This week I had the privilege of hosting the inaugural WECREATE Google Hangout with four inspiring women entrepreneurs from around the world. The online chat was a chance to discuss the importance of entrepreneurship in creating economic opportunities for women and part of the U.S. Department of State’s ongoing efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship globally.
As the Department of State’s Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, one of my central responsibilities is to answer the call that President Obama made seven years ago in Cairo where he talked about the need to spark the creativity and capture the imagination of entrepreneurs across the world.
The seed that he planted in his speech in Cairo grew to become the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) — the preeminent international forum for entrepreneurs. Since the President’s Cairo speech, six Summits have been held in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United States bringing together an estimated 16,000 participants. Next week 1,200 entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders from 170 countries will gather in Silicon Valley for the seventh GES.
This year’s GES will feature a unique day-long intensive program called GES+, which will convene 150 women and young entrepreneurs. The program will consist of master classes; interactions with mentors; and opportunities to pitch investors and to network with peers. A central reason for this emphasis on women entrepreneurship is the clear return it brings. When women entrepreneurs succeed, they are more likely to invest their earnings into their families and their communities, paying for things like their children’s education and immunizations.
GES, however, is not the sum total of the U.S. Department of State’s efforts to promote women entrepreneurship. One of our most successful programs to date has been the Women’s Entrepreneurial Center of Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE) Centers. Currently, four WECREATE Centers exist in Cambodia, Kenya, Pakistan, and Zambia. These Centers have had a tremendous impact on the women who have received training through them, as well as their families and communities. Over 6,500 women have participated in programming; over 2,800 jobs have been created. Through their participation at WECREATE Centers, women entrepreneurs have found the courage, skills, resources, and mentorship to grow their businesses.
During our Google Hangout, I had the opportunity to engage with women entrepreneurs from each of the WECREATE Centers. One of the themes of our discussion was the importance of shifting cultural mindsets to provide a more enabling ecosystem for women entrepreneurs. Specifically, the women described the initial challenges they faced in creating a startup versus pursuing a more traditional career (or a career at all) and in navigating familial and social barriers.
Mom Mona, an entrepreneur from Cambodia, is the founder of SME Consultancy, a firm working to assist SMEs to reform their business structure. Mona highlighted how “[s]ingle women running a business alone in Cambodia can find it very difficult to challenge men.” As a married woman, Mona expressed how important family support was to the success of her business: “I am lucky. My husband always encouraged me in my business and helped me take care of the children.”
Another central theme we discussed was the challenge of securing resources. Evelyn Kaingu’s business was merely an idea until she walked through the doors at the WECREATE | Zambia Center and enrolled in the StartUp Academy class. Evelyn knew that one of the biggest challenges for women entrepreneurs in Zambia was access to credit through a safe platform with reliable repayment terms. The training she received prompted her to turn her idea of an online Pocket Money Loan Platform into a viable business. Since opening in December, Evelyn’s company Lupiya Circles has been able to support over 59 women entrepreneurs.
Describing the barriers that women in Pakistan face in attaining an education — let alone starting a business — Sadia Bashir explained how she was the first female university graduate in her family. She spent more than two years teaching herself about the video gaming industry before launching her own business. Today PixelArt Games Academy gives young gamers in Pakistan the chance to learn from experienced professionals. Sadia shared her mantra with the group of “implement, learn, and evolve” that has guided her in building up her own company.
Maryana Munyendo, founder of Simba-Safe Kenya is a perfect example of a women entrepreneur taking the next step in her business. Simba-Safe Kenya works to protect children through hands-on Personal Safety Education (PSE) by making them assertive and proactive when faced with precarious situations. Noting the challenge of juggling her job, passion, and family responsibilities, Maryana had sage advice to offer other women entrepreneurs: “[t]ime is the biggest asset in your life. Giving your business conscious time and nurturing it will cause it to grow.”
The stories of Mona, Sadia, Evelyn, and Maryana are but a few examples. There are countless other women entrepreneurs out there waiting to come on-line with the right support. Building on the success of the WECREATE Centers to date, we plan further expansion with the launch of WECREATE | Vietnam later this summer and WECREATE | Mali in 2017. We will continue to provide these opportunities because empowering women entrepreneurs is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do.
About the Author: Ziad Haider serves as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry originally appears in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit publication on Medium.com.
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