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How This Woman Entrepreneur in Peru is Keeping her Amazonian Heritage Alive



Through her family's artisan business in Peru, Mery Neli Salazar Pedro celebrates her Amazonian identity

Forty-six-year-old Mery Neli Salazar Pedro has been running her family’s artisan business, Arte Yanesha Amazónica, from her home in Peru for ten years. Her husband, three of their five children, and three other women work in the business. They produce clothing, accessories, and homewares, all with Amazonian designs.

Mery, originally from the Loma Linda la Laguna community in the Amazon, moved to the Peruvian capital Lima for high school. It was here that she later met her husband, also from the same community. They decided to start a business together that would celebrate their heritage. Mery explains, “We produce ethnic, ancestral products. We use iconographic designs that our grandparents dreamed of through their knowledge of nature, the river, the sky, the forest, the plants, and of the animals. This is the culture that has been transmitted from generation to generation and we do not want it to be lost. Everything we make carries a meaning and we want the whole world to know us, our culture, and our identity.”

The lengthy production process for each item involves crushing and boiling husks and seeds from the Amazon, adding them to the fabrics, soaking, re-boiling, constant stirring and then fixing colors with natural products like vinegar and salt. A true labor of love.

“Everything we make carries a meaning and we want the whole world to know us, our culture, and our identity.”

Business Beginnings and Barriers

When they started out, Mery and her husband were invited to sell their products at a fair, but they quickly realized they did not have enough products to sell, nor the money to build up their stock. Mery says, “That was a problem. We went with just a few bags, a crown, some medicinal plants.” Despite relatives in the jungle sending them natural supplies, they needed more investment.

Accessing finance was a challenge, as Mery explains, “We faced many challenges. To get a loan is a bit complicated for a woman because they ask us to meet many requirements. For example, a business operating license or to put your house as collateral, even your own business.”

Mery explains other challenges that women have faced. “Sometimes our husbands do not want us to work. They want us to stay at home looking after the children and they won’t let women excel or earn an independent living. Women should also have the opportunity to work, get ahead with our businesses. Perhaps sometimes we feel frustrated, but despite it all, we have overcome all obstacles. As women we can do great things.”

COVID-19 has also presented a major problem for Mery’s business, as they were put into lengthy lockdowns. Mery was determined to survive and diversified into selling face masks. “The pandemic has hurt us a lot, especially those in the handicraft business. We had to reinvent ourselves, stay home, sell our goods through social media or make home deliveries and make money to support our familie,” she says. Mery puts their business survival down to “team and family work.”

“To get a loan is a bit complicated for a woman because they ask us to meet many requirements.”

Digital Skills

In the business each family member has a specific role, for example her husband is in charge of logistics and new markets and her younger daughter helps with social media and advertising. Like many other business owners, Mery had previously relied on her children to support with digital skills.

Mery became involved in CARE’s Ignite program, supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, in 2021. Through the program, she has participated in various trainings, including learning how to optimize sales through social media. Mery says, “We want more Peruvians to know our business and place orders through social media. Ignite has shown us how to promote our products and negotiate through social media, how to retain our customers, and how to use web payments. This training has helped us a lot.”

Mery, a Peruvian woman, talks with a young man. They are both looking at an app on the mobile phone that she's holding.

Mery has also been trained on using the LISTA app, from social enterprise Fundacion Capital. The app offers financial education, marketing and enterprise development modules for entrepreneurs. Mery laughs when she recounts the early challenges she had with learning through the app. She happily explains how help was on hand through her Ignite WhatsApp group and mentor.

Learning to save through the app has had a huge impact on the business, Mery explains, “The savings issue was very complicated because we are not used to saving. It was great for our family to learn how to save. We need to know which expenses are necessary and which aren’t. Often, we spend above our income, so we have learned a lot with LISTA.” Mery continues to list the many other things she has learnt through the app including how to promote her products, how to make digital payments and how to serve customers. She adds, “We are going to put into practice everything we have learned.”

“Ignite has shown us how to promote our products and negotiate through social media, how to retain our customers, and how to use web payments.”

Looking Ahead

Mery’s vision is to share her cultural heritage as far and wide as she can. The pleasure she gets from sharing her culture with others is profound, she says. “I feel very happy and proud when our customers bring our Yanesha culture into their homes. I would like to expand our business across our country and abroad and so take our art, identity and culture to everybody.” Ultimately, she would like to take out a business loan with the support from the Ignite program, so that she can own her own retail shop in Lima.

Mery is participating in CARE’s Ignite program, which unleashes the power of growth-oriented entrepreneurs to contribute to resilient, inclusive economies.  The program runs in Pakistan, Peru, and Vietnam where there are large segments of unserved and underserved micro and small enterprises ready for investment. Ignite takes a market-based approach to service delivery that is sustainable and scalable, by working closely with local service providers.  Ignite offers access to finance, such as loans with more flexible terms; access to critical support, such as mentors and digital skills; and outreach campaigns, focused on financial education and harmful gender norms.


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