By Meg Gray, KF9, Nicaragua

"Rent a telephone here"

Walking around my neighborhood in Managua, Nicaragua made me realize that businesses look very different here. Every couple of houses there is asign in the window- “We sell nacatamales” or “We offer haircuts” or “Rent a Nintendo here”. Usually the sign is hand written, but occasionally it has been neatly typed. I only have to walk a block or two from house to find tortillas, chocolate-covered bananas, a pedicure, reading lessons, and all sorts of other things. It seems like everyone is selling something, but there is also hardly a storefront in sight.
When I moved to Managua, I was prepared to say goodbye to big box stores and for everything to be downsized a bit, but I wasn’t expecting so many of the businesses I visited to look so drastically unlike my notion of a business. In the United States, when I picture a business (big or small), I still picture a storefront or an office. That just isn’t the case in Nicaragua. And as a long-time Kiva lender, I also know that when I pictured the taco stands or clothing sales described in a business profile, I pictured a store, not a house. Thus far, my experience in Nicaragua is rapidly reshaping this idea. From house to house the services in my neighborhood vary, but they are all microbusinesses, storefront or not.

"Elementary-level classes offered here

Sure I have visited plenty of CEPRODEL clients that have a stall in the market or a small store of their own, but I have met just as many that work out of their house or in their backyard. Clients make bread in their kitchen to sell to neighbors. One woman I met keeps a small tray of supplies for making “quesillos” in the corner of their living room and then she sells them to students as she walks around the University campus. I have met several that take care of pigs in their back yard and then prepare and sell the meat. The list goes on and on. All of these clients are running successful microbusinesses, but none of them has anything even closely resembling an office, a workshop, or a storefront.

"Rent a Nintendo here. Buy pizza, ice, cakes, ice cream..."

Maybe this seems like a basic observation to you and you’re thinking “of course microbusinesses look different,” but despite knowing how small many of these businesses are, it still caught me off guard. The microbusinesses receiving loans from CEPRODEL range from one woman working in her kitchen to slightly larger enterprises with several employees. Regardless of size, location, or appearance, this type of business seems to be driving the economy in my neighborhood and I’m guessing in many other neighborhoods throughout Nicaragua. Now I just want to figure out what the houses without signs in the window are selling. I’m sure there’s something and I have three more months to figure it out.

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Meg Gray is currently a Kiva Fellow in Managua, Nicaragua with Kiva’s field partner CEPRODEL.

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