Traveling through the Colombian countryside as a veterinary doctor, Maria Clara Ruiz Zapata became intimately familiar with the economic challenges facing rural communities. Looking to contribute to the wellbeing of these communities, Maria Clara launched her business Estación Colombia to bolster local incomes and supporting coffee growers in the mountains of Antioquia, Colombia.
While establishing her business, Maria Clara found that many of the 500,000 Colombian small coffee farmers faced significant stumbling blocks in not being able to sell directly to consumers. She also found that there is an imbalance between production costs and sales process that can trap farmers into a cycle of debt, investing in the equipment and labor to farm quality coffee without ample revenue and sales to get ahead. Looking to remedy this issue, Maria Clara found that agritourism was a powerful way to help balance this equation.
Established in 2012, Maria Clara ‘s first business, ZoOming.co, began connecting tourists with small-scale Colombian coffee farms. Through ZoOming.co tourists could visit the farms, engage with growers and purchase coffee subscriptions from the local growers. These trips spurred economic growth and fostered meaningful connections between visitors and growers. Maria Clara shares, “we provide a way for the specialty coffee growers in Colombia to connect directly with coffee drinkers. This creates a valuable human connection.”
Although COVID-19 has taken a toll on the tourism industry, Maria Clara has not let that stop her from running her business. With the launch of Estación Colombia, she shifted the model of ZoOming.co, enabling consumers to purchase their specialty coffee before visiting the farms. Through this, Maria Clara supports local communities by enabling small farms to continue to sell their products and earn an income in the absence of tourism. Coffee consumers can also attend virtual sessions where they can learn how to best prepare their coffee with their Colombian-grown beans.
Today, Estácion Colombia employs 35 families and works with five different cooperatives in Colombia. The company has connected over 2,000 tourists to these local growers. Reflecting on her experience with both growers and tourists, Maria Clara shares, “I feel that I am more connected to other people’s needs and I have a deeper appreciation for different perspectives, and how valuable this is to building better communities with happier individuals.”
Throughout her business journey, Maria Clara has learned to find her own definition of success and has enjoyed connecting with others, women in particular across the globe. Before participating in the VV GROW Fellowship in 2019, Maria Clara “felt overwhelmed and isolated even though my business was doing well and I was able to see how the company was helping other women to grow”, believing that business growth could only be achieved through traditional models. After participating in VV GROW, she learned that it was possible to forge new approaches to business, feeling that it’s possible to have a meaningful life experience, a sustainable company that serves communities well and determining one’s own definition of success to work towards.”
As a successful leader, Maria Clara has gained the ability to speak out for herself and amplify the voices of other women in her community. She advises other women leaders to focus on self-growth, trust themselves, have gratitude, and create a balance between work and life.
“My biggest triumph has been to live an enjoyable life — to connect deeply with wonderful people from all over the world and my growing admiration for the strength, wisdom, and the caring values of other women I have met during this journey.”
To learn more about Maria Clara Ruiz Zapata, check out Estación Colombia’s coffee subscriptions, follow her on social media or listen to her speak on the Vital Voices panel about the future of coffee explore the below links.
Future of Coffee Panel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOPOe_VplTs&t=2s