Thunderbird MBAs pitch in to educate 100,000 Peruvian women


Free business training has been provided to 100,000 women entrepreneurs in Peru, marking the goal of an initiative of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), Grupo ACP, Mibanco, Thunderbird School of Global Management, and the Australian government through AusAid. The program, called Proyecto Salta or ‘Project Leap’ was launched in 2010 and aimed to train micro and small-scale entrepreneurs in a country with one of the highest percentages of female entrepreneurs in the world.

Proyecto Salta made news after its initial launch for its creative delivery. The program offered women a new approach to learning business concepts through the incredibly popular telenovela format. The format was adapted to provide much more than just entertainment—instead, offering real business skills training.

Each of the three seasons of the telenovela, called ‘El Gran Salto” or “The Big Leap’, followed the trials and tribulations of a main character as she struggled to run her own business. In the second season it was a woman named Pilar, a feisty and independent owner of a Lima-based catering business. As the star navigated several business obstacles, viewers were exposed to constructive lessons, such as how to create a balance sheet, basic marketing tips and accounting essentials.

Thunderbird professor Christine Pearson, Ph.D., helped to create the program’s educational framework and materials, which were then developed into a telenovela. Pearson says the story lines and characters featured in the telenovela mirrored experiences that participants could relate to and captured their attention. “Gasps from the audience were audible when challenges intensified on screen,” she said, “and you could always hear a collective sigh of relief when problems were eventually resolved.” Pearson explained that because the central characters in the telenovela were patterned after participants, their triumph over business and family hardships helped the women to feel like they too could prevail.

“Women in Peru and the region are strongly entrepreneurial,” said Nancy Lee, General Manager of the Multilateral Investment Fund. “Surveys suggest that 31 percent of women in the region, 44 percent for Peru, intend to start businesses in the next three years. Most do so because they see opportunity. Giving these motivated women the skills they need to grow their businesses will generate disproportionate gains for the region.” 

The training was delivered to groups of about 200 women at a time through seminars in various cities throughout Peru. Combined with one-on-one mentoring, access to microloans and other educational resources, the program has made a huge impact.

Thunderbird MBA students helped with the mentoring element of the program, providing more than 4,000 hours of one-on-one or small-group mentoring to 591 women entrepreneurs throughout the duration of the initiative. Each summer a new group of students was sent to Peru to spend three months meeting with business owners in different districts in and around Lima.

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Proyecto Salta’s 100,000th graduate, María Zulema Ballona Morante, pictured center

Patricia Magallanes, a baker based in Callao, was one of the program participants paired with a Thunderbird MBA student consultant in the summer of 2013. The student, Richard Carter, helped Magallanes with a cash flow statement, pricing and competitive analysis, and a marketing plan that focused on what differentiated her product.

“When I began to work with Patricia, her potential was immediately apparent,” said Carter. Before Magallanes had children she had worked in a professional setting as an office assistant and he was impressed to see that she already knew the basics of sales and customer service. However, he noticed that the knowledge wasn’t translating into her business. “Despite her knowledge and experience, she hadn’t been able to apply it to help her business grow. Her confidence in her business abilities was lacking.  During our time working together, we were able to not only reinforce her knowledge of things like cash flow statements and budgets, but also increase her self-confidence.”

As a result of the consulting and the lessons taught through Proyecto Salta, Magallanes told Carter she was able to boost her cake sales from 30 per month to 80 per month in just about four weeks’ time and planned to implement new ideas that would help her more effectively market and manage her business.

Magallanes is one of many women who found value in the mentoring program. In December 2013, Peruvian company SASE Consultores completed a study that found 75 percent of women who were surveyed after receiving Proyecto Salta mentorship were able to better analyze their businesses. In addition, more than 30 percent reported an increase in sales and 24 percent had reduced their costs since implementing the suggested changes in their businesses.

Proyecto Salta was the first component completed as part of a larger project called Strengthening Women Entrepreneurship in Peru (SWEP). SWEP’s second component, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Peru, also reached its goal in December 2013. Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Peru is a business certificate program for small-business owners that aimed to provide 700 women with access to advanced business education, international networks, monitoring and capital. Thunderbird also helped to develop the curriculum for that program, which ultimately graduated 728 women.

A closing event encompassing both of the SWEP training programs is the third and final component. The event is planned for late February 2014 in Lima, Peru, and will include opportunities to examine the overall project experience, share lessons learned and foster debate around women entrepreneurship development.

Participants from both Proyecto Salta and 10,000 Women will be invited to the closing event, along with government officials, microfinance institutions and nonprofit organizations working to support women’s entrepreneurship and economic development.

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