In Cusco, a women’s flower-growers association has blossomed into a source of income for 168 people in four communities. Like the flowers they cultivate, the indigenous Quechua women have carefully tended their association and helped it grow, re-investing their profits into their businesses.
Asociación de Productores Agropecuarios Red de Flores Quiquijana (ASPROFLOR), an association founded and led primarily by women, increases its members’ income by pooling their production to sell in volume and positioning their products in new markets. After a grant from the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) provided them with technical training, infrastructure investment, coaching and the chance to partner with and learn from a former IAF grantee and other industry leaders, the 26 member families have nearly tripled their annual sales from ~$3,500 to ~$10,000 and improved their quality of life.
Just as flowers need a little fertilizer and water to flourish, grassroots organizations like ASPROFLOR sometimes need small injections of funding or technical support to reach their full potential. The grant proposal originally came to the IAF from an organization called IMAGEN that helps grassroots organizations grow and had formerly received a grant from the IAF. IMAGEN proposed working with ASPROFLOR to modernize their flower growing and selling. But our Foundation Representative for Peru, Miriam Brandao, believed in ASPROFLOR’s potential. She encouraged them to manage the project themselves and hire IMAGEN for technical support. This way, ASPROFLOR would gain valuable experience learning to manage its own funds, while benefiting from IMAGEN’s expertise in production and marketing. The IAF trusted the indigenous women running ASPROFLOR to take the lead.
When the project started, the members of the association had one very old, small greenhouse. With their grant from the IAF, 26 families constructed and improved additional greenhouses. They also purchased irrigation and other equipment as well as an initial stock of plants to diversify and improve their flower production. ASPROFLOR’s members also learned best practices in improving organic production and marketing of their products from flower producers in other regions of Peru. After these interventions, 75 percent of project participants reported improving the quantity and quality of their production, including major products such as roses, Gerbera daisies, and Peruvian lilies.
The project’s initial marketing focus——to identify new clients—achieved only mixed success, because local venues like hotels and restaurants wanted to buy from a variety of flower sellers. The real boost came when ASPROFLOR worked with IMAGEN to obtain a dedicated spot from the municipal government to sell their flowers in Cusco’s wholesale market. The families of ASPROFLOR now take turns selling their wares in this spot.
Turning Flowers into Tuition Fees
Today, members have reinvested a great percentage of the income they’ve received in doubling or tripling the number and size of their greenhouses. They’ve realized what a huge economic boost infrastructure investment has been to their business.
What began as a women’s project has also begun employing members’ husbands and male relatives. With the increased income, families have improved their quality of life and built more equitable gender relations, and women have become more active in their communities. One member, Justina Challco, said that she was able to leave her struggling small business to concentrate full-time on selling flowers, and her husband was able to stay closer to home rather than leaving for extended periods to seek construction jobs.
Nearly a dozen ASPROFLOR members with 17 children studying in public and private universities in Cusco stated with conviction that, if not for their flower business, they couldn’t have afforded to continue their children’s studies beyond the basic high school education available in their district.
Bringing Women’s Empowerment to Scale
ASPROFLOR is only one of many success stories from the IAF’s broader initiative to support women as business and community leaders. In 2018, the IAF launched Women Investing in Growth and Security (WINGS) to showcase our commitment to supporting women’s critical role in contributing to their economies and communities and maintaining peace, safety, and prosperity in the hemisphere. Now in its third year, WINGS funds 79 innovative, community-led projects designed to spur women’s social and economic success. These projects increase opportunities for civic engagement; provide greater access to finance and markets; and expand leadership, business, and management training options for women. Like all IAF projects, WINGS requires grant recipients to match IAF investment with cash and/or in-kind resources, thereby increasing community buy-in and project sustainability. To date, grant recipients have matched every dollar invested by the IAF with a dollar of their own, doubling our $15 million contribution to this initiative.
Through the WINGS initiative, more women like the flower sellers of ASPROFLOR will be able to achieve more equitable gender relations and create a better future for themselves and their families.