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Enrique Garcia

December 23rd, 2019

Border of Opportunity: Entrepreneurs in the Venezuelan-Colombian Border

3 comments | 9 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Enrique Garcia

December 23rd, 2019

Border of Opportunity: Entrepreneurs in the Venezuelan-Colombian Border

3 comments | 9 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Walking through the streets of Villa del Rosario and Cucuta is like walking through a massive 24/7 flee-market, located in the middle of an outdoor airport, with no security and staff. Yet, amidst the crude daily chaos and challenging layout, there lies a spark of entrepreneurship that is helping to build a vibrant business culture based on survival and inclusiveness. This post is in recognition of these awesome and courageous entrepreneurs.

 

Not many people have heard of Villa del Rosario. It is a small town that lies on the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia, which is today considered ground zero to the second largest migrant exodus in world. Although the immigration phenomenon from Venezuela has extended its fragile arms to all countries in the region, Colombia has absorbed the weight of the crisis, mostly due to that fact that the two nations share over 2,200km of border. Every day, more than 25,000 Venezuelans flow through the two main bridges located in Villa del Rosario — 50% of these migrants are classified as “pendular”, which means they cross back and forth daily, and the other 50% are labelled “caminantes”, who cross through Colombia to begin a long journey onto other South American destinations. Of the 4.5 million people who have left Venezuela, almost 1.6 million have stayed in Colombia. By 2020 the IMF expects these numbers to grow to 6.5 million and 2.3 million respectively, constituting it as the largest migrant exodus in the world, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

The Venezuelan and Colombian border has always been liquid and transparent; for years commerce and transit has flowed not only through their three main customs bridges, but also through their entire shared landscape. In this context, it has always been near-impossible for local authorities to manage up to date statistics and census data, which by default creates an impenetrable asymmetric information challenge for national and local authorities when designing integration policies. One could identify these challenges as being structural market failures of border communities which merit their own analysis and contextualization.

If we focus on the population that has decided to stay within the Colombian borders, some of the fundamental challenges to tackle are how to integrate these populations into productive assets and how to minimize Aporophobia. Unlike Xenophobia, which is racially or ethnically derived, Aporophobia is the rejection of communities due to income disparities, or in other words, it is the rejection of “poor people.”

International authorities and academics have determined that if proper regulation is to be implemented, this influx of human capital could translate to a 0.1 – 0.3% GDP boost to receiving economies between 2017-2030. Notwithstanding the legal and humanitarian challenges of receiving such monumental flows of people, several international organizations and local governments are beginning to design and implement entrepreneurship programs and accelerators to boost this integration agenda.

One of these initiatives is a collaboration between local foundation Fundación Hablemos (@FunHablemos) and the UNDP. Beginning in April 2019 they identified 200x micro businesses in the Villa del Rosario and Cucuta region and selected an initial cohort of 12x businesses which would receive accelerator grant funding along with ongoing training. The main purpose of this piece is to spotlight two of these entrepreneurs and share a few responses we recorded from them:

Note: interviews have been translated from their original Spanish language into English by the Author and the SPP Blog editing team.

 

Spotlight One

Business: Creaciones Inquietos
Owner: Nelly Malaver

 

Where are you from?
I was born in Colombia but lived in Venezuela for fifteen years.

 

What is your business?
I manufacture a children’s clothing line for boys and girls ages 0-12. We purchase textiles from local suppliers as well as source them from excess/residue waste of larger manufacturers. 90% of our clients are from Venezuela who purchase here and transport the merchandize by foot across the border.

 

 

Nelly Malaver with her Mission Statement

 

How many employees do you have and who are they?
I have 30 employees, many are Venezuelan. I have always seen the Venezuelan people as being our brothers. I have a network of “satellite” employees, which means I allow them to work from home. I have young women who, before starting to work for me, were forced into selling themselves for money. I let them design, stitch, and bring ideas from the safety of their homes.

L-R: One of the Creaciones Inquietos satellite Workshops and samples of Creaciones Inquietos

 

What are the unique selling points of your business?
We make our clothing with love; we think about our kids when designing and stitching our merchandize. I became an entrepreneurship to survive, many years ago I got cancer and my husband left me, no one wanted to hire me, and I started doing the only think I knew how to do. Today, I am independent, I am cancer-free, and I am able to help other women who have been stripped of their dignity like I once was.

If you received $1,000, how would you invest it?
We want to start selling our clothes in bio-degradable bags, to be more conscious with the environment. We also want to start selling in other cities such as Bucaramanga, San Gil, Apartado. I have retailers calling me every week asking me to send them product. If I have a car, I could triple my sales in one year.

Nelly Malaver and some of her team members.

Migration is ________

An opportunity. This business was born out of need, and so to can many more.

 

Spotlight Two

Business: Artesanias Rosabel

Onwer: Cindy Gualdron

 

Where are you from?

Colombia, here from the North Santander Province, but my parents are Venezuelan.

 

Colombian Arepa or Venezuelan Arepa?

Venezuelan actually…Colombian don’t even come close (author’s note: awesome response)

 

What is your business?

We are a family business that makes handmade craft sculptures. My parents started the business, my sisters and I have always worked in it, but it never grew until we started hiring Venezuelan artisans from San Antonio del Táchira and Merida. Once we hired them, we were able to expand our portfolio of ideas and production capacity.

 

How many employees do you have and who are they?

Four of our employees are Venezuelan, and two still live there and commute every day across the border. It isn’t very practical because they are often delayed or blocked from entering due to security risks or robberies. But we love them, they bring a lot of skill and are very detail oriented and cultured.

 

Work in progress from Artesanias Rosabel workshop

 

What are the unique selling points of your business?

We make everything by hand in our home, the only mechanical device we have is the air compressor to paint the main ceramic slabs. Each sculpture takes about 20 minutes to make from the mold, and two weeks to dry outdoors and details.

Above: Sample items from Artesanias Rosabel 

Below: Artesanias Rosabel Crafter. other image shows the author of this article, Enrique with Cindy Gualdron of Artesanias Rosabel.

 

If you received $1,000, how would you invest it?

Purchase a wheeled trolley or a small bike with a sidecar and hire a few part-time delivery boys. We wrap and package them by the dozen, and now we have over 22x store clients who pick them up. If we could deliver, we would be able to grow that client list to at least 48x.

What software or training do you need?

Social Media. I lend my phone to one of our employees every night to cross the border, but once I get a new one, I want to learn how to promote through Instagram and do a Youtube video of our process.

 

From a business standpoint, it is interesting how these entrepreneurs need only a little bit of a capital to keep innovating and scaling. The idea of hypothetically receiving $1,000 USD is outside their daily scope of reality, and questions relating to their future are often discombobulating and nerve-wrecking. When asked what their businesses need the most, the petitions are small: a computer, security locks, Instagram training. Similarly, the most difficult questions are where they see their businesses in twelve months, what their marginal cost to produce is, and what their operational burn-rate is. This tells us that having access to accounting and inventory management tools would help them obtain a more transparent understanding of their business needs. This is just a sneak peak of the many interactions we had, but what is worth highlighting after these conversations is the contrast between the immaterial talents these entrepreneurs share and the material limitations they live with.

 

 

About the author

Enrique Garcia

Enrique Garcia comes from a Cuban family and was raised in Venezuela until he attended University in Boston College/US. He spent the last six years as an entrepreneur in the beverage sector, both in the US and in Cambodia, and most recently started a career transition into the Public Policy and Economic sectors by enrolling in the EMPA program at LSE and writing part-time for UK-based publication The Business Year in Colombia.

Posted In: An EMPA Student Writes

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