Magazine article Americas Quarterly

Yamina Vicente: Events Planner

Magazine article Americas Quarterly

Yamina Vicente: Events Planner

Article excerpt

Yamina Vicente was marked early for a leadership position in the public sector. After studying at the elite Vladimir Ilich Lenin Preparatory School in Havana, she earned her master's degree in economics from the University of Havana, graduating at the top of her class. A rising star, Vicente was honored with teaching posts, sent to Venezuela to give lectures, and awarded prestigious positions in the state-run Grupo Azcuba at the heart of Cuba's sugar economy.

But with two small children, Vicente, 31, found that she simply could not make ends meet on her meager state salaries. She had always dreamed of having her own business, despite the culture at the university that degraded working in the forprofit sector. But she had no entrepreneurial experience and was unsure about what field to enter.

So when the government released its expanded list of authorized private-sector businesses in 2010, Vicente an d her sister Maurisel pored over the opportunities, looking for something that did not require much up-front capital and that might fit their skills and interests. "We studied the list of permissible activities trying to find the one that we found most interesting and the most modest investment," she recalls. "We settled on party planning."

In 2013, the sisters launched Decorazón, a family firm offering decorations and event coordination for social events. With her talent for design and manual arts, her high energy and contagious optimism, it seemed a natural fit.

The sisters raised $600 in small loans from family and friends on the island-not accessing remittances, as do many aspiring cuentapropistas (small business owners)-to purchase essential inputs: colored cloth, artificial flowers and pedestals, and air compressors to blow up balloons. Working out of their homes in Havana, they initially offered their event-planning services for weddings, birthdays and quinceañeras. But they have slowly expanded into more complex events, such as business celebrations in private restaurants and baptisms. In addition, some new traditions are taking hold in Cuba, such as Halloween parties and baby showers, for which Decorazón has quickly started to offer services. Unlike many of the new private firms that cater to tourists and expats, 85 percent of Decorazón's clients are Cubans.

The growing business now organizes about eight events a month, yielding revenues of roughly $1,000 a month, out of which the sisters religiously reinvest 10 percent to upgrade and expand their products. While they continue to put together the routine living room or backyard birthday parties, Yamina and Maurisel can often be found calling the shots at elaborate weddings at Cuba's finest hotels. …

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