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LATIN AMERICA: Enterprising Women Network for Support and Success

Raúl Pierri

MONTEVIDEO, Jul 26 2007 (IPS) - Martha Elena González worked hard to make a success of her small family bakery, like many other women in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. But she only got the support she needed when she met another woman over the Internet, who was carrying out a project of her own thousands of kilometres to the south.

Leticia Cardozo, in Uruguay, was trying to advertise her pastry cooking courses. The two women met through Women Into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement (WINNER).

The WINNER network was created by the DEVNET Association (which carries out projects in information technology, trade and business), the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It aims to connect communities of women producers all over the world.

González and Cardozo began to contact each other frequently in March. Their contact went beyond merely exchanging experiences and information about their businesses; they found the support they each needed to confront and overcome their difficulties.

“One finds emotional support, a family. Martha thanked me very much for all the information I sent her, and she said that she was praying for me, and for my business to succeed,” Cardozo told IPS.

WINNER, financed by the Italian government’s Cooperation for Development programme, links up small businesses run by women, women’s organisations and women’s foundations, said its coordinator in Uruguay, María de los Ángeles Torres, who was participating in the project’s regional meeting for Latin America in Montevideo on Wednesday.

“We’re meeting to analyse the prospects for the network, and how we are continuing to develop and grow as we work to strengthen women’s enterprises, self-esteem and personal development,” she told IPS.

The WINNER website ( offers exchanges and business opportunities in a wide range of areas: food, leather goods, software, crafts, herbal medicines, flowers, seeds, chemical products, raw materials for clothing manufacturers, human resources management and garments.

The network also offers courses in management, international trade and new technologies, by personal attendance or distance learning.

WINNER began as a pilot project in 1999, with the participation of Albania, Ecuador, Nepal, the Philippines and Rumania. Later, more countries joined from every continent.

Today there are 18 national offices and 123 support representatives serving a community of 15,000 small businesswomen, of whom 4,200 live in Latin America. Over 230 non-governmental women’s organisations cooperate with the network, said Torres in Montevideo.

“We have a presence in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, and now Latin America is participating, through women in Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We are planning to branch out into West Africa and the rest of the countries of Latin America, in an effort to reach as many women as possible who could benefit from this project,” she said.

The network aims to promote interactive work between women who are starting small businesses as a livelihood, and who usually suffer from isolation, she said.

“We want them to be able to offer their products, and to make them visible, in order for them to increase sales and find new markets, and we provide training in business management, applying a gender perspective,” Torres said.

The WINNER portal also offers information needed for making decisions in business, such as information on credit, statistics, legislation, news items of interest to women entrepreneurs and experiences of women in other countries.

Wednesday’s meeting was attended by Uruguayan Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, Minister for Industry and Energy Jorge Lepra, Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Patrizia Sentinelli, UNDP’s resident representative in Uruguay, Pablo Mandeville, and the secretary general of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI), Didier Opertti, among others.

Beatriz Cardozo, Leticia’s sister, also joined the network to promote her cultural and visual arts centre. She contacted several women producers in areas far away from the capital city of Uruguay, who were able to sell crafts, liqueurs and sweets to tourists through her, something they would never have been able to do from their home towns.

Jaqueline Magallanes, a producer in the central Uruguayan department (province) of Florida, is one of these women. She is grateful to WINNER not only because of the economic benefits, but particularly because of the way it has changed her life. The network “broadens your mind,” she told IPS.

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