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Women Living in Poverty Celebrated as Entrepreneurs

22 August 2016 at 11:15 am
Wendy Williams
The entrepreneurship of hundreds of thousands of women living in poverty has been celebrated as part of World Entrepreneurs’ Day.

Wendy Williams | 22 August 2016 at 11:15 am


Women Living in Poverty Celebrated as Entrepreneurs
22 August 2016 at 11:15 am

The entrepreneurship of hundreds of thousands of women living in poverty has been celebrated as part of World Entrepreneurs’ Day.

Female entrepreneur

Not for Profit Opportunity International Australia said World Entrepreneurs’ Day, which takes place annually on 21 August to create awareness for entrepreneurship and leadership, was an opportunity to put a spotlight on women in some of the world’s poorest countries who are establishing themselves as entrepreneurs to change the lives of their families and communities.

Opportunity chief executive officer Robert Dunn told Pro Bono Australia News he hoped the day would showcase women who use small loans to start a small business, earn a regular income and provide for their family.

“Mothers from the poorest parts of the world are undertaking innovative entrepreneurial endeavours, using small loans to start a business,” Dunn said.

“I see these women as women entrepreneurs because they’re helping, derisk their families and they’re helping to generate income that can help their families have a better life… and set the kids up for a completely different existence than they’ve had, through a business activity.

“When World Entrepreneurs’ Day comes around we think this is our space because the work we’re involved in, in these countries is the private sector of these countries. It’s the grassroots, it’s an informal private sector but it is the key private sector.

“And so we think it is great to be able to honour… women entrepreneurs who are not only changing their families but also their communities and being seen by their kids in a different light to before.”

Entrepreneurs in world's poorest countriesOpportunity, which uses a microfinance model to help people living in poverty in Indonesia, India and the Philippines get a start by providing a small loan so they can start a business venture or grow an existing business, works through partners in the three countries to serve about 3.7 million families.

Opportunity supporter and Silver Chef Limited founder and executive chairman Allan English said the model was having a generational effect.

“The concept of funding entrepreneurs in particular women in developing countries is showing that the profits being generated from the individual businesses are going back into supporting the family and educating children,” English said.

“There is this extraordinary generational effect of not only helping female entrepreneurs to be able to stand up and say, ‘I paid off my first loan and now I want a second one, I did this on my own,’ but also the children are now getting educated and their self-belief is much higher.

“It’s about giving people a hand up, not a handout. It’s that cultural aspect of allowing people to achieve success in their own right.”

Those who have taken a loan through Opportunity are involved in a variety of businesses from agriculture, animal husbandry, manufacturing to retail.

Dunn said the most basic microfinance starting kit could be three pigs or a little retail store, while some women had established much larger businesses.

“I was in Manila once and I went into the home of a lady called Corazon and she’s a sewer,” he said.

“She started a sewing business and she now employs 25 other women, and not just women, some men as well in a slum in Manila and some of them work in her home and some of them work in their own homes and bring garments to her and her group is producing thousands of t-shirts and shorts for kids a week. So she’s a real entrepreneur, she’s got a real business going and she is providing a livelihood to 25 other families.

“At the other end of the spectrum there was a lady in a slum in Delhi who bought boiled eggs and sold boiled eggs and you know she was thrilled because she was making a good margin on the eggs, and that was her business.”

Dunn also gave the example of Lydia, a lady in eastern Indonesia, who set up a shop after her husband died and can now afford to send her kids to school.

“She is now living with three of her kids and she is the breadwinner,” he said.

“A $119 loan to Lydia has enabled her to set up a little shop and sell products to people in the village in which she lives. And so the difference that made to her daughter, who had had to pull out of school, [is that] Rambu, has now been able to go back to school because Lydia can pay the school fees.

“Rambu is going to be educated, Rambu is probably, almost certainly, going to be educated much more than her mother was and has the chance at a very different life and she will forever thank her mum for setting up a business that enabled that to happen.”

Female entrepreneurs in the world's poorest countriesDunn said it was humbling and inspiring to see first hand the effect a small loan can have.

“It is fascinating and they want to show you their business and they’re a business person and they’re doing this stuff and you go along and it’s like going to somebody’s business here,” he said.

“It is interesting and you are learning about what makes it work and what doesn’t make it work and you go wow, this is a really impressive small business that this person has got, just like you would here.

“The setup might be quite different and the environment might be quite different, but in the end you can’t come away thinking anything other than they’re just like us. These folks have exactly the same dreams for their kids, they want their kids to grow up well and live in better environment and circumstances, and be good people, good citizens and that’s exactly what we want.

“So immediately all the commonalities come to the fore and it’s an inspiring visit.”

Dunn said that it was the similarities between entrepreneurs regardless of where they are in the world that stood out the most.

“All startups face similar issues such as limited access to capital,” he said.

“A small loan in combination with creativity, perseverance, determination and skills can enable a woman living in poverty to kick start a business, just as Australian entrepreneurs borrow money or access venture capital to get their business off the ground.

“For a family in a developing country who can’t afford the basics, a gift as small as $70 can be life changing.

“We hope that World Entrepreneurs’ Day will build awareness of the inspiring entrepreneurs in developing countries and that Australia’s entrepreneurs will come together to invest in them.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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