Last week we conducted an interview with Marije Oostehek, co-founder of the Credit4Cuba organization. She was on her way to Havana for the next Entrepreneurship training session for Cuba’s rising entrepreneurs.
Marije, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’m very interested in learning about what Credit4Cuba is doing in Cuba. From what I’ve read, this NGO is a great idea which provides quick training to the burgeoning sector of entrepreneurs in Cuba. I’ve got a few questions to ask which I am sure readers would be interested in knowing about your organization.
When did you start up Credit4Cuba?
May 2015 Dennis Schmidt, co-founder of Stichting Credit4Cuba, and I had our first conversation on my dream to set up a microfinance initiative to support the Cuban cuentapropistas with (access to) funding, training and coaching. After our first brainstorm session we discussed our idea with several experts like Roy Budjhawan (microfinance expert), Madeleine Klinkhamer (inclusive finance expert) and Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva (Cuban economist), as well as with Norbert Braakhuis, former Ambassador to the Netherlands in Cuba. The overall reactions were highly positive, giving us the courage and inspiration to go ahead, leading to the official registration of the foundation in December 2015.
What motivated you to start Credit4Cuba?
Ever since my first trip to Cuba in 1999 I have had this dream to set up an initiative to support the Cubans and make a difference for them. I have visited Cuba many times since 1999, due to family relations as well, and have seen from close by the difficulties locals encounter in their life. Back then it was rather cumbersome to start a project in Cuba, as a foreign party. But Cuba is slowly opening up, with the economic reformation in Cuba, the introduction of the list of 201 free and approved business categories for cuentapropistas, and the gradual normalization of relations between Cuba and the USA. We intend to support the self-employed in this changing environment. Cubans are very creative and innovative, as well educated, but not always have the skills to run a small business.
You are running Credit4Cuba in partnership with ANEC. Are you partnering with any other Cuban entity?
At this moment ANEC is the only Cuban NGO we have signed a Memorandum of Agreement with. We do have very good contacts with the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) in Cuba and hope to cooperate with them in the near future as well, in the field of training to the banks on microfinance.
How difficult was Credit4Cuba to set up? Was the Cuban government receptive to the idea of training entrepreneurs?
Trust and building strong relationships is a very important aspect when reaching your goals in Cuba. And finding the right people to work with, which can be a struggle sometimes. Since the beginning of our initiative we have worked hard on explaining our goals, we have always been transparent about our aim: supporting the Cuban entrepreneurs within the Cuban context, meaning within the current possibilities and boundaries. We have no intention what so ever to change the context, we are there to provide tools to small entrepreneurs, assisting them to run a successful business. Early in the process we found a very enthusiastic and trustworthy partner in ANEC (La Asociación Nacional de Economistas y Contadores de Cuba) (Paco Borrás and Oscar Luis Hung Pentón) and due to the partnership with ANEC we received approval from the Cuban government to start providing workshops to entrepreneurs.
How many workshops do you run per year? Are they all taught in Spanish? If an expert is volunteering to give training and only speaks English, is there a translator provided by the Cubans?
In April this year we provided our first interactive workshops! And we are now rolling out our pilot program till the end of this year. Every month an expert is invited to go to Cuba to provide interactive workshops to entrepreneurs, on different topics, like Marketing, Client Services, Entrepreneurship, Financial Products etc. The workshops are in Spanish. Actually, we prefer not to work with a translator and we are proud to say that all our trainers speak Spanish.
What’s the attendance of entrepreneurs at the workshops ? How do you get the word out to would-be entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in Cuba? I mean, a lot of them do not have access to the internet 24/7 as we do. How do you promote the workshops to Cubans in Cuba?
At this stage the workshops are promoted via ANEC, but also via Facebook or mouth-to-mouth publicity. We are still in a pilot phase. From 2017 we intend to offer a full program and we are investigating other methods and means to reach the entrepreneurs.
What do you hope to achieve long term with Credit4Cuba?
We hope to assist thousands of Cubans that wish to start or grow a small business, but don’t have the skills to turn a good idea into a successful business. We intend to provide (improved access to) funding, training and coaching, allowing the entrepreneurs to take responsibility for their own lives, creating jobs, improving their business results, as well as the social impact.
Let’s talk about micro-finance for a while. Other countries have found microfinance a valuable tool in developing the private sector by providing small loans to people without access to traditional banking and credit. For example, an organization such as Kiva allow people such as you and I to lend money to people or groups of people to provide startup capital to finance agricultural endeavours, small shops, housing or educational needs. Do you think this would work in Cuba and help develop the economy by providing jobs and startup capital for growing small businesses, an important sector in the new Cuban Economy?
We fully agree that microfinance is a valuable tool in developing the private sector and definitely think this would work in Cuba! In fact, the Cuban banks already provide smalls loans to Cuban entrepreneurs. In addition, the UNDP is running a pilot project in Holguin in collaboration with the Cuban Central Bank to stimulate micro-credits for cuentapropistas. However, there is a big gap between the banks and the Cubans, due to various reasons. There for Stichting Credit4Cuba not only intends to offer training on banking, microfinance and financial products to the entrepreneurs, but to the banks as well.
It is our ambition to provide micro-credits ourselves, in the near future, in Cuba. This is under investigation, since there are several options and structures, and we need approval from the Cuban government to enter in this world as a foreign party.
How far along is the organization of the impact hub (you mention this on your website) in Havana for entrepreneurs in Cuba? Do you think this will be easy to set up in Cuba? Where would you like to hold these meetups?
The entrepreneurial hub is another part of our overall initiative which is under investigation. Some things take a bit longer to achieve in Cuba, step-by-step we hope to reach all our goals in assisting the Cuban entrepreneurs and making a difference to them!
Marije, I am most grateful for this interview and I wish Credit4Cuba much successful in this wonderful endeavour. Marije Oosterhek, thank you so much.
To learn more about Credit4Cuba, please visit their website.