At 3M we seek to observe, understand and solve. What we believe is simple: We are people committed to helping other people. Every day we help tackle problems, big and small, in pursuit of our vision to improve every life.

Two weeks. Three people. One remarkable opportunity to help change women’s lives in Colombia.

March 19, 2020

Three 3M employees traveled to Colombia, immersing themselves in a different culture to help rural women chart a more sustainable path for their agricultural businesses.

Picture of nopal cacti against a blue sky

Collaborating to make a difference

How much impact can be made in a rural community in just two weeks? In October 2019, three 3M employees journeyed to Bogota, Colombia, as part of the 3M Impact program to find out.  

Amelia Fish, Theo Schultz and Caroline Samlong partnered with Fundación Guayacanal, a nonprofit in Colombia, to provide support and resources to women who manage small businesses in the country.

Armed with a unique set of skills and professional experience, the team brought diverse perspectives to address several challenges the Colombian women face in building their brands to more successfully sell their products.

“This project was about supporting the women here and giving them a way to empower themselves.”

Caroline Samlong, 3M Business Sourcing Mangager

The 3M team immersed themselves in understanding the women’s business operations and culture. They learned that the women were using native plants adapted to the arid region to develop a variety of food products–including chutneys and soups–to make extra income for their families. “The nopal cactus is the cornerstone of this project, but there are a few other plants the women have learned to grow as well. All of these plants can be used to make healthy, nutritious food,” explains Fish.

But with limited knowledge of marketing and business management, challenges stand in the way of the growth and scalability of their food product businesses.

So the 3M team spent countless hours working alongside the women to understand their operations and the struggles they face. Fish, Schultz and Samlong were then tasked with developing a marketing plan that could help the women overcome some of those barriers.

Finding inspiration abroad

The 3M team quickly recognized that the small businesses were providing more than just extra income for the Colombian women and their families.

They saw how the women took pride and ownership in the work they were doing, which cultivated a sense of empowerment. In a male-dominated culture, these women-run small businesses provide an outlet to share their talents and ideas to better their lives and their communities.

Those insights inspired the 3M team to find creative solutions to help the women build their businesses and secure the livelihoods they worked so hard for“This project was about supporting the women here and giving them a way to empower themselves,” explains Samlong.

Upon completion of their two-week assignment in Colombia, Fish, Schultz and Samlong developed a 12-page recommendation report for the nonprofit. The report includes ideas to help the women brand, crowdfund, market and export their food products.

The team returned with new perspectives and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Reflecting on the journey, Fish recounts a saying shared with her there: “If you think you’re too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”

To learn more about the work the 3M Impact teams are doing around the world, visit our website.

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