Here at Homes for Hope, we are avid students of a holistic model of business. As a nonprofit member of the building industry here in the United States, how can we become more in tune with the needs of our community? How can we position our organization to serve those needs and people well?
In our pursuit of this model, we have found an exceptional teacher by the name of Ramona ‘Marilyn’ Ciprian, a longtime client of Esperanza International, HOPE’s partner in the Dominican Republic. Marilyn owns and operates a small storefront, known as a colmado, in the city of San Pedro, Dominican Republic. Since receiving her first loan in 1996, she has successfully grown her business in one of the harshest economic environments in the world. With 18 years of experience, she has gained business savvy, a strong work ethic, and clarity toward the needs of her community.
The average daily sales from Ramona’s colmado now far exceed the sum of her first loan of $2000RD ($47-$50 USD). Next, she hopes to franchise her business and launch into real estate development. However, she recalls a time where her ambitions were driven by desperation. When asked about her life before partnering with Esperanza International, Ramona recalls, “I didn’t have anything.”
These life experiences have given Ramona powerful insight into the needs of her community, and she has been working for years to position her business to meet those needs. So when we went with a group of home builders from around the country on a vision trip to the Dominican Republic, what we found was an exemplary model of how to run a business that serves people well.
Derived from the Spanish verb comar, meaning “to fulfill,” a colmado is a one-stop storefront business with an inventory catered to the practical, everyday needs of its community. Imagine a Walmart supermarket nestled into one of the houses in your neighborhood: food, clothes, diapers, school supplies, and all of your household needs in a convenient location. How fitting! This perfectly fits our holistic, need-driven model for business. The literal translation of the Spanish word colmado actually means “heaping” or “overflowing.” When I hear this, I can’t help but hear an echo of Psalms 23:5 of The Lord’s Prayer, “My cup runneth over.”
The true brilliance in Ramona’s business plan is that she never stopped at simply meeting the material needs of her neighbors. She knows that in order to truly serve people well, she must go deeper and address the deepest longings of the human heart; the need for the Gospel. In response to this reality, Ramona has sought to integrate Christ and the Gospel into every aspect of “La Gran Comision.” You will find Psalms 113:5 written prominently on the front of her store, “Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high.” With every purchase, she shares tracts with her customers, telling them about Jesus, even closing the shop to go and minister to those in her community.
The way Ramona runs her business is more than enterprise, it is worship.