Roselin Vargas works hard to balance her responsibilities as a parent and an entrepreneur. Before kicking off each workday, she takes her 10-year-old daughter Antonella to school, while her baby Aitana is looked after by her in-laws. It’s only then that Roselin can shift her focus to her business.

As the owner of a small-scale food distribution company in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, along with her husband, Roselin spends much of her days at local markets trying to find new customers for the flour, sugar, and other goods she sells. She and her husband divide and conquer, each visiting markets in the area to distribute their orders.

Launched in 2009, Roselin started her business selling only flour, but they have since diversified. She says she remains grateful to her father-in-law, who is a food importer, for introducing them to this work.

“Thank God, everything is going well. We not only distribute in Santa Cruz, but we also send sugar to different areas. We sell sugar, flour, and salt. That’s our main focus,” she says.

Roselin and her husband at their business in Bolivia
Roselin and her husband at their warehouse, where they store flour and sugar before distributing to their customers in markets across Santa Cruz.

Juggling business and family responsibilities

While Roselin, who is 31 years old, feels happy and fulfilled in this job, building the business as a woman entrepreneur hasn’t always been easy. Like many women in Bolivia, she must balance her work duties with her household and family responsibilities.

The majority of women entrepreneurs in Bolivia run small-scale businesses, with 83 percent of women in the country working in the informal sector, according to UN Women. Many have little to no access to capital and formal financial services. On top of that, during the COVID-19 pandemic there was an increase in care work in Bolivia, as in other countries, often considered to be women’s work.

“As women, we value and understand our roles even more because we not only have to be wives and mothers but also juggle various responsibilities. It’s complicated but not impossible for a woman to achieve,” Vargas says.

Despite the challenges, Vargas had no doubts about wanting to expand her business. While her husband was initially hesitant about dealing with banks to help them do so, Roselin convinced him to try. But none of the banks they approached would provide a loan to them. “That’s when I met the [BancoSol] advisor, who is now my advisor, Ms. Sandra,” she said. BancoSol is a microfinance institution working to ensure that low-income people in Bolivia can access responsible financial services. BancoSol approved a loan for Roselin’s business in 2018, giving her the capital needed to invest in her business.

Roselin and her BancoSol advisor
Roselin’s BancoSol advisor shows her how to manage her finances in BancoSol’s mobile app.

“I haven’t thought about switching to another bank,” she says. “We want to work with the bank to make our capital and business grow, and BancoSol has been a great help.”

A longtime partner of Accion, BancoSol is the world’s first regulated commercial bank that serves micro and small businesses, helping entrepreneurs like Roselin to succeed. Most of their clients work in the informal economy. Since 1992, BancoSol has financed over 5 million microprojects in Bolivia, enabling small business owners across the country to access capital.

In addition to her loan, BancoSol has also helped Roselin’s business become more efficient through digital tools. For instance, she now uses QR codes to receive payments from customers, which not only makes things easier but also decreases the chance of errors. She also uses her phone to manage her bank account and stay in touch with her BancoSol advisor.

To further BancoSol’s digital initiatives, the innovation hub implemented with Accion Advisory’s support helped accelerate the usage of BancoSol’s mobile banking app. The app’s gamification platform encourages increased savings, more on-time loan repayments, and greater use of digital channels. Monthly active digital users increased by 50 percent in 2022, while transaction volume more than doubled.

Financial expansion and stability

Roselin now has customers in markets across Santa Cruz. She says they often receive ideas for new markets and customers through referrals from their current clients. They also use apps like Google Maps to discover new bakeries and markets. “This makes it much easier for us to reach new customers. Using technology in this way is very helpful.”

As they continue to expand into more markets and potentially sell new products, Roselin says the business has allowed her to provide employment for those in the community, as they have hired three truckloaders. It also increased economic and other opportunities for her family, such as traveling around Bolivia together during their free time.

“This work has given us economic stability, employment for our family, and even for our in-laws. It’s like a chain, and we hope to make this a family endeavor,” she says.

Roselin dreams of continuing to grow her business and opening a bakery one day. In three years, she says she sees herself with her own house, a larger business, and filled with health and vitality. Though she’d like her daughters to follow this path, studying administration or accounting, and for someone in the family to carry on the business, she says it’s up to them: “It will be their decision in the end, and they will always have 100 percent parental support.”

To other women in her community, Roselin says, “I would like to tell women that they can do it, that they can be mothers — and perhaps some are single mothers — who take the reins, fasten their seatbelts, and move forward for themselves and for their children.”

Roselin at her food distribution business in Bolivia

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