Lucía Bonilla & Carlos Marroquín - Nov 10 2021
Add to Cart – Transitioning Small Businesses in El Salvador Online

Juana de Zelada, owner of Jannaz, where she teaches how to create pieces of art made with embroidery.

In El Salvador, 50 women-led micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) transformed their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and entered the e-commerce era.

Whether micro, small, or medium in size, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every company. In El Salvador, MSMEs struggled with five months of lockdown and for those that make ends meet with what they sell each month at their stores, shifting to a digital strategy was necessary to keep their businesses alive.

In El Salvador, the USAID Economic Competitiveness Project is a five-year initiative aimed at strengthening the capacities of MSMEs, boosting growth in sales, and generating jobs. In light of the pandemic, this work was needed more than ever before. The project re-focused priorities and turned to digital transformation as a strategy to keep MSMEs afloat. In a world that had changed in the blink of an eye, new capacities were needed.

The project set out to support the smaller companies together with one of its key partners, the National Commission for Micro and Small Enterprises (CONAMYPE), especially those led by women.

Supporting Women Business Owners

The Program for the Acceleration of Women-led Businesses (“Acelera Empresaria” in Spanish) is a five-month program in which participants receive training and tailored technical assistance, within a business acceleration model in leadership, digital solutions and technological tools, business models, scalability, taxes and financing, and COVID-19 legal considerations, among others.

By going through the program, each company launches a brand redesign and digital strategy update to boost or generate new online sales, and develop strategies to expand business, all to help them recuperate from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My business now has no boundaries."

Juana de Zelada is one of the 25 entrepreneurs who participated in the program in 2020. She is the owner of an art studio called Jannaz, where she teaches how to create pieces of art made with embroidery.

“The USAID project’s support came exactly at the right time,” says de Zelada. “With the COVID-19 lockdown, I had to close my workshop. But I didn’t want to lose my students, so I turned to using videocalls with each of them to continue with the classes. But that is all I could think of.”

“Art during the lockdown became a sort of escape, helping people focus their minds on something else rather than what was going on around us. So, I knew I had to carry on with my work,” de Zelada adds.

She learned about the opportunity to join Acelera Empresaria through her counsellor at CONAMYPE. “CONAMYPE has always been a key partner for me and when I learned about this opportunity that was also supported by USAID, I knew I had to be in it,” she explains.

USAID offered training and technical assistance, and de Zelada transformed her traditional venture into an e-commerce business. She built a new website with a store and an online platform for her training courses. She also improved her marketing strategy through social networks, a particularly encouraging addition since she had never used social networks before. “To say my business grew by 200 percent is to say too little. My business now has no boundaries. I now have many students abroad,” de Zelada says.

Marta and Celina Hernández also joined the initiative in 2021. The two sisters are the owners and creators of “Sondos,” a brand of handicrafts. “Our creations speak beautifully about El Salvador. All of our designs are inspired in El Salvador, in its culture, in its history, legends, and nature,” Celina explains.

“When the COVID-19 lockdown came, we were just starting our plans to export our products. Needless to say, those plans were postponed,” Marta adds.

With the economy slowly reopening, and people trying to get back to their normal lives, Marta and Celina did too, and opened their first store in a very popular mall in San Salvador. Then, the opportunity to join Acelera Empresaria came. “The program has helped us identify the lack of knowledge we had as self-made businesswomen,” notes Celina. “We learned we were calculating our costs wrong, for example, and if our plans were to export, we needed to improve them.”

Broadening Impact

As a result of this initiative, 50 entrepreneurs have received assistance and have strengthened their capacities as business owners and broadened their reach using digital tools. This together has led to the generation of USD 214,155 in new sales and 47 new jobs in less than a year.
Furthermore, despite the COVID-19 lockdown, 70 percent of the program participants managed to maintain their sales and 30 percent increased their sales. And 80 percent of the participants kept the employees they had on their payroll, while 15 percent hired new employees.

To improve the capacities of MSMEs, the business development ecosystem must be strengthened. The Economic Competitiveness Project works closely with key business development service providers, like CONAMYPE, to include more and better services, and Acelera Empresaria was just one of them.

The project trained CONAMYPE staff in the Acelera Empresaria program methodology and transferred all the tools for its implementation. Now the program is established in CONAMYPE and will be offered to more entrepreneurs each year.

Palladium implements the Economic Competitiveness Project for USAID. To learn more, visit the USAID website, and contact for more information.