By FedEx Get Ahead.
You might not initially realize that the eBay seller who caught your eye is a crafts maker in Guatemala, but as entrepreneur Maria Pacheco explains it, that’s the beauty of the global marketplace: unexpected connections. Take one small enterprise in a remote part of the planet, link it to e-commerce, and “you can connect in a way that creates new opportunities.”
In 2003 Pacheco founded Kiej de los Bosques, or Protector of the Forests, to jumpstart economic opportunities in her native Guatemala. So far she has worked directly with 50 of its rural communities — about 1,500 people in all, 80 percent of whom are women — to launch business ventures and plug them in to local and international markets.
To expand her organization’s reach, Pacheco recently created Wakami World, an import-export business for indigenous, rural groups selling such handmade goods as accessories and textiles dyed from native plants. She says her group, which debuted its products on eBay, acts as a bridge to help these women become part of the global supply chain.
“Access creates connections,” says Pacheco. “And that’s our mission: to link worlds. We see the products we create as messengers between worlds that need to meet.”
Help a woman, transform a community
Though she didn’t set out to focus on women, Pacheco has witnessed their power to change a community. “When a woman gains a source of income, the first thing she will do is invest in her children,” she says. She will demand better education, activate the local economy and participate in politics — thereby transforming not only her life, but also the future of her family and her community.
Pacheco helped design an economic development program, which was awarded $60 million in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank. Its goal is to provide 300 rural groups in Guatemala with access to markets, technical assistance and public infrastructure. “By working with communities, you can see change happen,” she says. “Once you believe in change and transformation, you want to make it available to everybody.”
Pacheco was born in Guatemala in 1960, the year that civil war broke out there. She witnessed famine and suffering in nearby refugee camps but maintained a bright outlook. “My inspiration is to bring healing and hope to people who have no hope,” she says. “It inspires me to see people’s dreams come to life.”
Expanding outreach with ally FedEx
Early in 2009 Pacheco published a children’s book, Wakami’s Gate, about how the world is interconnected. The book made its way into the hands of Michael Ducker, president of the international division of FedEx Express, who was impressed by her mission. That began a relationship with FedEx that is helping Protector of the Forests expand its reach.
“Maria’s story will pull at your heartstrings,” says Andrew Russell, manager of sales collaboration at FedEx. “We have a great platform and can help entrepreneurs bring their products to the globe.”
A Fulbright scholar and winner of a 2007 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award, Pacheco explains that her vision is to help women in diverse parts of the world, such as Kenya and Peru, develop their own products and connect them with new opportunities.
“Once the platform is set up it can grow exponentially, creating access for many communities of the world to the global marketplace,” she says. “We believe this is the way not just out of poverty, but really a way into prosperity.”
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