Our next 15 Voices interview is with Rosario Castellon, Root Capital's former senior loan officer in Nicaragua.
Born and raised in the rural town of Condega, Nicaragua, Rosario co-founded the country’s first fair trade coffee cooperative in the early 1990s. She went on to run supplier relations for sustainable business pioneer Equal Exchange before joining Oxfam, where she led a groundbreaking collaboration between Mexico’s largest farmer cooperative, Oxfam, Starbucks and the Ford Foundation. In 2005, Rosario brought her incredible experience and deep commitment to farm families to Root Capital as a senior loan officer. During her nine-year tenure at Root Capital from 2005 - 2014, Rosario helped build our operations in Latin America, bringing a wealth of personal and professional experience to advance our mission.
Root Capital: When did you first encounter Root Capital?
I don’t remember my first encounter with Root Capital, but it was probably around 1999 or 2000. I was working with Equal Exchange and during that time Root Capital was Ecologic Enterprise – that was even before it was Ecologic Finance. I met Root Capital when it was taking its first steps and have lived through the three names and many phases of Root Capital!
Root Capital: Why have you been involved with Root Capital?
My opinion is that Root Capital has created a working environment dominated by sensibility, responsibility, efficiency and a very high quality service. This differentiates Root Capital from other financial institutions.
Smallholder farmers across the world know how to farm, and many even have the market connections. But the largest obstacle they face is access to financing. With financing provided by Root Capital, they can dream and have more hope for the future. I’ve seen it firsthand. People now have more hope for the future.
But the financial market is not everything, and Root Capital knows that well. Root supports organizations not only with capital but also with financial education and business advisory services. I believe that Root Capital has the power to detonate a wave of change in the countryside: social and economic growth, joy and hope in the future of the people.
Root Capital’s work has already brought a very positive change to rural areas. I was born and raised in the countryside of Nicaragua, and I’m proud of the progress made there – not only of our clients but the communities and their families. People have a new mentality and are inviting young people and women into important decision-making processes. It is great, and an indication of incredible progress that brings a lot of satisfaction to the work that Root Capital does.
When you see the results in the countryside, you forget about the long hours and the work stress because you see that all of your efforts are worth it.
Root Capital: What is one word that summarizes Root Capital in your mind?
Root Capital does not simply dole out checks. The organization cares for the lives of the small and growing businesses and the farmers. It grows with the businesses and provides knowledge that can be a source of power. Many organizations can’t cross the bridge to enter to the market because they do not have access to sufficient information. With the help of Root Capital, businesses develop skills and build alliances that unlock their future success. Root Capital helps them achieve sustainable growth and self-realization.
Root Capital also helps achieve the common mission that the businesses and farmers have: the construction of a common good. Committing to sustained human welfare and poverty eradication demands action like the action Root Capital is taking.
Root Capital: What excites you most about what Root Capital can achieve in the next 15 years?
Every time I reflect about the work, mission and impact of Root Capital it is hard not to look back and compare the early days to where the organization is today. It has come so far! There is always positive change in the organization, community and lives of the people.
If I may, I’d like to tell the story of one of my friends, a member of SOPPEXCCA, one of Root Capital’s clients in Nicaragua. He is the father of two children who, thanks to one of Root Capital’s loan programs, will be land owners. Before this program, members of SOPPEXCCA worked their entire lives to obtain a sliver of land. Today, their children are land owners because of an innovative loan product offered by Root Capital. In 15 more years, Root Capital will be facilitating more land access to young farmers and women so they can have ownership like their ancestors once did. Since land is the main means of production in rural areas, it brings stability, stops migration and creates family roots.
Since I am from the countryside myself, I have seen families unaffiliated with farmer cooperatives and producer businesses forced to take their kids out of school because of money issues. I have seen kids dying with swollen stomachs due to parasites because their families lack the means to take them to a doctor. People who are affiliated with businesses financed by Root Capital have more possibilities to overcome these obstacles.
Today, due to Root Capital, many producers can offer formal education to their children, something that many years ago was only a dream. Today, we can even see that in some of the farmers working with Root Capital, their children have finished a college degree. People have been able to meet their basic needs.
With 15 more years, Root Capital will help even more young adults work on land, farm using sustainable methods, and improve and diversifying their revenues. More kids and women will have access to an education and the quality of life in the community will improve, closing the inequality gap. It will be, as Willy used to say, “un mundo un poquito menos injunsto” (a world a little less unjust).