Sunday, July 7, 2013

The power of 10 years of partnership

Farmers in their new shirtsMOMBACHITO, Nicaragua --- In the hills of Mombachito, a partnership brought six village farmers together to create a sustainable way of living that uproots poverty from their lives.   Ten years later, these Nicaraguan farmers are business people with faith that their shared vision can be achieved!

“They were brave enough to dream, and bold enough to believe they could reach their dreams,” said Daniel Espinoza, Partners Worldwide's Partnership Manager in Nicaragua.  “It has been amazing to see how God put the puzzle together and blessed the Mombachito farmers with mentoring relationships and legal land ownership for the first time.  This was only possible by God´s grace and the power of partnerships.”
In 2002, these farmers took the first steps on the journey to become land owners.  At that time, most of them rented land and had very few opportunities to earn a consistent income—working as day laborers for big landowners in the area.  The work available for Ricardo and Jenny Rodriguez, one of these farming families, depended on the cycle of seasonal crops.  More often than not, they struggled to provide for their own young children. 
“We were a poor and disillusioned family without hope, without a future of opportunities,” said Ricardo.  “But one day a blessing came from God.”
Mombachito partners

Transformation began with a simple idea to connect the farming families with land ownership and market opportunities.  Through a partnership between a local organization, the international organization World Renew, and Partners Worldwide, a Land Bank program was created to hold the title deed to properties, facilitate collections over an estimated 7-10 years required to pay of the land, and provide technical training for the farmers.  The local organization also provided key technical support to the farmers throughout the early years.
An essential component was the mentoring relationships Partners Worldwide provided through a Farmer-to-Farmer partnership.  In 2002, U.S. farmers from Iowa began building lasting relationships with the Nicaraguan farmers, mentoring them on business development and the challenges common to farmers everywhere.  The transformation within the partnership has been a two-way street, as the Nicaraguan farmers have turned their new land into agricultural enterprises rather than just a source of food for subsistence.  To this day, the U.S. farmers have walked alongside the Nicaraguan farmers, encouraging and mentoring them through their shared passion—a love for the land. 
Since the partnership began, the farmers have produced high-value crops.  And, after years of adversity and success, tears and laughter, the six families have paid off their land one year sooner than they originally planned.  They now own their own land free and clear!

Farmer to farmer partnership  
According to Espinoza, “Before the Farmer-to-Farmer partnership, the Nicaraguan farmers weren’t confident.”  While most of them have a basic education, their participation in the Land Bank community, the formal agricultural training and the way that their partners walk alongside has produced a 180-degree turn, he says.  “They are more secure within their decisions, negotiations, and how they do business.  They’d never imagined before that they could do business.  They now see themselves as businesspeople.” 
In addition to growing high-value crops on their own land, Ricardo and the other farmers took full advantage of the mentoring, training, sustainable farming tools, and access to capital available through the partnership.  Beyond their land, they now own essential coffee processing facilities and machinery.   As a result, in 2008, the farmers started roasting and selling organic coffee beans supplied from their own farms and others in the area.
The biggest transformation is that the farmers have persevered, said Espinoza.  “Perseverance is one of the keys to succeed in partnership,” he said.   With the encouragement and mentoring support provided, farmers in Mombachito have realized that they most often have the answers for the problems they face―they only lacked the encouragement and support that the Partners Worldwide mentors have provided. As seen throughout the years, the farmers’ shared vision has not been in vain and their perseverance has paid off.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Salt producer and cooperative employ 130

Nicaraguan salt cooperative
LEÓN, Nicaragua --- Gustavo Castillo is an ordinary man with an extraordinary sense of entrepreneurship. With a vision to restore dignity and provide employment to people of rural western Nicaragua, Gustavo is dedicated to doing business as a ministry.

This new vision began in 2012, when a friend invited Gustavo to attend a meeting hosted by Business for the Kingdom, one of our partnerships in Nicaragua.
The Business for the Kingdom partnership seeks to promote real and tangible impact in local communities in order that local businesses are strengthened, more profitable, and create more jobs.  However, it all begins with a change in the entrepreneurs themselves.
“The whole journey gave me a brand new business worldview,” says Gustavo, one of two dozen business Salt cooperative meetingowners within the partnership.  He felt affirmed to continue growing his business as a ministry, and increasing employment in the rural region where he works.
After that first experience, Gustavo participated in the rigorous Partners Worldwide business training program with peers in León, as well as workshops and peer-mentoring discussions on business leadership. He is thankful to be a part of a Christian business network like Business for the Kingdom. 
Now he's working to apply this new knowledge to his own business.  With over 30 years in the salt industry, Gustavo employs more than 30 people in his business, Las Mulas.
“For many of his employees, this is the only opportunity they have to bring food to their tables and feed their families,” says Daniel Espinoza, the Partners Worldwide partnership manager in Nicaragua.  “It brings dignity to them as the heads of families, and equips them to feed their families and send their kids to school, something they wouldn’t be able to access without that job.” 
As a small business owner, about a decade ago, Gustavo realized it was challenging to compete and produce such a high-quality product on a larger scale.  In response, he and other salt producers decided to work together to provide edible fine salt that meets national and international standards. Their initiative gave birth to a cooperative which has grown to more than 60 small business owners today, together employing more than 130 people.  In partnership with a larger processing company, the cooperative supplies Nicaragua’s only fine salt distributed throughout the country. They also share the vision to grow beyond Nicaragua and sell fine salt throughout Central America.
In addition, Business for the Kingdom hopes to expand beyond León and Chinandega, to connect business owners and entrepreneurs throughout surrounding regions with Biblically-based business training and mentoring relationships with North Americans and experienced business professionals within Nicaragua.
“Now they have a group they feel they belong to,” says Espinoza about members of Business for the Kingdom. “Within the Christian business partnership, they’re being empowered by a shared vision to impact the community and can also provide support and encouragement to each other."
Business for the Kingdom is a partnership between the Nehemiah Center and Partners Worldwide and is active in León and Chinandega. This partnership connects Nicaraguan businesses with a group of North American businesspeople who mentor and walk alongside them.