People are taking notice of the power moves by women across the globe now more than ever. And when it comes to women-led businesses in developing nations, the importance of supporting their growth is enormous. “Empowering women and girls is the best way to maintain stability in a country, reduce poverty, and promote sustainable development,” says Saran Kaba Jones, executive director of FACE Africa, a nonprofit organization that develops water purification and sanitation systems throughout Liberia.
What can you do? That simple question chorused by the Half The Sky movement, has placed the flashlight on the challenges that women face around the world. Countless people watched with bated breath the recent premiere of PBS’s 2-day documentary “Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,“ based on the New York Times best-seller written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
Blackenterprise.com discussed the benefits of encouraging women leaders in business, especially in the developing world, with Jones; Jesseca McNeill, program manager and original member of JoinFITE, the philanthropic arm of skincare giant Dermalogica; and Rebecca Van Bergen of Nest, a nonprofit organization that nurtures a network of artisans globally.
Prime Opportunities for Championing Women: While completing a masters degree in social work at age 24, Van Bergen saw a wealth of opportunities to empower women, alleviate poverty, and promote peace when she first launched her nonprofit organization Nest. By targeting existing artisan workshops, administering micro-loans, providing global market access, and offering skill-based training, Nest has ensured the viability of thousands of predominantly women-led enterprises throughout the developing world it supports.
“When you’re providing employment for a woman, you’re not only providing a more stable environment for that particular woman, but for her family and ultimately for the community at large,” Van Bergen says.”There is a direct correlation of women earning more money with kids being in school and having better access to healthcare.”
Bridging Educational and Economic Gaps: When resources in developing nations are available, women have the power to stimulate economic growth and, in turn, positively change the landscape of entire communities. “We know for certain, due to studies from the U.N. and the World Bank, that women would reinvest the majority of their income back into their children,” McNeill says.
Through the efforts of the skincare brand Dermalogica, more than 100,000 women have been empowered to become skincare therapists and start their own enterprises globally. When the idea formulated to create micro-loans to fund women entrepreneurs of any industry, they knew they that to be powered with Kiva, a nonprofit organization that provides loans—via the Web— to people in developing countries. “As we came up with this idea, we said we’re not in the business of loans, we’re in the business of skincare and empowering women. So we looked to who was the leader within the US, facilitating or microfinance loans and that is Kiva.org,” McNeill adds.
Positive Partnerships: Van Bergen and Jones have also turned to strategic partnerships to implement their missions of empowering women, by ways that stimulate women-led businesses and entrepreneurship in developing nations.
Maiyet, a luxury fashion brand, has afforded Nest the ability to expand their diverse network of artisans through a strategic partnership. Through other Nest partnerships, artisans have the knowledge, capacity, and industry know-how to compete within the global market. ”When you take out a loan to start a business, that’s just one step of many steps. You need business education, and if you’re in the retail space, you need market access and a place to sell,” Van Bergen says.
When discussing barriers, Jones and Van Bergan, each highlight the lack of sources for financing and educational resources as key barriers. As a way to combat that, supporting initiatives and programs that support women entrepreneurs and providing expertise to women abroad is key. Jones recently partnered with USAID Guinea to teach a two-week entrepreneurship and leadership seminar to 200 women in Conakry and KanKan, Guinea. “I had to speak to women about entrepreneurship, address the challenges that women face as emerging entrepreneurs, and help them acquire the skills, networks, and values that they need to grow sustainable enterprises.”