The Necessity of Being Green (Part 1): A Microentrepreneur’s Perspective
When I ask the women of one Comité de Mujeres Emprendedoras in Capiata what they devote their time to, one of the older women excitedly drags me to the back of her house where we were having the meeting.
Her name is Vicenta; she devotes her time to growing and selling orchids. She proudly shows me her varied collection which, with every new loan, she buys in bulk from a Chinese woman in the town of Limpio. It seems to be a profitable business: she buys each orchid for 50,000 Gs (around $11) and separates the bigger ones into two and then sells each one for 100,000 Gs (around $22). Furthermore demand is high – she has some of the most beautiful orchids in the area and Paraguayans seems very keen on plants.
Vicenta is passionate about her orchids, yet for the most part it is a waiting game – she only sells them when they are flourishing which can take anywhere between 6 months and a year depending on when she buys them. To make ends meet she sells fertiliser, knits scarves and hats and also makes a number of bags and accessories.What struck me as most interesting about Vicenta is just how much she recycles. For example, most orchids are grown in empty milk cartons rather than pots, and her bags and accessories are waterproofed by sewing in the plastic from bottles around the exterior. She is the first entrepreneur I’ve met who seems truly conscious about the environment, and I’m impressed! From what I hear though, she is not the only one…
I ask her where she learnt about recycling and was disappointed to hear it was not a Fundación Paraguaya initiative. The school where she used to teach, regularly organised training days for the staff, many of those on recycling. That’s how she learnt her skills.
The Fundación Paraguaya, however, is improving: it has recently decided to shift its focus from the purely economic side of microfinance to include 50 poverty indicators which are meant to encompass the multi-faceted reality of poverty. A couple of those cover environmental issues, such as the importance of correct waste disposal and an uncontaminated environment, yet they still lack a real green initiative. These have only been implemented recently so it’s hard to evaluate whether they will have an impact.
Being green is often more costly, time-consuming and complicated, so what are the benefits that entrepreneurs, like Vicenta, see in ecofriendly businesses? Well, it can improve one’s working conditions and reduce health and safety hazards (i.e. no burning plastic), it creates a more sustainable business in the long run and, of course, protects the environment that surrounds them. Furthermore, on such a small-scale the materials they use to make their products are often easy to obtain.
The enthusiasm and determination of women like Vicenta is admirable and it is evident that being green with an unpredictable income remains complex!
Stay posted for my next post on what the microfinance institutions perspective is on the subject of eco-conscious microentreprise! In the meantime, feel free to comment and share.