In Cali, Colombia, a new venture sparks hope



In Colombia, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted an economy already reeling from the Venezuelan Refugee Crisis, which has seen more than 5,000 cross the border daily. Since March 2020, unemployment rates have soared to 14 percent with women most affected at rate of 70 percent higher than men.

“The problems we had before COVID-19 are that much greater now,” says Alejandro Matos, Cuso International’s Country Program Director, Colombia.

In 2016, Cuso International launched a program targeting those fleeing civil unrest, gender-based violence, and new immigrants requiring training and vocational support. The program, known as SCOPE (Sustainable Colombian Opportunities for Peacebuilding and Employment), continues to provide practical solutions for women and men seeking employment, as well as providing consultancy for companies who wish to fill positions.

Growing up in a small coastal village that experienced armed conflict, Clevis Berrio wanted to escape its aftermath and erase the vivid memories of violence that were etched in her mind. She also needed to leave a partner who had taken up arms and threatened her life. She  found refuge in Cali, Colombia. It was here that she started to dream again. As a talented artisan, she began imagining herself as an independent, successful businesswoman.

With the little money Clevis had saved, she was able to set up a small vendor stand in an established market close to her new home. With no training or business education, she was soon overwhelmed by her new venture. Struggling to manage her accounts, unsure of how to market her products, and not comfortable networking with other business professionals, she was at a crossroads. With no close friends or family nearby, and dwindling savings, Clevis thought her only solution was to return to her home. The universe had other plans.

Alejandro and his team heard of Clevis’s struggle, advising her she would be eligible for training and support.  She quickly signed up.  In a short time, with the help of a mentor, resources, and access to retail information and tools, she had improved her business knowledge and entrepreneurial know-how.

“Supporting employment opportunities for vulnerable populations with technical-vocational training and improving business acumen of skilled workers, is the foundation of this program,” says Alejandro.

Leaning on the training and resources she received, Clevis was able to create a business model that improved the sale of her handmade products, attracted more interested buyers, and ultimately led to successfully formalizing her business. Today Clevis is an independent entrepreneur who has traded in memories of violence for dreams of a promising future. She hopes to one day mentor other young entrepreneurs.

This program has enabled 9,176 people like Clevis to access well-paying and productive jobs in the telecommunications, hospitality and service, food, manufacturing, construction, and sales sectors. “Sixty-nine per cent of the people who come through the SCOPE program are women,” says Alejandro.  “These investments are showing dividends.  They contribute to the livelihoods of individuals, but also to local communities, and are strengthening the country’s peacebuilding process.

You can help more women like Clevis by making a donation today .