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Freddy and Joel’s Muy Cupcakery

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Part of my job as a Kiva Fellow in Managua, Nicaragua is to facilitate connections between Kiva lenders and the borrowers.  A couple of weeks ago, I had a unique opportunity to participate in a TIME Magazine interview of an enthusiastic Kiva entrepreneur, Freddy Antonio Castillo Luna.

Freddy

Freddy in his bakery

Kiva lender and journalist Joel Stein had been in contact with Fiona Ramsey, Public Relations Director at Kiva, in attempts to coordinate an interview between him and a Kiva entrepreneur he had supported.  Seemingly inspired by the cupcake mania in the US these days, Joel chose to interview baker Freddy.

Freddy runs Little Mango Bakery out of his home in the Libertad neighborhood on the outskirts of Managua, a business he started 14 years ago.  He received his Kiva loan to purchase basic ingredients for his baked goods through Afodenic.

I went to meet Freddy with Lismary Chacón, Managua branch manager, and Yader Videa Lezama, Freddy’s loan officer of Afodenic.  The first 20 minutes of the drive is on decent city streets, while the last 20 are quite the opposite – dirt roads with giant potholes that really put the 4×4 capacity to good use.  This is quite normal in Nicaragua, as no roads are really just mediocre – they are either smooth going or rough riding.

We arrive at Freddy´s home, which is one of many side-by-side small constructions bordering a narrow, steep, pothole-ridden road.  Freddy greets us with a warm smile and introduces us to his wife and three children.  I am thrilled to see that Freddy smiles, often, unlike what his original profile picture would lead me to believe.

Freddy gives us the bakery tour, all housed in his backyard, featuring a large oven, a machine to flatten the dough, scales, ingredients, and towers of trays of freshly prepared doughy sweets, ready for baking.

I explain to Freddy that Joel has supported his business through a Kiva loan, and that he is a journalist known for his wry humor.  Well, I hope that’s what I said, as conveying the nuances of journalistic prowess is not so easy in a second language.

Lismary and Yader from AFODENIC, waiting with Freddy in his living room

Lismary and Yader from AFODENIC, waiting with Freddy in his living room

We settle in, and.. we wait.  The four-way conference call finally comes, with Giovanna Masci, Microfinance Partnerships Manager for the Americas, and Fiona in San Francisco, Joel in New York, and Freddy, Lismary, Yader and me in Nicaragua. I am careful to tilt my head just so to maintain 2 service bars on my cellphone.

I understood that my function in the interview was not only to serve as a translator between Joel and Freddy, but also to be a cultural filter.  I think anyone who speaks two languages would agree that this is the most delicate aspect of translation – one with which I do not have a large amount of experience.

But we jumped right in, with Joel’s first proposition – to change the name of Freddy’s business to Joel and Freddy’s Extreme Cupcakes.  Whew, how does one convey the American marketing sense of extreme, not to mention the cupcake craze sweeping the nation – two cultural touchstones that don’t exactly translate in the land where cajetas reign supreme and most small businesses don’t have a name, much less a marketing strategy?

Freddy and me on conference call

Freddy and me on conference call

The cellular musical chairs went as such – Joel would ask me a question for Freddy, which I would translate while holding the phone to my ear.  I would then pass the cellphone to Freddy, which he would hold to his ear while responding to me.  He would then pass the cellphone back to me, and I would translate what he had said, and Giovanna would chime in with translation clarifications.

Cupcakes became ‘tiny round cakes’.  Oprah became Cristina.  Chai tea and red velvet flavors became ‘taste of India’ and ‘cherry chocolate’.  Joel proposed a price of $4 per cupcake, while Freddy thought that, yes, a new product to the market should cost more than typical products, but $.80 would be much more reasonable for his customers.

Joel’s approach to the interview was to play the part of an overzealous Kiva lender, eager to involve himself in Freddy’s business as a return on his investment.  Considering this was the first contact Freddy had ever had, in any way, with a Kiva lender, it was a real struggle to find the words to translate Joel’s questions correctly, without misleading Freddy as to his intentions, and those of Kiva.

Joel asked for a general estimate of what Freddy needed to improve his business to prepare for cupcake creation, so that he could approach Sprinkles in Los Angeles about a possible investment.  Freddy hopped up and led me back to the bakery, where he showed me missing wooden panels and holes in the tin walls, the incomplete roof and dirt floors.  As he looked around, I could see Freddy imagining what a partnership with an investor from the US could do for his business.  I was sensitive to Freddy’s emotions in this moment, sincerely hoping something might come of Joel’s offer.

With a hearty round of thanks and a sampling of the yummy pico tostado, we finished.  I felt my shoulders finally ease, realizing I had been tense with nerves and excitement throughout the two hour visit.  I can only imagine how Freddy must have felt, becoming Kiva’s star in Time Magazine through a cellphone interview, hot potato style.

Joel did contact Sprinkles, who offered to donate $750 towards the repair of Freddy’s roof, along with their strawberry cupcake recipe.  The reality of putting this generous offer to use involves many changes to the Little Mango Bakery – purchasing a refrigerator and dairy products, selling only to stores who have refrigeration, toying with the open-flame wood stove to successfully produce a moist cupcake, not to mention finding a cupcake tin itself!

Freddy’s story has served as an example of what I believe about loans versus donations.  Loans allow entrepreneurs to identify what they need to succeed, and attain it in small, well-planned steps, while donations can arrive on your doorstep without a real path towards utilizing them.  Microfinance is sustainable because it allows the entrepreneur to achieve their goals in the way they see fit in a timely manner.

Having already enjoyed Freddy’s sumptuous baked goods, I look forward to giving his version of a cupcake a try – though, the only strawberries I’ve seen in Nicaragua are imported.  I bet Oprah and Cristina would both give a passion fruit cupcake a try.

Read Joel Stein’s “Cupcake Kings Go Global” here

* * *

WhitneyZimmermanKivaFellowNicaraguaI’m Whitney, Kiva Fellow KF6, serving 3 months in Managua, Nicaragua with CEPRODEL.

Written by whitneytravel

December 5, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Little light and lots of hope – Loan Update for Blanca Nubia Sanchez

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Blanca Nubia Sánchez
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $175.00 of $175.00

Blanca greeted us with a hearty “Hello, how are you today?” when we visited her stationary shop at Mercado Israel Lewites in Managua. She was eager to speak English, as she went to university to become an English professor, but was unable to support her three children on a teacher’s salary in Nicaragua.

Blanca at her store, Fotocopias Topacio

Blanca at her store, Fotocopias Topacio

When the market opened 28 years ago, Blanca was there as a founding member. She has used microfinance loans to expand her business. She used her Kiva loan to invest in various products for her store, Fotocopias Topacio, like photocopy materials, plastic used for laminating, toner, notebooks, pens and pencils. She used previous loans to purchase the appealing glass display cases in her small stall. Fotocopias Topacio is located on the outer edge of the market, alongside the parking lot.

Blanca is the single mother of three children, two of which live in the United States. Her daughter who lives in Nicaragua is 23 years old and is currently studying in the university. She wants to have a stationary shop of her own in a mall. Blanca hopes that the continued success of her business will permit her to help her daughter start a business of her own.

Last March, the electric utility, Unión Fenosa, announced that over 90% of their customers at Mercado Israel Lewites were heavily indebted. Electricity was terminated during daylight hours at the market, and 8 months on has yet to be restored. The market has access to electricity 6pm-5am, but during working hours business owners must find alternate methods.

Blanca is frustrated by this situation, as she is part of the 10% of business owners at the market who has always paid her electric bill on time, for 28 years. She is forced to run her business during daylight hours on gasoline, which is much more expensive and inconvenient than electrical wiring.

In addition to the electrical challenge, Blanca faces other obstacles, affected by the worldwide economic crisis, the current political situation of Nicaragua and the constant rising price of supplies for her store. But she has not lost hope, not in the least.

Blanca would like to enter the field of real estate and invest in various small buildings in Managua. She dreams of working towards a Masters degree and teaching English in the evenings. Above all, she would like to have a secure future for her children and herself. She is thankful for the support of the Kiva lending community, and she hopes to hear from those who lent to her when we visit her again in December.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

November 4, 2008 at 7:58 pm

Loan Update for Celina Jarquin Flores

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Celina Jarquin Flores
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $425.00 of $425.00

We visited Celina at 9am, her busiest hour, at her small restaurant in Mercado Israel Lewites in Managua, but she was happy to see us and took a moment to share the impact of the Kiva loan for her business.

Celina at her breakfast restaurant

Celina at her breakfast restaurant

Celina is the married mother of 6 children, aged 18, 17, 14, 10 and 15-year-old twins. All of her children attend school on Saturdays, but spend the rest of the week helping out with the restaurant and family.

She has worked hard for 8 years building her business, before which she worked as an assistant in another restaurant, which inspired Celina to create her own business with a loan from CEPRODEL.

Celina used her Kiva loan to purchase bricks to reinforce the walls. She was also able to replace her plastic roof with a tin one that keeps out the rain, along with construction of a storage pantry. She purchased corn, rice, oil, eggs and beans in the same market for breakfast preparation.

Celina feels grateful for the help provided to her by Kiva lenders. She hopes to receive a new loan to expand the ceramic flooring and tin roof of her stall to serve more customers.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

November 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Warm wishes to Kiva lenders from Bertha

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Bertha Socorro Vargas Gonzáles
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $225.00 of $225.00

Bertha greeted us with a giant smile and two kisses on the cheek when we visited her at her stall in Mercado Israel Lewites in Managua. Her 65-year-old bright eyes and jovial manner are a reflection of her attitude towards obstacles in her life.

Bertha with her welcoming smile at her stall in Managua

Bertha with her welcoming smile at her stall in Managua

Bertha has been in sales her entire life, working with her mother as a child selling fruit in the street. She has worked in different places in Managua, having lost all of her products in the 1972 earthquake that leveled Managua. She is one of the founding business owners in Israel Lewites Market, which opened after the Revolution in 1979. Considering her long-standing presence, she no longer is required to pay the daily fee to have a stall at the market, and neither will her children when they take over her business.

During her time at Israel Levites, Bertha has sold fruit, vegetables, clothes, eyeglasses, basic grains, cosmetics and seasonal items. Now her store is chock full of various cosmetic products – makeup, hair clips, headbands, styling products, hair dye, shampoo, conditioner, and some bracelets and earrings. Bertha used her Kiva loan to invest in these products wholesale.

Bertha’s stall is currently alongside a popular walkway in the market. She dreams of having a store inside a building to better serve her customers and to secure her investment. The rising cost of food and public transit has prevented Bertha from seeing this dream to fruition just yet – but she intends to achieve this goal.

She plans to take out a new loan from CEPRODEL to invest in seasonal Christmas products wholesale from the Mercado Oriental to sell to her customers.

Bertha is very thankful for the support of Kiva lenders and very much looks forward to receiving their comments and seeing their profile pictures when we visit her again in December. She loves the idea of connecting people all over the world and wishes all Kiva lenders well in their lives.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

November 4, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Maria Medreno Journal Update

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Concepción de María Medreno Alvarez
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $275.00 of $275.00

Maria Medreno was making jokes with her customers and waving at friends clear across the market when we went to visit her at her general store in Israel Lewites in Managua.

Maria at her stall - she was all smiles until the flash went off!

Maria at her stall - she was all smiles until the flash went off!

Maria came to be the owner of her father´s general store last December, when he died suddenly of a heart attack. She had her own stall at the same market by the bus stop, selling cigarettes and building her own business with her father´s support. Maria closed this stall and took out a loan from CEPRODEL two days after her father´s passing to invest in his business, ensuring it would not go under.

She has been very successful building her business in the wake of tragedy, and is thankful to be able to provide for her two children, 12 and 2 years old.

She used her Kiva loan to invest in basic grains, sugar and rice to sell at her store.

Maria plans to use a future loan to make improvements to her stall, including repairing the leaky roof in her storage area and purchasing metal roll-down walls for security at night.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

November 4, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Posted in kiva

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Loan Update for Mirtalia Muñoz Olivares

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Mirtalia Muñoz Olivares
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $325.00 of $325.00

Mirtalia has utilized microfinance for the last three years to develop her clothing sales business. She has been working in the Mercado Israel Lewites in Managua for the last 12 years – the first eight selling fruits and vegetables, and the last four years at her clothing stall.

Mirtalia at her shop in Mercado Israel Lewites

Mirtalia at her shop in Mercado Israel Lewites

Her original profile on Kiva only mentioned her two youngest children – in fact, Mirtalia is the single mother of five children, aged 30, 28, 25, 23 and 18 years old. They have all already finished school, and the four oldest are married. When Mirtalia is ill, her daughter helps out with her stall.

Mirtalia used her Kiva loan to invest in her clothing sales business, purchasing clothes for children and women wholesale from the Mercado Oriental in Managua. She is thankful and pleased to have attracted new, loyal clients with her new goods.

She would like to use a future loan to improve the conditions of her stall, including putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls and building better product displays so all her clothes can be seen.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

November 4, 2008 at 3:00 pm

Loan Impact for Ligia Sánchez

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This is a journal update for a Kiva borrower in Nicaragua, part of my job as a Kiva Fellow working with CEPRODEL in Managua!

Entrepreneur: Ligia Sánchez
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Amount Repaid: $600.00 of $600.00

Ligia’s greeting was casual and warm when we visited her at her shoe shop in Israel Levites market in Managua. “Pase, pase adelante, siéntate aquí” – we did, after admiring the improvements to her shop.

Ligia Sanchez next to her new tables

Ligia Sanchez next to her new tables

The mother of four sells handmade shoes from Masaya, which are delivered weekly by the craftsmen, along with kids clothes, tops for women, backpacks and towels.

Ligia’s store is located in a quieter part of the market, without much foot traffic. She used her Kiva loan to invest in shoes and other products to sell, and to improve the conditions of her store, specifically purchasing a new table to showcase clothing and towels.

Two of Ligia’s children are already grown and married, one is supporting himself in college, and the youngest is just 8 years old. It is for him that Ligia aims to constantly improve her business so as to make his life better. She still dreams of providing the means for him to go to college.

Ligia is grateful for the help of Kiva funds in the continued success of her business, and plans to use a future loan to construct walls around her goods so as to secure her investment.

This loan was made by CEPRODEL, which stands for “Centro de Promoción de Desarrollo Local”. CEPRODEL contributes to the socioeconomic development of Nicaragua by assisting rural communities, promoting affordable housing development and attending to the financial needs of women. To view other fundraising loans from CEPRODEL, click here.

Written by whitneytravel

October 31, 2008 at 8:18 pm

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