• International Competitiveness

From humble beginnings to changing livelihoods

04.09.2018

Maria Alejandra from Ecuador is your average CEMSie: intelligent, ambitious and driven by the desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. What she is not, is the average Ecuadorian woman. Born and raised in a community where the vast majority of women are suppressed from perusing their dreams, this is CEMS graduate Alejandra’s story of defying conservative traditions to follow hers.

Early life in Ecuador  

Maria Alejandra nicknamed Ale, was raised in a close-knit family. Despite being born to a society where men worked and women stayed home, Ale’s parents encouraged her to dream big and work hard to achieve them. And work she did! Be it academics, sports or music, Ale thrived in all that she put her mind to. While Ale may not have been exposed first-hand to the gender inequalities preceding in Ecuador, thanks to a nurturing and loving family, she was by no means oblivious to it. The societal oppression and gender discrimination that Ecuadorian women faced made young Ale determined to not only evade it but also do something to improve the lives of others around her.

Becoming a global citizen

Even at a young age, Ale understood that the key to her success was a good education and with that in mind she worked hard to get the best one she could. She decided to study International Management and enrolled herself at FGV/EAESP, the leading business school in Brazil and it was here at FGV that she was introduced to the CEMS program.

CEMS was a turning point in my professional and personal life. I enjoyed every day of being a CEMSie because I was surrounded by exceptional people who challenged me every day to become not only a better professional but also a better human being. CEMS opened my mind to understand cultural differences, to dream big and equipped me with the courage and skills required to start my own business. CEMS made me realize that the world needs more sustainable leaders willing and able to change the world and that they needed them now!”. - Maria Alejandra

Giving back to the community 

Two summers and a CEMS graduate later, Ale stayed true to her purpose. She packed her bags and moved back to Ecuador, determined to start her own business in creating leather bags. 

While it was by no means easy to become a female entrepreneur in Ecuador, the confidence and skills set Ale gained from her CEMS MIM programme contributed to her success. She started out small by hiring two families of local artisans to do the handwork of creating beautiful leather bags and in return, she paid them fair salaries and offered them good working conditions. As the owner/CEO of Haku Leather Designs, Ale not only manages the marketing and the sales aspects of the business, but she is also very much involved with the entire production process. She provides the artisans with innovative designs and materials to fabricate the bags and delegates the responsibility of manufacturing the bags to her employees who also have the choice and freedom to work from home.

These bags are then sold locally in two designer boutiques in Ecuador and one in Paris. Ale also has orders coming from other parts of the world through her online boutique where her beautiful handcrafted leather bags are accessible to all. With the current demand for her products, Ale is confident that she will soon be able to create more employment opportunities for Ecuadorian women and venture into international markets in the very near future.