Students dive into El Salvador’s rich history during Executive MBA trip

Entrepreneurship and the Intersection of Economic Development, Gender and Global Coffee Industry

By Tisha Tallman

Entrepreneurial empowerment takes on a breadth and depth unknown to me in any other context. This El Salvador Executive MBA trip was an amazing experience from beginning to end, enabling students and alumni the opportunity to experience social enterprise in an emerging market context with the political, historical, social and cultural layers unique to El Salvador’s rich history.

In a country where 20 percent of the population lives abroad, sending home remittances to make up about 20 percent of the GDP (the second largest source of income after exports), and where cooperative land ownership is preferred over individual or female ownership, the women entrepreneurs we visited are most certainly exceptional.

With 74.7 percent of land use devoted to agriculture, while exceptional, it was only natural that a few of the female entrepreneurs we visited were utilizing land as an integral part of their business, whether through coffee production, indigo farming or a butterfly farm.

Female land ownership in this part of the world is still uncommon through statutory, cultural and/or political barriers. Land ownership, in general, has been a challenge in Latin America and was a subject of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. When civil war broke out in 1980, a very small percentage of the population owned land; land owners mostly owned land for coffee production. Since the civil war, there has been a preference for cooperative ownership for women. As such, while gender inequalities in agriculture persists in Latin America, including El Salvador, two of the three female entrepreneurs that have businesses involving land had inherited the land from their fathers.

Rhina de Rehmann inherited an indigo farm from her father. During the civil war, the family was allowed to keep the land and was allowed to continue with production, but the family was not allowed to come onto the land. Following the civil war, Rhina found the soil to be degrading, turning into sand. Instead of resorting to selling sand for profit, as her neighbors had, she turned her farm into an organic farm. She now runs one of only two organic indigo farms in the world. Continuing in this tradition, she has accomplished more than employing individuals. She is keeping tradition alive; the tradition of growing indigo, and passing along the artisan dyeing techniques unique to indigo in this part of the world. In addition, by turning her farm organic, she has created a sustainable source of income for those that may follow her.

Bio Arte Mariposas recycles butterfly wings by turning the wings into unique pieces of jewelry.  The butterflies come from a butterfly farm owned by the same entrepreneur. The farm preserves butterflies, and the surrounding land, as her farm serves as a buffer zone. She and a group of other butterfly farmers from around the region are preserving butterflies thought to have nearly gone extinct from environmental disasters. Now more than ever, with climate change and the increased frequency of natural disasters, her profession is serving the environment. The owner utilizes the jewelry business to assist with supporting the farm and the workers at the farm. Once a bucket of beautiful butterfly wings, now a resource for the farm, consumer and environment.

Recycling, community, environment and family were all themes that motivated these amazing entrepreneurs. Each alone contributing to the empowerment of female entrepreneurs, artisans and workers alike.

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