On our annual visit and business mastermind to Cuba in 2018, I was interested to see if anything had changed for Cuban women entrepreneurs.
Cuban Women Entrepreneurs in 2018
As expected, life was continuing as normal. Not much has changed in a year. The talks with the U.S. have ground to a halt with no further progress since Obama opened the door to negotiations with Cuba in the last year of his office. The door seems firmly shut since Donald Trump became, but that’s not always a bad thing!
The biggest problem for all entrepreneurs in Cuba is access to funds and for women entrepreneurs. It can be even more difficult because they do not always have access to outside partners with the capital to help launch a business.
Cuba does not have debt financing in the same way that we recognize it in the developed nations. There is no such thing as a mortgage. Although now Cubans can own their own houses, they must finance the building of their homes with their own money.
On our flight to Varadero, I met “Marco”, a Canadian who married his Cuban fiancé in May 2018. His Cuban wife is an accountant but would love to open her own business and so would Marco. Their vision is to own and operate a bar/cafe in or close to the tourist town of Varadero. For Marco, the attraction is the more laidback lifestyle that Cuba offers compared to the hectic bustle of living in Toronto.
For this couple, they are in luck. Because Marco is still employed in Toronto they are devising their own 5-year plan. Step one is for Marco’s wife to get Canadian permanent residence status. That will allow her unlimited access to working in Canada should she choose to do so and make travel to Canada easier for her.
Phase two is for Marco to continue to work in Toronto 3 weeks of the month and visit his wife, one week per month. Marco can still save money even with the regular monthly flight costs. When he has the capital accumulated, he will be able to provide the finances to fund the startup of the bar/café in Varadero. The only downside for Marco will be he cannot be part owner of the bar/café. This is only reserved for Cubans. In other words, his Cuban wife will be the sponsor and owner.
Cuba isn’t the only country in the world with this type of stipulations. The United Arab Emirates also had unique laws regarding ownership of both property and businesses. Freehold properties could only be owned by ex-pats in designated “free zones”. Businesses needed a UAE sponsor until very recently. In 2018 this rule was changed to allow the expansion of business in UAE in their efforts to diversify from the oil-dependent economy. This reduces the cost for businesses setting up in UAE, substantially.
For Cuba, it will be interesting to see if they see if they adopt a similar position to other emerging markets such as UAE to expand commercialization.
Only time will tell. But the Cuban way of life has a lot to offer and something we should reflect upon. There is a happiness that exists in the country. They may not have a lot of material goods, fancy cars, and homes, but they have a sense of what truly constitutes a happy life, the value of family of friendships and a life with very little crime.