Remarks of Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Manes
Wednesday April 11, 7:00 PM; ASI Building
* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish language text should be considered authoritative.
Tonight is about you. I am here to highlight your achievements. Achievements that in the last two years I have had the privilege of seeing firsthand. It is a great honor for me to be here tonight and to receive this recognition on behalf of your industry, which is particularly close to my heart.
Some of you may know that I grew up in a family business selling bathroom accessories, curtains, carpets and of course towels. We packed the towels on a very long counter, and that counter had a ruler on it, because we had to fold the towels to exactly 11.5 inches. And my father is German, so you can imagine that when he told us that they had to be 11.5 inches, there was no room for error.
Although I have not forced my daughters to learn this skill, to this day I still know exactly how to fold a towel. And, I had the opportunity to do it in a visit to Hilasal. Congratulations to you on 50 years!
I think everyone here can remember the first jobs you held, maybe also in a family business. But you probably never thought that your first job would be what you would do for the rest of your lives.
I never thought I was going to fold towels forever. I had other plans, other passions and life gave me a privilege that not everyone has: to choose my own professional path. But, I also had the benefit of people and organizations that believed in me and gave me the opportunity to develop other talents. In the same way, you have an opportunity to open new doors — as some of you are already doing — of finding new ways to do business, to innovate the relationship between the company and the community, and to support the local talent that is looking your way to aid their own development.
On a recent visit to Confecciones del Valle, I had the opportunity to meet Ada Martínez, and I would like to share some of her history with you. Ada started working in the company in 2013, as a seamstress. At that time she had a bachelor’s degree and a lot of passion to work. She is a tenacious worker and is interested in doing quality work.
Shortly after taking the position, Ada’s high performance was recognized and she was promoted to working on “samples”. In that position she learned the ins-and-outs of quality control, packaging and shipping. Then, she went on to work on “cost calculations”; doing cost analysis on the time and consumption of materials. Today, Ada is a 3D designer who works with virtual models to see exactly how the clothes will fit the clients. When Ada applied to work as a seamstress — with only a bachelor’s degree and limited work experience — she never imagined that in five years they would promote her three times and that she would become a skilled 3D designer. But, someone recognized in her an ability to do more and took the risk of investing in her. And every time the company gave Ada the opportunity to learn something new, she grabbed the bull by the horns.
There are times when companies go beyond expectations because they prioritize employee welfare. This encourages impressive loyalty from employees. In one of the companies that I visited there is a business clinic with 20 baby pictures hanging on the walls. They are the 20 children that have been born in that clinic by the employees of that company. They are women who have preferred for their children to come into the world in company clinics instead of established hospitals because of the trust, confidence and quality of attention they have received from their employer. This is what it means to have a relationship with your employees that goes beyond being an employee and employer. And this type of relationship transforms communities.
I want to tell you another case. Marlene Calle comes from a family with very few resources. Her family could not pay for her education after the middle school. But Marlene got a job in League, a company that motivates its employees to continue studying, to continue training. League is a company that says: your future is not this place, your future is out there, this is only your first step.
League is a company that produces shirts for 1,600 Universities in the United States, but its main focus is its people. Its model is built around the social approach that seeks to solve problems such as school desertion and the integration of ex-prisoners. League offers employment to high school students who graduate from the local school in Ciudad Obrera; where dropout rates fell from 28% to 0%. Moreover, 8% of their current employees are former gang members.
Marlene has a relative in the United States who told her: “Why don’t you come here? I’ll help you come to the United States. ”
And Marlene said to them: “No, because I believe that my future is in El Salvador.”
Thanks to the support of League, Marlene did not only graduate from high school, but is now studying Biomedical Engineering and she will be the first professional in her family.
And what do you think is her greatest aspiration? Marlene, let me use your own words: “I intend to motivate more young people to move forward to overcome the obstacles of poverty, violence, inequality and lack of opportunities, and to impact my country, El Salvador, by being a professional with thirst to help others.”
These are the people who are already working in your companies.
It’s people like Oscar Henríquez. Oscar is about to reach 40 years of working in Termoencogibles. Four decades in a company, where he started as an extrusion operator and is now a manager with about 200 employees in his charge.
In this time, Oscar has improved and modified the production processes so that they can manufacture more and more complex packaging. When they hired Oscar, it was not with the intention for him to work on modifying processes. But when he made the proposal, the managers at Termoencogibles listened to him and gave him the opportunity to prove himself.
Over the years, Oscar has been able to buy a house and raise his family. His three children are proud university graduates. By believing in him and supporting him in his ambitions, the company not only gave him opportunities, but it benefited his whole family.
And this is something that deserves to be repeated: when we support a person, we support a family. When we empower families, we strengthen the community. When you strengthen communities, do you know what else you are doing? You are building a nation! You are building a better El Salvador.
But, you already know that the decisions that you make in your company affect people far beyond the four walls of your offices. They have exponential effects and, as your employees have more options, the other members of their communities will have more possibilities in turn.
Here’s another example. Unifi has reimagined the textile industry — an industry which was born during the industrial revolution — by applying technology, innovation and creativity when asking the simple question: how do I make a sock out of garbage? Of course, the process is a little more complex than that; the process of transforming recycled materials into garments. But, it is this unconventional way of thinking that has the potential to drive the creation of new industries and create more specialized jobs.
Unifi does this at the same time that it encourages the workforce to develop their skills further, as is the case of Carlos Figueroa. Carlos started at UNIFI in 2010 as an electrical technician on the night shift — a tiring schedule — but he nevertheless managed to finish his university studies. He is now a bilingual Electrical Engineer thanks to the English program at UNIFI.
And there are other cases of innovation, right here in El Salvador, which show that just because things have been done in a way for decades does not mean that you have to keep doing that. You just have to ask Baltazar Crespo, from Hanes, who literally invented and developed a valve tester and restorative machine. Baltazar is not an engineer, nor a mechanic, nor an inventor by profession, he has a degree in Business Administration and is very creative, obviously.
But the magic is that when a person is given a chance, the results are surprising.
Tonight, I invite you to join me in a round of applause for Ada, Marlene, Oscar, Carlos and Baltazar. I assure you that you all have people like them working in your companies and I look forward to meeting them the next time I visit you.
The textile sector that you represent, has the great challenge of struggling with an increasingly antiquated perception of what it is to work in this industry. It is a stigma that as a group you have the possibility to change and show that this is an industry worth developing, that it deserves to be invested in because it is already changing the lives of the communities around it.
El Salvador is currently the ninth largest exporter of textiles to the United States. One of its competitive advantages is its geographical proximity to the U.S. This is something China can not compete with: no matter how cheap its labor, they can not shorten the ocean.(INFOGRAPHIC
But the future of the textile industry in El Salvador lies not in competing based on low labor costs, but in innovative approaches to production, in the development of its human capital and in the added value that its products can have.
And this added value can take many forms. For example, applying technology to send digital samples instead of physical ones, using the 3D design. It may be the innovation of recycling plastic bottles into textile products. It may be reducing your carbon footprint by using renewable energy. Or, it may be the breaking of a cycle of violence by reducing high school dropouts in the communities in which they operate.
The combination of these factors, the geographical proximity, the added value and the benefits offered by agreements such as CAFTA, give El Salvador an advantage over the competition and give its products and its company a story to tell its customers, because the modern consumer wants a quality product, aligned with its values. CAFTA photo
The modern consumer wants to buy the stories of Ada, Marlene, Oscar, Carlos and Baltazar. There are challenges to overcome, and if you are interested in this new vision for the textile sector, I am here to tell you on behalf of the United States of America: we are open to doing business and we want to support you.
At the Embassy we have a basic philosophy: we are here to support Salvadoran efforts to improve your country. We manage a series of initiatives such as the Higher Education for Economic Growth Project, which works with higher education institutions to strengthen the formation of human capital. I could mention many more; but, instead, I invite you to talk to the members of different offices of our Embassy who are here tonight. I want to thank our team here for all their work and dedication and I hope that together we will discover how we can overcome the obstacles you face.
Invest in your infrastructure, of course, but invest in your people. Be the catalyst for change that you can be for this country by betting on its people. (hilasal Selfie)
Keep spinning dreams. Keep on making a better El Salvador.
* This is a courtesy translation. Only the original Spanish language text should be considered authoritative.