Maria Claudia Mendez
Starting out, Maria Claudia Mendez worked as an economist in Bolivia’s male-dominated engineering sector. The work was frustrating, and Maria faced discrimination solely because she was a woman.
She dreamt of creating her own business, one that generated local jobs and offered socially-conscious products using local materials and labor.
In 2003, she left the oil industry to launch Origenes Bolivia, an upscale fashion company using indigenous art practices and alpaca wool for high-end apparel and home goods. Today, the quickly expanding company’s goods are sold in the U.S., Japan and Europe.
In a nation where most entrepreneurs are confined to the informal sector, Maria builds bridges between the formal and informal sectors to grow her business. Most of Origenes Bolivia’s women artisans work from home, allowing them to have income while still taking care of their families.
Following her participation in the 2006 FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership, Maria was inspired to influence young women in her own country. She has created the first mentoring program for young entrepreneurs in Bolivia, and her company continues to support the program’s operations.