Sandra Marleny Soriano Ortega, Finance Management, COAGRICSAL, Honduras

WHY WE ADMIRE SANDRA MARLENY SORIANO ORTEGA

I first met Marleny in the fall of 2016 and have worked with her ever since in her capacity handling all financial transactions (in the US, her title would be CFO) for Coagricsal.

It’s hard to imagine that her petite frame can contain such fire and power – she is decisive, confident, thoughtful and kind. Her mind works incredibly quickly – and she speaks as quickly as she thinks. Inevitably, when we are together, you will hear me pleading “más despacio por favor,” translated “slow down please.”

Unlike most women I’ve met pioneering in spaces historically dominated by men, Marleny has in no way conformed to masculine traits. She brings a uniquely feminine perspective, energy and beauty to the management of the co-op. Sure – she is the key gatekeeper for all coffee and cacao pricing and transactions for COAGRICSAL. Yet, we’re equally likely to engage on topics ranging from fashion to decorating to flowers to travel to family. And, she’s the only woman I know who can traverse the coffee and cacao growing hillsides of Honduras in high heels with ease.

If you meet Marleny, it’s easy to forget how much she has pioneered over the last fourteen years. Her presence is integral to the life of COAGRICSAL. As we read her story below in her own words (translated from Spanish), we get an idea for just how special she, and COAGRICSAL, is in the empowerment of women in their own community as well as the broader coffee and cacao community. 

As a side note, you'll notice more references to coffee than cacao. COAGRICSAL began as a coffee co-op with cacao (and allspice) following nearly a decade behind. Thus, coffee is still the majority of their business. And, doubtless, their experience on the world stage in specialty coffee has allowed them to grow the quality and quantity of their cacao remarkably quickly.  

With that, when you’re done reading, grab any of our Honduras origin products knowing that your purchases are supporting a co-op who invests in and stands by women wholeheartedly.

SHOP HONDURAS ORIGIN

ABOUT SANDRA MARLENY SORIANO ORTEGA

I come from a family that is dedicated to agriculture. We live in the countryside in El Rosario, Macuelizo, Santa Barbara. We are six children who have all been educated in different areas. My father is a partner of COAGRICSAL, a producer of coffee and cacao. Since I was little, I have grown-up watching the processes of coffee and cacao, perhaps hence my passion for coffee and now also cacao. I love working in both.

I have a Bachelor of Business Management. I have worked for COAGRICSAL since 2007 - 14 years.

I cannot imagine life without it

My dream for my career is that I keep growing – learning more about coffee and cacao, and being able to contribute more to the cooperative and our communities. To spend the rest of my life doing what I do. Since I have passion for all this, I cannot imagine my life without being in the middle of these areas. I think that when you start in coffee, it is very difficult to change jobs. Although I don't feel that what I do is work. Imagine that! It’s my passion. They pay me for something that I enjoy doing, which makes me happy.

Involved since COAGRICSAL’s Inception

Being one of the people who has been in COAGRICSAL since its inception, that has allowed me to know many areas in the cooperative, such as: Production, Accounting, Administration, Certifications, Projects, Marketing. I am currently responsible for Commercial Finance Management, directly in charge of the national and international sales and marketing of coffee.

Being Able to Contribute to our Society

My only work experience has been in COAGRICSAL. I began my career working here after I finished my university. I love working for a cooperative with social and environmental responsibility, since in this way we can help many people and communities. I love being able to contribute to our society. I have grown up watching my family produce coffee and cacao. I always said I would like to learn more - I am going to look for a career that I can manage a business. And just one day, I ran into Oscar who was going to my town and he offered to take me to my home since I was waiting for the bus to get home. That same day, he mentioned his project that he would like me to work on with him. From that date, my story begins in coffee and cacao.

One of the greatest benefits of my work has been having the opportunity to contribute to society. Working for a cooperative, you support many people and communities that need it so much, and you do it in a direct way. For example, being able to increase the income of producers, working to give added value to their products, helping to improve their communities through the application of good practices in their communities, constantly training them.

WOMEN AT COAGRICSAL

COAGRICSAL has always been a cooperative that supports women. You can see that it has many women in important positions. It has always given equal opportunities for men and women. We are empowered women and women leaders. For me, it is greatly satisfying to be able to work at COAGRICSAL since inception. I have learned a lot and I have been able to contribute my knowledge in each goal we have reached. COAGRICSAL has been a platform for personal and professional growth.

As women, it is our challenge to stay as leaders, since we must always be an example for others. This is achieved with a lot of commitment, discipline, credibility, honesty, and we must always have passion for what we do.

Being a woman does not limit me to achieve my goals. You need to have character, be constant and have empathy towards others. In this way, you make people follow you, always support you.

Important Positions Filled by Women

I have been lucky to have a great boss, Oscar (pictured above on the right), who has given me the opportunity to learn and grow in the cooperative and has confidence in me. He has always selected important positions to be filled by women. We feel proud to have all this support. In COAGRICSAL we feel secure. We have all the necessary support to be able to undertake each of our projects. When we do not know something, they teach us how to do it. It gives you great satisfaction as a human being. We are included in every decision that is made. The opinions of each employee have always been taken into account.

The Female Representative of the Coffee Industry

I always tell that at the beginning of the coffee business, the representatives of the cooperatives in events, fairs and businesses were always men. On one occasion, we were a group of more than 15 representatives of organizations of which I was the only woman. This attracted a lot of attention and they always referred to me as the female representative of the coffee industry. Then, little by little, more female representatives in this area were integrated, which is nice for them to have the opportunity to get involved in the business as well.

If you won’t do business with a woman, we won’t do business

Another story that I would like to tell you - when Oscar began to involve me in the business, he began to send me to national and international coffee fairs. Here one gets to know this beautiful and interesting world of coffee and cacao businesses. We exhibited at a booth for Honduras at the Specialty Coffee Association fair in Europe in Rimini, Italy. The clients visited us there, and I started talking to one to give information about the cooperative and share coffee samples. We continued in communication, since at that time he wanted to start a coffee business and was learning the field. Months passed and we continued in communication. I sent the information and additional samples that he requested from me. One day, he called the office asking to speak with a man with whom he could do business. That is, he could not do a deal with a woman (who was me). Can you imagine? Well, at that time I didn’t care because what I wanted was to have a new client. So I went and told Oscar that there was a client who needed to do business with a man, not with a woman, and that he will have to take the call. I remember very well that Oscar answered me - tell that man that he will have to do business here with a woman, and if he does not accept that, then we will not do business. I was sorry to tell him that. Just imagine - I found this new client, but Oscar made me tell him that. So we gave him Oscar's response. The man just replied that there wasn't a problem and he would do business with a woman, and he made his first purchase of our coffee. The following month, he visited us and apologized and explained that in their culture, men don’t do business with women because they have a weakness for women. I tell you this to point out that we have an exceptional boss, who supports us 100% as women, and who prefers not to do business if others don’t respect us.

Perhaps those are the challenges that as a woman we always face. It is up to us if we can overcome them - always demonstrating our passion for what we do, being honest, responsible and trustworthy in each of our functions.

Hopes for the Future

I would like to continue investing in training on good [agricultural] practices, production, quality, technology, varieties, and production costs in order to be more competitive in the cacao market. Also, I would like to continue to involve more women in this area – to turn them into the best coffee and cacao producers. I’d like to help them to develop a passion for what they do, and to know and value what they produce since that always adds value.

In 30 years…

I hope we have more women involved in cacao production, who are strengthened with better knowledge and are more productive. I hope that our Honduran cacao is known for its quality. I hope we will be known not only for being suppliers of raw materials, but also for transforming what we produce. I hope that we create good quality products for the national and international markets – and that we are not afraid to innovate.

SHOP HONDURAS ORIGIN

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