By Leisa Meadows
Sandra Reategui, a graduate student in economics at Utah State University, put what she had learned in the classroom to work in the real world when she started a nonprofit organization in Lima, Peru, to help women entrepreneurs.
In June 2004 Reategui started the organization ORDEM, which is an acronym in Spanish meaning "organization for the development of women entrepreneurs."
The organization provides microloans of $100 to women who want to start their own businesses. It also serves as a source of business consultation to help women formulate effective business plans.
"Once given the opportunity, the women found skills they never even knew they had," said Reategui. "Many of them felt like it redefined who they were, because they were now able providers."
Microloans have become recognized worldwide as a major asset to jump-starting a small business. Loaning even a small amount of money makes it possible for an entrepreneur to take the first step toward starting their own business, Reategui said. Additionally, small business owners are able to repay the small amount of money quickly and easily.
Reategui traveled to Huanchaco, Peru, this past summer with two professors and 14 other students from various universities. During this trip the group applied an economic strategy they had learned in the classroom to a real-life scenario.
"We used asset-based community development," said Reategui. "This strategy focuses on using the existing assets of the community to create economic growth from within."
The group decided to start a small restaurant using assets already in the community.
Some of the local people supplied eggs from their chickens, others donated a pig or a cow, and many of the women offered their cooking and cleaning skills. Each family donated the equivalent of one American dollar to the restaurant, making them all investors, Reategui said.
The food in the restaurant was sold at cost to accommodate the many poor people in the community. Profit was generated by supplying catering services to nearby towns, thus keeping the revenue within the local economy, said Reategui.
Reategui said she enjoyed seeing the changes in the people she worked with more than any other aspect of her experience in Peru.
"The opportunity to contribute to their community and better provide for their families gave them a feeling of self-reliance and increased their self-esteem," said Reategui. "We took them the first, small step, and this generated a sense of purpose and direction that drove them the rest of the way."
ORDEM is currently on hold while Reategui works on her master’s degree, but she plans to return to Peru this summer. Upon graduating she hopes to continue working with nonprofit organizations, preferably internationally.