Iliana Pereyra is launching a radio program for rural women in Uruguay to encourage and support their income-generating efforts.
The New Idea
Iliana Pereyra is adding radio to the mix of services and programs aimed at supporting Uruguayan rural women's income-generating efforts. The weekly radio show features interviews with successful women entrepreneurs, who share their techniques, experiences, and knowledge. The show also directs the women to useful resources and provides advice about ways the women can overcome the barriers of isolation and inexperience that plague rural home enterprise activities.
Rural women are an important yet disadvantaged segment of Uruguayan society. Uruguay's 1985 census showed that 42 percent of rural Uruguayan families lived below the poverty line. This widespread poverty and absence of opportunity has translated into a rapid migration to the cities, where two-thirds of the population already lives and where new rural migrants are less and less able to maintain a dignified standard of living.
The obvious challenge is to expand rural incomes, thereby creating a real alternative to migration. A 1992 study showed that where rural family income exceeded the poverty line, women's outside income was a decisive element, suggesting the strategic importance of enhancing rural women's income-generating capacity.
Uruguay has a long tradition of projects aimed at precisely this goal. These projects often fail, however, due to errors stemming from lack of experience, coordination, and understanding of the rural woman's social and cultural context. Training programs typically are based on business reasoning far removed from rural women's traditional thought processes and are couched in unfamiliar and inaccessible language. Due to geographic dispersion and low population concentrations in the countryside, conventional consulting and training techniques are also quite expensive and diffusion slow, as even successful projects are limited in their impact to a few hundred people.
Iliana's strategy is to communicate about business directly with virtually all rural women through a medium they rely upon-radio-and in their own language. Her weekly radio show features interviews with successful rural women entrepreneurs, whose own experiences can provide both inspiration and practical advice. This "role modeling," combined with notices about resources, business opportunities and encouragement to form support groups, begins to create an enabling environment for rural women's business initiatives.
Because it is an untested new idea, Iliana is being careful to build in very tight feedback loops through the early stages. She is asking radio journalists for their assessment of her concept, interviewing rural women to get a better idea of their needs and radio listening habits, and surveying local AM and FM radio stations. Station surveys also implicitly market the show, and a number of stations reaching into Uruguay's rural areas have shown interest and receptivity to her project.
The show is supported by the Uruguayan Network of Rural Women's Groups, which include all of the main providers of business support for rural women. Iliana has advised the Network since its inception and sees the radio show as a major tool to strengthen cooperation and heighten efficiency among the groups by, in effect, playing a marketing role for their services.
The first stage of Iliana's project will cover four of the country's nine rural departments, where most of the rural population is concentrated, and reach approximately 45,000 adult women. The second step will extend the venture to five additional departments, including Uruguay's poorest, with a total female adult population of 75,000.
In the expectation that the show will have a relevance throughout rural Latin America, Iliana is systematically documenting her experience in a way designed to facilitate replication. She is also networking purposefully with women's organizations elsewhere in Latin America, including the Popular Education Between Women Network (part of the Latin American Council for Adult Education) and the nascent Latin American and Caribbean Network of Rural Women Workers.
Iliana's roots are in the Uruguayan countryside. The daughter of a rural teacher, Iliana remembers how her mother used to take her to the school where she worked and still recalls how wonderful it was to leave the solitude of her house and meet other children and adults. These memories of isolation remain very strong in her mind, as does the influence of radio, virtually the only medium for bringing information and entertainment to rural women.
Iliana, who has a master's degree in rural education, originally taught in a rural school, like her mother. Since 1978, however, she has worked with rural women, mostly on projects aimed at stimulating economic development and small businesses. Her experiences convinced her that even successful programs could be much more effective if there was a way to reach a greater number of rural women. To Iliana, this meant more than just a technical challenge; it meant breaking all communication barriers (e.g., by using rural women's simple and direct way of talking).
Iliana's entrepreneurial personality, deep personal commitment, and firmness inspire confidence in this bold new step in her distinguished career serving rural businesswomen.