Last week we got the chance to ride along with one of our Portfolio companies, Setesik, to visit some of the communities in which they work along Lake Atitlan. We set off from Antigua early in the morning driving down the bumpy cobblestone streets and then up through the winding roads through the hills until we reached the first community. It was an explosion of colors and sounds – most of the women that Setesik works with are from Mayan communities, which means that they have their own traditional dress and local dialect. The women are seated on the ground in a circle, chatting away in a language I can’t even begin to understand, working on their products: coasters, baskets, and bowls made out of pine needles and colored thread. They produce hundreds of units on a monthly basis that are then checked for quality and exported to the United States.
The women in these groups earn up to 50% more than they would working in similar artisan industries and they also gain access to training and become part of a group that meets on a weekly basis, cementing bonds of friendship that can last a lifetime. Setesik provides them access to international markets and training on quality control, a skill that many in the artisan sector lack, especially women in Mayan communities. They can also work from their homes, which allows them to take care of their families as well as earn additional income.
The founder of Setesik, Jessica Figueroa, makes the day-long trip once a week to visit each and every community, talk with the women, check the quality of their products, offer feedback, and pay them for their work. When talking to her about the work she does, she said that the most important aspect of her job is forming relationships and building trust with the women in theses communities; if she isn’t able to make it out for weeks on end, women begin to lose trust in her ability to pay them and they start looking for other means to earn a living. Seeing the importance of those in-person connections being core to the business model of Setesik really made me see why we chose to invest in them in the first place.
At Pomona Impact, we value the founder and their innovation and passion above everything else, even the stage that the business might be in. If the founder is passionate and committed to seeing social and or environmental change happen through their product, as is the case with Setesik, we too become committed to also building long-term, personal relationships with them if we chose to invest. This added-value impact investment model that we follow is the reason I also chose to work with Pomona Impact and every trip I make with our entrepreneurs I get to see where our investment in their businesses goes and how it impacts thousands of lives through their work.