Small-scale shopkeepers, known locally as tenderos, are the beating heart of many communities across Latin America. For us, they also represent an important outlet through which to sell our products, accounting for a substantial percentage of our sales volumes in the region.

But life is not always easy for a tendero. Many of these shops run on a subsistence basis, earning just enough revenue to meet the daily needs of the owners and their families. Others lack formal business registration, which makes it difficult to access finance from mainstream providers such as banks. They may also be missing one or more of the required licenses and permits to operate, due to a lack of understanding of the relevant regulations.

For some time now, our Latin American businesses have been helping micro enterprises like the tenderos to become a part of the formal economy.

For example, the Oportunidades Bavaria program in Colombia has enabled close to 25,000 tenderos to obtain micro credit worth more than US$40 million, while the Progresando Juntos (Progressing Together) initiative in El Salvador aims to provide market opportunities for micro enterprises in sectors including retail and farming.

These initiatives have been broadened to cover six Latin American countries – Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Honduras and El Salvador. It will support 40,000 tenderos who, between them, serve around 1.7 million households and more than seven million people.

This new phase is called 4e, Camino al Progreso (Path to Progress) and represents an innovative model for alleviating poverty, formalizing businesses and promoting social inclusion. We are running it in partnership with the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank, and FUNDES.

Through 4e, tenderos have the opportunity to develop the skills that will improve the sustainability of their businesses as well as the quality of life of their families. It also equips them to make a fuller contribution to improving the welfare and development of communities where they live.

The ‘4e’ of the program’s title reflects the four stages (cuatro etapas) that tenderos pass through. These are:

  • Stage I – Responsible Tendero: where they are helped to improve their business and leadership skills.
  • Stage II – Sustainable Tendero: with the development of their tiendas (shops), they can provide better opportunities for their family and undertake a business project where everyone can participate and benefit.
  • Stage III – Excellent Tendero: tenderos are helped to grow their tiendas, bringing new products and improving services so they can generate positive changes in their community.
  • Stage IV – Leader Tendero: tenderos are guided in ways to stimulate positive changes in their neighborhood by identifying needs and taking leadership in problem-solving.

 

Colombia

Yolanda is a 55 year old tienda owner. She lives in a house with her daughter and two grandchildren in Bosa, Bogotá.

The front part of the house’s ground floor, which was originally the garage, forms her tienda. At the back is the kitchen, two small bedrooms and a patio that doubles up as storage space. Her daughter and grandchildren live upstairs.

Yolanda has dedicated the past ten years of her life to her tienda. Every morning, as her daughter leaves for work, she helps her two grandsons get ready for school. Then, as she learned in her 4e training sessions, she prepares her tienda by checking stock and making sure it’s clean and tidy.

William, Yolanda’s 4e coach visits her to review what she learned in the previous 4e training session and will spend about two hours with her each time.

Now, with William’s help, Yolanda knows how to better manage her tienda giving her more time to spend with her grandchildren.

 

Panama

Analida has managed her father’s tienda for five years, which is part of her father’s house.

She is 43 years old and lives with her husband and two children in a house very close to her father’s, in Parita, a district of Herrera Province.

Analida’s father taught her how to manage the store, and she is also responsible for its cleaning and maintenance.

Every day she wakes up early to start work at 7:00am. She loves the tienda and already knows about merchandising and stock rotation.

Analida took part in 4e to meet people who could give her advice on how to build the business. Her wish is to one day own a small supermarket, with a parking lot, surrounded by flowers and with happy customers.

 

Peru

Ruth participated in ‘4e, Camino al Progreso’ on the first term that ran in Peru from September to December 2013.

She lives in Villa El Salvador, an urban and largely residential coastal district on the outskirts of Lima, with her husband and children.

Her husband works as a motorcycle taxi driver. When his motorcycle was stolen, they had to take out a loan to buy another. Ruth knew they would have to work hard to repay the loan, and it was this situation that motivated her to take part in 4e.

Ruth owns a tienda. Every day at 5:30am she is awake and baking bread to sell in her tienda, which will stay open until approximately 10:00pm. Through 4e Ruth has learned that her business has very strong competition; there is a tienda next door to hers, so she must work hard to compete and keep growing. Daniel, Ruth’s 4e coach, persuaded her to extend and make her tienda bigger. Daniel also showed Ruth how to organize her tienda. Now everything is neatly arranged by category, which encourages her customers to return.

Ruth has also had the chance to meet and build relationships with other tenderos, to share her stories with them and learn from theirs. She speaks very highly of Daniel. She is thankful that he took the time to get to know her and identify ways to improve her business.

Practical benefits offered by the program include improved marketing and retailing skills, access to credit and financial services and assistance with business formalization, including relevant permits to operate.

Responsible retailing is another key aspect of 4e – tenderos are encouraged to request identification when selling alcohol and not to sell alcohol to anyone under their country’s legal drinking age.

The 4e program also plays an important role in empowering women, who run 70% of these small stores as head of the household. According to the World Bank, economically empowering women boosts GDP, enhances productivity and feeds other development outcomes including those for children. Levelling the gender playing field can, in time, also lead to a fairer and more inclusive society.

 

El Salvador

Maria Sonia Vasquez from El Salvador is a typical tendera who is benefiting from the program. Maria and her husband were both unemployed, but she did not want a future where they were unable to provide for their children.

So she opened up a very small grocery store, gradually moving on to preparing and selling food. And now, with the help of the 4e program, she has been able to establish a successful and thriving diner.

 

A version of this story was first published on SABMiller.com on 18 June 2014