentation on the importance of making time for yourself, emphasizing to the socias that they are their most important business asset, which means that time for the “self” is a necessity and not a luxury.

All the socias in my group pledged themselves to the common goal of following this last piece of advice. Of course, following-through with a resolution is always more difficult than making it. Which is why I will be calling all of them in six months to follow-up on how they are doing, reuniting their divided selves.

Fondo Esperanza is Kiva’s Chilean field partner, currently working to pass into the active phase on Kiva. Click here to see all Fondo Esperanza loans currently fundraising on Kiva, and here to join the lending team.

About the author

Kati Mayfield