Creating new startups with the help of an app

Two women standing on dirt path and looking at tablet (Fundación Capital)
Women across Latin America are using computer tablets like this one to learn about personal finance. (Fundación Capital)

In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Liliam Xiomara Valenzuela Ulloa wasn’t sure about using a tablet computer to learn about investing and personal finance. But after two months, it paid off. She stayed on a budget and saved enough to buy an oven.

She turned her baking skills into a business, and today, her bakery is doing great.

Woman holding electronic tablet and standing next to oven (Fundación Capital)
Liliam Xiomara Valenzuela Ulloa used this tablet to gain financial literacy, which helped her buy the oven on the left. (Fundación Capital)

“I started making four pounds of flour, and now I make 17 and sell everything,” she told Fundación Capital, the nonprofit organization that built the digital course. “People come looking for more bread.” Valenzuela said she has more money and time to spend with her family as a result.

Many of the women had never used a computer before using Fundación Capital’s financial app called LISTA, which means “ready” in Spanish. But the tablet-based app’s course is changing women’s lives throughout Central and South America.

“We’re starting to see those spinoffs, inspirational initiatives,” said Fundación Capital’s Ana Pantelić, referring to women who start their own businesses after using the LISTA app.

Today, more than 2 billion adults worldwide have no access to the formal financial system. In partnership with Fundación Capital and other nongovernmental organizations, the U.S. Agency for International Development is working to change that.

These groups are trying to get the LISTA app to 400,000 new users in Central and South America by August 2018. The LISTA Initiative started in 2012 in Colombia and has already reached more than 250,000 people in Honduras, Brazil, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Pantelić said part of the program’s success stems from making financial education interactive — and fun. The app includes animations that provide basics on savings and using automated bank teller machines. It features video testimonials from women who have used the course and are succeeding.

Cartoon town with animated wallet and information buttons overlaid (Fundación Capital)
The LISTA app features interactive budgeting simulations. (Fundación Capital)

The program is sparking big changes in Honduras, where women entrepreneurs spent two months with the tablets. Participants described the app as having a “professor in your hands,” said Pantelić, who grew up in both the United States and Serbia. “It’s like having that one-on-one experience with a teacher.”

The women who complete the program don’t get to keep the computer tablets, but they share what they learn with others. In San Pedro Sula, for example, the group of 96 tablet-wielding entrepreneurs passed on their new knowledge to around 4,000 community members.

“What we really want to make sure is that there is opportunity for all, and that there’s knowledge for all. And from there, people can make their own decisions,” Pantelić said.

This project is among several that U.S. groups support to expand people’s use of technology. The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, for example, will take place November 28–30 in Hyderabad, India, with a focus on women entrepreneurs, who hold an important key to unlock prosperity in their countries. White House adviser Ivanka Trump will lead the U.S. delegation.