Our Impact

Narcisa Bautista, the Legacy of a Woman Who Knocked Down Walls

by Riamny M鼯em>ndez

Narcisa Bautista recalls that in 1981 when she began working as a secretary at a produce export business in La Vega, Dominican Republic, there were no women in charge of such export companies.

Eighteen years later, when Narcisa became owner of the same company at which she began as a secretary, there were still no women in charge of similar companies. Narcisa grew her career and developed leadership skills in a male-dominated environment with no female role models.


That wasn't the first time Narcisa knocked down a wall. She has always had a love and natural ability for mathematics. This opened doors for her in a country where, even now, the stereotype persists that women and numbers do not get along.

"I understood math more. When they hired people. . .they looked for someone good in math, and I was ranked number one. I had not entered university, just graduated from high school," she said, sitting at a table in one of her company's offices. On the wall are a map of the world, a small painting of Sri Lanka, and some family photos.

A short distance away you can hear the sound of workers coming in and out of from the cold storage quarters, the voices of producers working to close a deal, and the other typical sounds and conversations of a busy office. The packinghouse Narcisa runs has 55 permanent employees and buys oriental vegetables, such as Chinese eggplant, and tropical fruits, such as coconut. Of the 125 producers she buys from, about 30 are women.

When Narcisa graduated high school in 1981, the Dominican Republic, like many Latin American countries, was undergoing a major economic crisis, and higher education was out of reach for most poor families like Narcisa's. But her job in the packinghouse allowed her to cover the tuition of a private university.

Narcisa is suddenly lost in a memory. The figure of her mother emerges, a protective woman who has come to wait for her teenage daughter at 8:00 at night by the side of the road to make sure she arrived home safely from her job doing inventory for a farm in Santiago Rodr�ez near the Haitian border.

'I arrived in a truck. The driver would leave me, and my mother would be there waiting for me on the route. So far we have come," she says, clearly proud of her success and what she has built.

When she took over the business, it was very basic, consisting of just a small building where the products were received and a cold room. Narcisa has had to deal with the hazards of hurricanes and floods, closed export markets (such as the United States), and government bureaucracy.

But she succeeded in growing the business, regaining access to export markets, and increasing her customer base and sales. Staying afloat in a business full of ups and downs has required well-honed negotiation skills and a willingness to partner with other exporting companies. In fact, she credits much of her success to good, long-term relationships with employees, colleagues, and clients.

For example, when she acquired the business, a Canadian company offered her an exclusive, ten-year contract and a loan on very favorable terms. To this day, she maintains a close relationship, 'like a family' with the company's owners.

Narcisa believes she has a responsibility as a business owner to help her community, and Exportada Cruz Bautista carries out social responsibility work, for example, paying tuition so that producers' children can attend university and building houses for suppliers.

She also feels an obligation to use her position in the community to support the local La Vega economy. Thousands of families in the region earn their living from agriculture. Narcisa serves as vice president of the Association of Oriental Vegetable Exporters (ADEXVO) and represents her sector in the Dominican Agro-Business Board (Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana). Chief among these groups' activities is advocating for state support when there are closures or trade difficulties.

Today, Narcisa is no longer the solitary female voice among a chorus of men. There are now several women as owners or co-owners of family-run vegetable export businesses.

Narcisa is married to an oriental vegetable producer and together they have two daughters who are also involved in the business. It falls to them to live out a future with more opportunities, but they will still face a world full of gender imbalances and in which the unemployment rate for women is practically double that for men.

The interview draws to a close. There is business to attend to, and Narcisa says it's time for her to do a walk-through. On her way, she'll observe the bustle of a company that is increasingly adapting to international quality standards. She'll see producers who work hard for their livelihood. And she'll see the living expression of her own life story, a Dominican woman who overcame obstacles, built strong business and community relationships, and became a pioneer in her field.


Riamny M鮤ez F鬩z is communications and gender specialist with the Dominican Republic Exporting Quality and Safety Program, a USDA-funded program implemented by IESC. The program is increasing productivity and domestic and export sales of high-value fruit and vegetables: avocado, greenhouse and oriental vegetables, pineapple, and cocoa. IESC works with producer groups and packinghouses to help them meet international food quality and safety standards.
March 3, 2017/by actualize studio

John R. Torell III

"I congratulate IESC as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Over that time, our company has helped build new businesses in some 130 developing countries and created over 1 million new jobs around the globe. I had the honor of serving as the Chairman of the Board for over a decade. During that time, I was privileged to see tremendous growth and transformation in IESC. It was founded as an organization to mobilize executive volunteers from hundreds of US corporations...the best of American enterprise...to share the bounty of our great country throughout the developing world. Volunteers and full time consultants have served in early career, mid, late and post career assignments. Their range of involvement has included education, infrastructure and regulatory development, trade, clean water projects, sustainable food supply, factory construction and general business support. The mission has always been the same: the sharing of the best of America to build a better world for all of its inhabitants. We thank all of those who worked with IESC over these 50 years to make that goal into a sterling reality."
June 4, 2014/by actualize studio

Tunisia’s Organic Producers Get Exposure to the U.S. Market

Tunisia is home to approximately 750 acres of organic farm land'the second largest acreage in Africa'where more than 2,300 farmers use certified organic production methods that help preserve biodiversity, support the soil, and protect the environment. Despite this rich resource, few Tunisian producers have tapped into the ever-expanding U.S. organics market.

For high quality Tunisian olive oil, you start with organically produced olives.

The Tunisia Small and Medium Enterprise Development Project was designed to boost Tunisian exports and promote economic growth by providing technical assistance to export-ready or near export-ready firms in the organic food sector, among others.

Buyers missions are an effective way to introduce producers to potential buyers and increase the demand for Tunisian organics through better name recognition in the U.S. market. Although quality and standards of organic foods in Tunisia are high, Tunisia has not yet been able to achieve notable international presence.

In December 2013, the Tunisia SME Project and Tunisia's Center for Export Promotion invited four U.S. buyers to tour Tunisia's organic farms, visit state-of-the-art facilities, and meet the Tunisian producers. Collectively, the buyers represented an annual purchasing volume of approximately $150 million.

The American buyers described the trip as an eye-opening experience. 'The companies I witnessed offer the highest quality and degree of pride in work at the artisan-level,' said one of the participants. 'The U.S. consumer who is shopping at Whole Foods is looking for exactly what Tunisia has to offer.'

After this encouraging feedback from the buyers, Selima Ghariani, CEO of the organic olive oil producer Tunihuile, decided to attend the San Francisco's Winter Fancy Food Show in January 2014.

'After meeting the U.S. buyers in December, we were encouraged to try the Fancy Food Show.' At the show, Tunihuile promoted its brand, developed a network of contacts, and ultimately closed a deal with the firm New Yorkaise for 300 tons of organic Tunisian olive oil valued at $1.2 million.

'At this point,' Ghariani said, 'we are now looking to set-up a solid logistics structure in the U.S.' 

With the help from the Tunisia SME Project, Tunisia is building on global demand and establishing the Tunisia organics brand.

'Tunisia is poised for excellent growth,' said another American buyer. 'They may need some help positioning their goods toward the U.S. consumer, but as we say in marketing, it is easy to add sizzle to a very good steak.'

The Tunisia SME Project ran from 2012 to 2014 and was funded by USAID through the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance, or VEGA.
February 26, 2015/by actualize studio

Two IESC Field-Based Staff Members Earn University Degrees

Jackie Howard (left) and Caroline Flowers (right) pose with their BBA diplomas. 

In 2012, Caroline Flowers and Jackie Howard spotted a flyer at their university'a flyer that would shape the next three years of their college experience and beyond. It was a flyer was soliciting interns for IESC's USAID-funded Investing for Business Expansion Program (IBEX), which provides business loan facilitation and technical assistance and capacity building to local business and commercial bank staff.  

IBEX's internship program aims to provide mentoring and training to college and university students, in hopes of preparing them for future employment. 'When I first heard about the IBEX mentorship and career development program on my campus, I immediately applied, believing that I would learn and one day become a professional person after my graduation,' Caroline said. Before long, IESC hired both Caroline and Jackie, and since May of 2013, they have been supporting the IBEX program'first as interns, and later, after demonstrating their dedication and diligence, as full-time employees.

Both women indicated that they learned a great deal from their IBEX internship experiences about what it means to work in a professional environment. 'Being a member of the IBEX team is one of the greatest opportunities for me as a student to develop professionally,' Caroline said. And according to Jackie, '[The] IBEX Program. . .gives college and university students the opportunity to learn basic office procedures and professional etiquette that prepare them for the competitive job market.'

On Friday, November 27, Caroline Flowers and Jackie Howard, along with 400 of their colleagues, proudly crossed the stage at Stella Maris Polytechnic's graduation ceremony. Both walked away with bachelor of business administration (BBA) degrees in hand, Caroline's in management, and Jackie's in accounting.

Caroline and Jackie have expressed their gratitude to the entire IBEX team'both in Liberia and Washington, DC'offering special thanks to Watchen Bruce, who leads the IBEX program, and her deputy, Augustus Flomo, for their ongoing mentorship.

For Caroline and Jackie, November's graduation doesn't signal the end of their academic pursuits'they're aiming higher. Caroline hopes to pursue a master's degree in financial management, while Jackie plans to pursue a master's degree in banking and finance.

This story is made possible with the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of IESC and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
February 24, 2016/by actualize studio

IESC’s 2019 Annual Report

IESC is pleased to share its 2019 Annual Report. This report…
December 31, 2020/by Erin Suarez

U.S. Volunteers to Provide Training in Conflict Resolution to Students in China

WASHINGTON--For five days in October, students at Beijing Foreign…
© 2008-2023 Improving Economies for Stronger Communities (IESC)