How women became the top entrepreneurs in Brazil’s slums

In one of my previous posts about the Brazil slums – Favela Rising – I talked about how resourceful someone has to be in the favelas (slums). That is exactly what I meant by the entrepreneurial spirit. But, what does it take for someone to be an entrepreneur in the most deprived parts of the country?

According to a study from Data Popular in partnership with CUFA (Central Unica das Favelas), found that 29% of favela residents said the main reason to become an entrepreneur was the possibility to be your own boss, 22% to have a regular income and 20% to have the opportunity to earn a little more. The same study found that 49% of men and 51% of women in the favelas want to become entrepreneurs. Although the difference is not big, it’s fair to say that women are and have become successful entrepreneurs in that community.

One success story is Favela Organica (Organic Favela) – founder Regina Tchelly left her birthplace in Paraiba state (northeast of Brazil) to Rio de Janeiro in 2001. Working as a maid, Regina noticed how much food was discarded by the street markets in Rio. Then Regina spent years thinking about a way to educated people to prevent such food waste. Then the idea of Favela Organica was born: self-taught Regina came up with the idea of workshops where she would teach the people from the favela how to make the most of food. So, Regina gathered few mothers from her community and they made a kitty of BRL 140.00 (just USD 45) to start the first workshop and she hasn’t stopped since. Her mission is “to give life to the food that people generally ignore, making reinterpretations of recipes and introducing these elements in our day to day lives”, says Regina on her website.

From informal jobs to business owners

And this type of entrepreneurial business are growing more and more, and non-profit entities like Sebrae are investing and giving support for many of these ideas. According to their website, the most significant business segments supported by the Sebrae in the slums were: food/catering (18.5%), retail trade (17.6%) and beauty parlours (11.7%).

The project Mulheres Empreendedoras (Women Entrepreneur) promoted by the Rotary Club and Sebrae Rio, counted with 60 women from Rio’s favelas.

The project coordinator and spokesperson of Rotary Brazil, Alice Lorentz, points out that the professional learning dedicated to the female audience reflects on family income. “They [women] seek the local demand for their business and try to meet this demand. These women earn their living collaborating with the community itself “. So, having their own business not only helps their family income but benefits the community and it makes me think this results in a greater sense of community spirit too.

The project also come to break misconceptions about being an entrepreneur. One of the participants, Vivian Pereira, said “we [women in the favelas] thought that only people with “fat” bank accounts could be entrepreneurs, but the course showed that we also are capable. And now we have become business owners”.

Photo: Regina Tchelly – Favela Organica

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