Small businesses get a financial boost

Photo by Joseph B. TreasterUniversity of Miami students on Charles Darwin Avenue, Santa Cruz Island

Many got started
With co-op loans

Sauntering down a newly paved waterfront boulevard in the Galapagos Islands on an early morning,  you hear the ocean lapping against black lava rocks. Sea lions honk and compete with pelicans for bloody scraps at the open-air fish market.

The aroma of fresh baked bread, pastries, cookies and tarts wafts from little storefronts along the boulevard, Charles Darwin Avenue, in the town of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island.  Some people are ordering breakfast. Others are getting gear in dive shops. Shutters clatter as souvenir shops and cafes open for the day.

On one corner, Margarita Diaz and husband, Omar, run a business that sells boat tours and field trips. They book week-long scuba diving trips, one day eco-cruises and field trips of a few hours to places like the white sand beaches of Santa Cruz’s Tortuga Bay. She and her husband own four cabin cruisers that take tourists on trips around the islands.

They got started seven years ago with a loan of $3,000 from the Savings and Credit Cooperative for The Future and Progress of the Galapagos. The Cooperative has helped fund many businesses. It was formed by Galapagos business people with the hope of inspiring development in the islands. The Cooperative has focused on tourism, fishing and farming. It has also provided money to build schools and to support Galapagos people studying abroad and to help pay for major medical expenses like surgery.

Eliana Lizbeth Lucas Gutierrez, 34, is the executive manager of the Cooperative. Lucas, who has a degree in financial management from the University of Guayaquil, said the Cooperative was founded 17 years ago to provide small loans for the people living on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal and Isabella, the three most populous of the dozen or so principal islands of the Galapagos in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. About 20,000 people live on Santa Cruz, the most populated of the islands. San Cristobal, the capital of the Galapagos has 6,000 people and Isabella has 3,500. Most of the Galapagos Islands are uninhabited.

Lucas said the Cooperative provides loans of up to $15,000 for three years at interest rates of 22 percent to 27 percent. That is fairly high. But Lucas said many of the Cooperative’s clients could not qualify for loans elsewhere.

Esteva Ruiz was 17-years old and wanted to buy a push-cart to sell hand made tropical style sandals that she would design for tourists and custom fitted work boots. She had heard about the cooperative and thought it was the only place she could get financing. The Cooperative gave her $300 six years ago. Today, she has a shop in Puerto Ayora where she sells her designs and a range of international brands,

Lucas said that a small percentage of people fail to repay the Cooperative. One reason, she said, is that in the Galapagos, defaulting carries a social stigma.

Griffin Sher

The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles out in the Pacific Ocean, are a part of Ecuador, on the west coast of South America. The Diazes, who married young, moved to the Galapagos from a village outside Quito, the capital of Ecuador. She had been looking for a job without success and decided to go to Isabella Island in the Galapagos. Her husband stayed on at his job in a textile factory in Quito. She got a job in Isabella as a waitress.

She heard that the Cooperative was lending money to people who wanted to go into the tourist business and applied for a loan. With the money, the couple opened what they called a tourism coordination center in the same store where they are now. They began selling seats on tour boats and spots on field trips.

After a few years, they began hiring captains to pilot rented boats on day trips rather than merely selling seats on boats for larger companies. In 2008, the Diaz’s borrowed from the Cooperative and together with some savings, bought a 47- foot- sport fishing boat, The Galapalady, the first of their four boats. It cost them $56,000.

Diaz said the other day that she and her husband plan to move into the dive business soon. So far they have been selling places on dive boats owned by others, working much as they did when they first started.

Diaz said that over 15 years she and her husband have borrowed about $120,000 from the Cooperative. They are all paid up. Without the Cooperative, she said, building the business that they now call the Island Tourism Center, “would have been impossible.” #


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