Bertha Souri at her garment factory in the Dominican Republic. © Banco BHD Leon
Bertha Souri, the 48-year-old owner of a clothing manufacturing business in the Dominican Republic, likes to joke that her sister’s apartment was her first “atelier.” In 1987, as young mothers, the two women started sewing dresses for their own daughters. Compliments led to individual orders, which led to store deliveries, which led to market opportunities in the capital city and a chance for nationwide distribution.
But despite her achievements as the owner of Souri Industrial, institutional constraints on women entrepreneurs limited her business potential. For example, banks would extend credit only to Souri’s father—not to her. Even though she owned the company, in its early years, the entire business depended on her father acting as financier.
That changed when Souri began working with IFC partner Banco BHD León. “The first big order of fabric that I imported was thanks to a loan of 3 million Dominican pesos (about $65,000 in current value) that Banco BHD León gave me. It allowed me to access high-quality products,” she recalls. Those materials made it possible for Souri Industrial to compete with large importers whose offerings were transforming tastes and buying habits in the Dominican Republic.
Today, Souri Industrial employs 51 people, operates its own clothing factory, and runs its own distribution platform. The loan was key but Banco BHD León has provided more than that, Souri explains. Bank officials have advised her about international opportunities and a strategic shift—risky but ultimately successful—into a niche market. She stresses that “the Bank has given me more than money – it has given me confidence.” The entrepreneurial experience has taught her not to limit herself, to prepare for obstacles, and to be open to change.
IFC works to provide investment and advisory solutions to create equal opportunities in the private sector for women like Souri, whose business efforts power economic growth. An important part of our strategy is the Banking on Women program, which offered support as Banco BHD León advised Souri Industrial.
The Banking on Women program has helped provide more than $1 billion of financing to women through 38 emerging-market financial institutions since its in 2010. The program is built on the recognition that unfavorable business and regulatory environments contribute to the barriers that impede women entrepreneurs from accessing finance. Although 30 percent of registered small and medium enterprises (SMEs) globally are started by women, up to $320 billion in credit needed by women-owned SMEs in emerging markets is not met by financial institutions.
Souri’s business no longer falls in this category, thanks to Banco BHD León. Souri Industrial, still expanding, remains a family-run business, with Bertha Souri’s daughter and three sons by her side—but her father has relinquished the role of sole financier. The turning point came with that first loan, she believes, and it enabled her to create a legacy that she will leave to future generations.
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Published in September 2016