Venezuela: Entrepreneurship training and start-up funding to help the most vulnerable regain a livelihood

For Nohelis, the day starts at four in the morning, before the break of dawn. She gets up quietly to avoid waking her two children and gets to work at the small family bakery that she set up with our help. Though she will be busy until gone ten at night, she remains positive and immensely driven. Despite often feeling tired, she has dreams of expanding the business one day and building a better future for her children. Nohelis is just one of several people living in violence-affected parts of Bolívar State who benefited from our support to start a business and earn a living last year.

By nine in the morning, Nohelis has already prepared several batches of dough at her home in San Félix, Bolívar State – a community that has been severely affected by armed violence. The oven is at temperature and she is covered in flour, leaving white marks everywhere. For the next three hours, she scurries back and forth between the shop at the front of her house and the kitchen, where she kneads more dough and keeps an eye on her bakes. She carefully opens the oven and checks that the sweet bread is rising, the vanilla and coconut biscuits are not overbaking, and the canillas* are turning the desired golden colour that she has worked so hard to master. When the clock strikes 12.30pm, everything is ready and Nohelis begins to fill up her display stand with the freshly baked goods. A delicious smell wafts out, immediately attracting customers. Everything she has made that day, she will sell.

"I've always loved cooking, baking and being creative with meals," she says. "Although my cakes didn't turn out well to start with, I was always keen to improve and figure out exactly which ingredients would make the best and most delicious bakes. I signed up for training courses to learn more and develop the skills I needed to make baking my trade. I didn't want to reach the age of 60 and have nothing to show for it."

With her husband being the only earner, money was often tight, and Nohelis feared becoming financially dependent on her children as she aged. She started studying at Fundacecasmar, a foundation based in San Félix that provides vocational training in fields such as baking, hairdressing and dressmaking. She learnt how to make perfectly round sweet breads and how to cut the canilla dough into equal parts and bake it evenly. "I did eight courses all in all, so I know how to make all kinds of bread," she says proudly.

When the ICRC launched a pilot programme at the foundation to help people affected by armed violence to start their own business, Nohelis applied without hesitation. After completing various forms and tests, Nohelis received a call to say that she had been selected and may also receive start-up funding to get her business off the ground. "I couldn't believe it – I cried out with joy! The neighbours came to see what was going on and they were really happy for me when they heard the news."

C Ortega/CICR

Nohelis had started making bread at home, but did not have a proper bakery oven.

Together with other entrepreneurs, she received training in business models, finance and sustainability so as to "start a business and not go broke in the process," as she puts it. "The classes were fantastic and I'll never forget them," she says. "I learnt how much it costs me to make one bread roll, calculating even the smallest spoonful of sugar, and how much I could charge my customers. I also learnt the value of the time that I invested in my work. For me, it's been a real blessing. It was challenging too, though, because we were learning something new every day," she adds. "And demonstrating that our business was viable during our final exam wasn't easy.

Before taking part in the programme, Nohelis had been selling home-baked biscuits to friends and neighbours. She had also tried her hand at bread making, but was limited by only having a makeshift oven to work with that her husband had adapted from one they'd received as a gift. The programme helped her to overcome this and other obstacles, ultimately enabling her to run her own bakery.

With the income she has generated, she has not only stocked up on ingredients but also expanded the business by purchasing household supplies, personal hygiene items and other products to sell from her house. One day, she dreams of owning a grocery store and selling bread wholesale to vendors outside the community.

She delights in seeing her bread turn golden brown and her biscuits baked to perfection, and her face lights up when her customers tell her how delicious her bread is. Neither her smile nor her ambition seem ever to fade, and it is clear that she is a confident, committed and highly motivated woman. When she speaks, she doesn't mention limitations or problems, but rather focuses on solutions and opportunities.

"This programme was an invaluable opportunity for me and a blessing for my whole family," says Nohelis. "I never expected to get this kind of support and it changed everything, it really did. It helped me overcome the hurdles to running a business and that business has changed my life. I'm so grateful to everyone who supported us."

* A canilla is a common type of bread in Venezuela, similar to a baguette.

Through our pilot programme, in 2021, we provided 11 entrepreneurs in at-risk areas of San Félix, Bolívar State, with the training and funding they needed to start a business and regain a livelihood.