Businesswoman. Farmer. Community leader. Mother. Most of us would struggle to be any one of those things. Dora Lisa Carrión Gómez? She’s all four.
Every morning, Dora Lisa rises early to make the morning shift at Saja, the café she manages in the quiet Andean town of San Ignacio in northern Peru. Saja is owned and operated by the 72 members of APROCASSI coffee cooperative's women's group, of which Dora Lisa serves as president. These 72 women also produce their own line of coffee, which they sell both internationally through Allegro Coffee and Whole Foods Market and right here in the café.
With its hip woodcut sign, single-source coffee, and display cases lined with organic honey and stevia, the coffee shop would be just as much at home in Brooklyn or San Francisco as it is in San Ignacio, an unassuming town near the border with Ecuador. But what Saja lacks in cosmopolitan surroundings, it makes up for in business. The café is thriving.
“Every tourist who comes here will ask around in San Ignacio, ‘hey, where can I get a cup of coffee?’ And everyone tells them to come to Saja,” says Dora Lisa, laughing over her steaming mug. “We’ve sold so much, we’ve practically worn out our welcome!”
However, Dora Lisa’s easygoing sense of humor disguises a woman who works very, very hard. After checking in on the café in the morning, Dora Lisa heads to the coffee farm she inherited from her parents, where she works until the sun begins to set over the Andes. She then returns to the café at peak evening hours, often staying until 11:00 or 12:00 at night. And among all of this, she still finds time to raise her young son.
For Dora Lisa, coffee isn’t just a source of income – it’s a way of life. But most of all, it’s a way to create opportunities for the women in her community. And to her, the cooperative’s support of women has been crucial. “Women have always been discriminated against,” says Dora Lisa. “But when I joined APROCASSI in 2006, I saw this new reality. A reality where women could work, could advance. A reality where women could have power.”
Root Capital began financing APROCASSI in 2004 with a loan of just $92,000. Over the last 13 years, we have supported APROCASSI’s substantial growth with over $15.8 million in financing, as well as tailored advisory services on topics like financial planning, accounting, and cash flow management. For Dora Lisa, it’s these services in particular that stand out: “The trainings and workshops that Root Capital provided helped all of us understand what a woman entrepreneur can truly accomplish.”
As the cooperative has grown, the women’s association has transformed from a side project into one of the cooperative’s greatest assets. When Allegro Coffee, the specialty coffee company owned by Whole Foods Market, launched an entirely women-produced line of coffee called “Café la Dueña,” in 2014, they looked to the women of APROCASSI. Three years later, APROCASSI is still supplying high-quality beans – produced entirely by women – to Allegro. In return, Allegro pays the women’s group an additional $10,000 per container – a premium that Dora Lisa and her team have invested in projects that benefit the entire community, such as a small store that sells necessary provisions and nutritious food at an affordable price. Because of Dora Lisa’s leadership and the hard work of her women’s association, the APROCASSI name is becoming internationally recognized – and its women members are reaping the benefits.
Dora Lisa’s job isn’t easy, she admits. But it is rewarding. “Compared to before,” says Dora Lisa, “my life has changed a great deal. I’ve had experiences through the cooperative that have allowed me to represent this community of women. And I feel proud. To see these women so happy, because they can say ‘this is our coffee.’”
And her dreams for the future? Dora Lisa smiles knowingly – this isn’t the first time she’s been asked, and she has the answer ready. “I dream of having a chain of cafes like Saja. To put our coffee in Jaen, the next town over… or maybe even further. That’s my dream.”
Root Capital is proud to work with businesses that offer women the stable incomes and career opportunities that they deserve. In honor of International Women's Day, read more stories about the inspiring women in agriculture whom our work supports.