Washington, DC
April 12, 2010

MS. NELL MERLINO: My name is Nell Merlino. I am the president of Count Me In for women’s economic independence, and I am also a Pathways Envoy and am working with the U.S. State Department to help promote the growth of women owned businesses in fourteen countries in Latin America.

Our first gathering of women for this program was in October of last year and there’s one wonderful story that I watched unfold that was so powerful.

There was a woman named Maria Rodriguez who came from Guatemala. Maria Rodriguez, she’s in her early twenties, she has a business called Byoearth and she works with developing a whole process of using organic worm fertilizer.

MS. GINA STERN: Are you the girl who likes earthworms? And she said yes and I said I have someone I want you to meet.

MS. MERLINO: Apparently there was a man in Cleveland who is very big in the organic worm fertilizer business, so Gina arranged for Maria to drive to Cleveland to meet him and learn more about how she could improve her organic worm fertilizer business.

UNIDENTIFIED: Where he goes we just step around him.

MS. STERN: We get to the earthworm farm and it was like I had suspected. Two people who spoke the same language, who had a real vision for global impact, assets that they can trade, they have the mindset to collaborate and to cooperate and I mean it was just a… an amazing thing.

MS. MARIA RODRIGUEZ: It’s not only about breeding worms and producing organic fertilizer. It really is about breeding an animal that has been designed by nature to take care of humanity, to produce collagen for make-ups and for skin, to produce meat for hungry populations, to produce flowers.

MS. STERN: I was so impressed by Maria because she’s an expert at what she does and she’s so young.

MS. MERLINO: She has 3 sisters and they’re all working in different areas of agriculture and one of their goals is to convince their father that women can actually run farms, because he has been waiting for one of them to get married so that he can leave the farm to a son-in-law.

MS. STERN: She automatically stuck her hand, you know, in the dirt and she could gauge the temperature, she new the size of the worm. She could just point blank tell what they were and how they were being breeded.

After that experience we just talked about earthworms part 2, which would be a follow-up trip to Guatemala. We would go there with Jaime and with Pathways to Prosperity program and just bring these 2 worlds together.

Maria couldn’t understand how people who didn’t know her could go out of their way for her. I mean for me the big pay off was that I could connect these two people and I … I mean the gift was just seeing her eyes light up when she got there and that’s what I all I waited for.

MS. MERLINO: And I think the most encouraging thing about this is not only did she go and meet him and learn a lot about the technology related to improving her business as she had it set up, but also went home to Guatemala and shared what she learned from her trip to Washington and Cleveland with two hundred other farmers in her part of Guatemala. It’s an extraordinary effort, and it’s really just another chapter in how we are working together to increase women’s role in the economy and to increase their success.