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Little fish, big business: Kiva loans helped Maricela grow her pickled pinchagua venture in Ecuador

Maricela runs a fish-selling business that has employed 7 women in her area

It’s said that when you give a person a fish, they’ll eat for a day, but if you teach them how to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.

Kiva borrower Maricela takes this adage to an even higher level: Give her lots of fish, and she puts them into a thriving business that supports her entire family and those of several other women.

At a large wooden table outside her home in the Los Arenales district of Crucita, Ecuador, Maricela and her crew prepare loads of pinchagua, a tiny fish revered as a lip-smacking ingredient in ceviche and other seafood dishes. The women pickle the fish with salt and lime, then seal the delicacies in small jars to ship off to local restaurants and wholesalers.

The entrepreneur launched her business in 2015, and with the help of Kiva microloans, Mari has been able to expand from a one-woman endeavor into a thriving venture by investing in several industrial freezers and paying the wages of her employees.

“When I first received the loan, it was purely for the capital of the business, to continue growing it, because in this kind of business, one needs capital,” she says.

“I started on my own, but it has grown, and I now have the help of these seven women who are here now who work with me.”

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A multifaceted ‘warrior’ woman

“I say I am a warrior woman, because I do this business, I tend to the home, I go out to sell... it’s a lot, it’s demanding, this type of work”

As both an entrepreneur and the mother of five school-aged children, Maricela balances a lot on her plate. She spends almost every waking hour caring for her kids, supervising the pinchagua pickling operation, and communicating with a growing cadre of wholesale clients. Her clients come from all around Ecuador: locally in Crucita, the neighboring communities of Guayaquil, Pedernales and Santo Domingo, and Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

She credits her brother for introducing her to new customers and contributing his publicity and marketing skills as her venture has grown, though she continues to shoulder the bulk of the labor and planning.

“I say I am a warrior woman, because I do this business, I tend to the home, I go out to sell... it’s a lot, it’s demanding, this type of work,” admits the busy entrepreneur, adding that is buoyed by the support of her staff.

“Sometimes I think about throwing in the towel, but they say ‘no, you can do it.’ They encourage me to persist, to continue advancing.”

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Gender equality with every loan cycle

Loans help women grow their businesses - like this grocery store located in Manabí, Ecuador

Gender inequality remains a problematic cultural issue in Ecuador, where attitudes of machismo can hinder a woman’s ambitions to improve her circumstances on her own.

Kiva Field Partner Fundación ESPOIR aims to balance the gender equation by offering Ecuadorian women microloans to start and grow businesses, improve their homes, and pay for their own or their children’s education. Founded in 1992, ESPOIR also provides additional services to help its clients succeed, including:

  • Financial literacy classes
  • Business and management training
  • Nutritional and reproductive education

The microfinance institution (MFI) does not require business experience or collateral and has in the past mostly approved credit through its portfolio of group loans. Due to the ongoing success of many of its established clients, however, it now offers individual loans to entrepreneurs who have “graduated” to higher amounts of capital.

Maricela is one of those successful entrepreneurs, starting with a loan of $300 USD and working her way up incrementally as the debts are repaid.

“I am in my fifth loan cycle,” she reports, noting that she has qualified for up to $2000 USD but has limited herself to $1000 USD at a time to make sure she can keep up with payments.

Since the beginning, the endorsement from ESPOIR has brought validation to her women-centered endeavor and inspired her to keep expanding.

“I felt thankful when I learned I had been approved for the loan. It’s a sign of trust in oneself, in one’s ability to continue and succeed with the business one has.”

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Growing the pond of prosperity

“The earnings from the business here don’t just go to repaying the loan, but also to food, electricity, water, and other things for the kids”

As the host of her loan group’s bi-weekly meetings, Maricela recognizes that many of the women who work for her pickling plant also attend to their own businesses and homes. She looks forward to the educational sessions that encourage them all to scale their ventures “little by little” and invest in their families.

“The earnings from the business here don’t just go to repaying the loan, but also to food, electricity, water, and other things for the kids,” she says, adding that she’s also been able to make improvements to a space in her home that she plans to rent out as part of her ever-evolving business plan.

“My objective is to grow more. I want to continue making my business known in other places, perhaps even sending to the U.S.”

Though this warrior woman often feels overwhelmed with the responsibility of running a seven-person staff and a busy household, she continues to be motivated by her children.

“I want to continue being a good example for them, so that when they’re older, they see that they have a persistent, determined mother.”

Maricela is one of thousands of women who have started businesses, built financial foundations and improved their lives and those of their families with Kiva loans. There are many more who can benefit from Kiva’s mission of financial inclusion—with just a little help from lenders like you.

Help create a more financially inclusive world. Lend to a woman today

About the author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos is Kiva's Senior Storyteller and an award-winning writer based in Savannah, Georgia, USA. Covering social justice, cultural equity, sustainable growth, financial literacy, and always celebrating others' success, she is thrilled to help share Kiva's mission—and the stories of the people it connects.