Dreams + Opportunities = Change: The Wakami Formula Shaping Guatemala’s Future

A woman weaves threads in Guatemala.
A woman entrepreneur in Guatemala. Photo by Bernardo del Valle

“Individual dreams are strong, collective dreams – those are unstoppable.”

– Maria Pacheco, Co-Founder and CEO of Wakami

In Guatemala, women often face considerable barriers to achieving their dreams. Traditional gender roles and norms mean fewer women than men are able to own businesses and property, to access credit and financing, to enter the formal labor market, and to access education and health services. The country also has one of the highest rates of femicide globally.

However, one social enterprise in the country has a formula that is addressing these deeply rooted challenges for women: dreams + opportunities = change. Over the last 20 years, Wakami has demonstrated how societal change can take place when women are able to seize opportunities and turn their dreams into realities. By partnering with rural and indigenous women across the country, Wakami is helping to develop inclusive handicraft and agriculture value chains that can provide sustainable sources of income.

Turning dreams into realities

Maria Pacheco co-founded Wakami to facilitate opportunities for women entrepreneurs by incubating and accelerating their businesses and creating access to markets for their handmade jewelry and agricultural products such as coffee. As part of the Wakami value chain, women are recognized as formal suppliers and can access new national and international markets. They are then supported to make smart investments with their earnings in both education and nutrition. Through this approach, women have been able to improve their children’s nutritional status and access to schooling. In fact, the children of Wakami women now have 140% higher levels of education than the national average in Guatemala.   

In fact, the children of Wakami women now have 140% higher levels of education than the national average in Guatemala.   

One of these women entrepreneurs, Marla, partnered with Wakami 18 years ago with a dream of educating her daughters and one day owning her own home. By connecting to Wakami’s value chain, Marla was able to sell the bracelets she produces to markets around the world. Today, her bracelets can be found in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Japan. Using her earnings, Marla sent all three of her daughters to school. Today, the three young women have had the opportunity to go to college and Marla now owns her dream three-story house.

The power of partnership

A key addition to Wakami’s formula has been to build partnerships that can help scale opportunities for women. “With MEDA, we are becoming a bigger bridge to markets, to communities,” Pacheco explains. Working with MEDA, Wakami has provided business training to more groups of women and introduced regenerative agriculture that can preserve soil health and mitigate climate change. This type of agriculture facilitates both increased income and food security. The partnership is also improving women’s financial literacy and introducing long-term loans that work for women. These loans allow women to expand their businesses and finance their long-term dreams – whether those dreams are to build a home or finance a child’s college education.

With funding from Global Affairs Canada, Wakami will continue to partner with MEDA and Pro Mujer through the Women’s Empowerment for Central America (WE4CA) project to empower women and girls in Central America to achieve their dreams – starting in Guatemala. The project aims to support 5,000 rural and indigenous women working in the sectors of handmade products and coffee to strengthen their business performance, access gender-responsive financing, and access community services to improve social well-being and address gender-based violence. This year, MEDA and Global Affairs Canada will also expand support for the economic empowerment of women in Central America to Honduras, by improving market systems for smallholder coffee and cacao farmers with a focus on women and youth.

As International Development Week in Canada highlights the power of partnerships to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the women of Wakami are demonstrating just how important this collective action is in Guatemala. With over 300 rural businesses already strengthened through Wakami’s support, partnerships are ensuring that more women will be able to realize their dreams and transform the societies they live in.

Learn more about the power of partnerships from Wakami Co-Founder and CEO, Maria Pacheco:



  • MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates)

    MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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Quite inspiring