Being a businesswoman is different from being a businessman. Some of the differences stem from external expectations related to gender and culture, while others arise from within ourselves.
Last week, I spoke with several women business owners whose stories will help highlight some of these differences. One visit was to an incredible private school here in Tegucigalpa. The Sunshine School is owned and operated by women and has a special focus on STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics).
The owner recently received a small business loan from Banco LaFise, enabling her to expand her business. During our conversation, the owner shared something impactful: “I never thought of myself as a businesswoman; I saw myself as an educator.” I suppose many of you may share the same tendency. Do you also consider yourselves businesswomen? As women, we often underestimate ourselves and our contributions.
This can hold us back from thinking big and focusing on expanding our businesses. We are here to help you make that shift towards an entrepreneurial mindset. As women, we must confront gender stereotypes and cultural norms. Many people believe that women are less capable or think that women should do all the household work and take care of the children. Even when women are highly capable, they are sometimes excluded from family businesses or lack proper education.
But sometimes life changes rapidly. Last week, I also spoke with two young and successful coffee producers who shared their stories with me. Both women were not working outside the home until tragedy struck. In one case, their father died of COVID, and he was the sole provider for the family with his farm. In the other case, a young mother of three became a widow and found herself with a coffee farm and no knowledge of coffee production.
But both women succeeded. Like all of you, they sought training. Today, they manage farms that produce the highest quality coffee in their areas, with the lowest production costs. Managing their farms as businesses, not just lands with coffee trees, makes a significant difference. They have not only supported their families but have significantly increased family income. And now, they are training other young women and sharing their stories of empowerment and financial independence.
Today, I want to celebrate the unrecognized heroines of Honduras: women entrepreneurs. In various sectors such as retail, craftsmanship, and agriculture, they are weaving a story of resilience, creativity, and economic empowerment.
Welcome to the celebration of women entrepreneurs, where each story is a testimony to strength and creativity. It is a pleasure to be with you on this special occasion, surrounded by the entrepreneurial spirit that defines your communities.
In every market, fertile agricultural lands, and local business corridors, women are at the forefront of economic activity. The products they produce represent the economic backbone of many families. For governments, creating an environment where businesses led by women can thrive is a commitment to supporting Honduran families.
The regulatory framework must be designed with a deep understanding of the challenges women face in different sectors. Reducing bureaucratic obstacles, ensuring fair market access, and supporting local initiatives are vital steps.
Governments play a fundamental role in empowering women entrepreneurs. Our goal goes beyond merely sustaining these businesses. We aim to propel their aspirations, providing opportunities to achieve new levels of success and prosperity.
The U.S. Embassy is your partner in this effort. Our commitment goes beyond words and is reflected in concrete actions through programs like today’s and the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), among others.
AWE is designed to equip women with the skills and knowledge needed to build and scale their businesses. Access to funding is a critical factor in the success of any business. The U.S. Embassy is actively working to bridge this gap. Through programs like our partnership with Banco LaFise mentioned earlier, we facilitate access to the capital needed for expansion, innovation, and sustained growth.
Returning to the story of the Sunshine School, the owner explained how she went from bank to bank seeking a loan. But, like many women, she was rejected numerous times because she lacked a prior loan repayment history and had nothing to offer as collateral. Banco LaFise granted the loan using guarantees from the U.S. government. Do you know how many times Banco LaFise has had a business owned by women default on their loan? Zero! The owner said she almost gave up, but today her school is open, and her students are competing in global robotics competitions in countries like Brazil and Singapore.
This conference should be more than just a meeting. It should be a platform for collaboration, learning, and networking across various sectors. Private investment can be the catalyst to expand these businesses, reach new markets, and amplify their impact.
Therefore, to drive this key engine in economic development, governments must focus on economic policies that attract private investment. To women entrepreneurs in Honduras, I offer words of admiration and encouragement. Together, we can create an environment of economic prosperity, cultural richness, and inclusive growth.
Thank you very much.