Five proven strategies to help women living in poverty increase their income

Five proven strategies to help women living in poverty increase their income

Over the past fifteen years, Street Business School (SBS) has empowered thousands of women living in poverty to become small scale entrepreneurs who triple their incomes. We are now scaling SBS by equipping other NGOs with our proven curriculum, helping them create effective economic empowerment programs that amplify the impact of their own organizations..

SBS training teaches traditional business skills, while incorporating some not-so-traditional strategies and principles. Over time, by testing, evaluating and perfecting, we found the following five key strategies critical to the creation of sustainable increases in income for women living in poverty.

5 Key Strategies

1. Harness the Power of Belief. Having the confidence to open a business is the single most important element to increasing income. Business knowledge, access to capital, business pointers—these and other resources are irrelevant until a woman truly believes that she can be a successful business owner. Here are ways to build confidence and belief:

    1. Interact by recognizing human dignity. In all interactions, emphasize the good ideas, hard work, and unlimited potential that each person brings. When we work with women, they call us “coach” and we call them “coach” in an explicit recognition that we all have something to teach and something to learn.
    2. Use stories or testimonials of people from the same demographic who have succeeded. Women think “If she can do it, maybe I can too.”

2. Women Centered Design. A “one size fits all” approach isn’t enough to create a sustainable program. How can you customize your program to meet the needs of the unique community? Here are a few ideas:

    1. Deliver it in the community, in the local language, and offer childcare if you serve a lot of moms.
    2. Offer modules that adapt to all education levels – including those who never attended school. Our bookkeeping module includes an apron with different pockets that helps women track their expense and income for different products – no writing required.

3. Teach Outside the (business) Box. Instead of limiting the type of business a woman can start, focus on finding where the market and personal interest intersect. We say “you have to love your business for it to succeed.”  Our Business Opportunity Identification module takes women through a process where they combine hands-on market research with self-evaluation, in order to select a business idea that meets market demand, and fits with their lives.


4. It’s Not About the (Startup) Money. A common misconception is that access to capital through a grant or small loan is necessary to start a small business. We’ve found the opposite to be true. Access to capital gives women money. What it doesn’t give them is the knowledge they need to be resilient. SBS training teaches women to start small and how to raise the initial $4-$18 USD they need to start a business. This may not be their dream business on day one—it could just be a pot of soup on the street corner that will grow into a proper restaurant over time. Starting small and reinvesting to grow a business over time leads to greater resiliency and a long-term commitment to success. And if a woman has to take money out of the business in an emergency, when she starts small and grows over time, it’s much easier to start again. Women can earn start up money for their business by:

    1. Asking family and friends for small loans, a dollar could be 25% of her start-up capital.
    2. Selling things they aren’t using in their homes—a broken water bucket or clothes children have grown out of.
    3. Doing odd jobs for a few weeks in their neighborhood, like washing laundry or helping in agricultural settings.
5. Experts belong in the center. Women living in poverty are the experts in what they need. Any successful program must allow for some customization to meet unique needs, and be driven by the experts—those who are benefitting. Reinforce this by:

    1. Not dictating where increased income is spent. We believe that when people have more money, they spend it on things that are most important to them, so we never dictate what women should do as their wealth increases.
    2. Building customization opportunities into your program. In our training of other NGOs, we know that the expertise they have of their local communities is a critical component of success. Our innovative social franchise model combines our proven program with their local expertise to make SBS optimally successful.


These 5 key strategies are essential to economic empowerment and success. By building them into your organization’s economic empowerment program, you can ensure great results.

If you are looking for a proven solution today that can help you magnify your impact tomorrow, consider Street Business School certification. Through our 8-day Immersion Workshop, we provide a complete toolkit to deliver our proven micro-business curriculum to your local community, enabling you to amplify your impact. Learn More.

SBS is an award-winning non-profit, igniting the impact of other organizations by equipping them with our one-of-a-kind entrepreneurial training for women, proven to triple their income and enable them to lift their families out of poverty with dignity. It currently operates in 13 countries around the world, with almost 150 Certified Coaches, on track to reach 1 million women by 2027. 

Women who graduate from SBS go from earning $1.35/day at baseline, to $4.19/day two years after graduating, and 89% have businesses.


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