There is No One More Resilient Than a Woman Entrepreneur


There is No One More Resilient Than a Woman Entrepreneur

By Devin Hibbard

There is no one more resilient than a woman entrepreneur, and millions of tenacious women continue to prove this every day.

Research makes clear that women entrepreneurs are facing a disproportionate impact from the coronavirus pandemic. Woman-owned businesses are more likely to operate in sectors that require in-person interactions, such as service industries, retail and tourism, and many have lost income or were forced to close. In regions including North America, Latin America, Asia and Oceania, businesses owned by women were more than 10 percent more likely to have closed due to the pandemic than those owned by men.

Further, self-isolation and stay-at-home orders often equate to more work in the home, a burden that largely falls on women. Even before the coronavirus, women — including women entrepreneurs — were responsible for over two times more unpaid domestic work than men. Six months into the pandemic, the average married woman entrepreneur was at least 10 percent more likely to report spending six hours or more on domestic and care activities every day, while still operating her business, compared to a male entrepreneur.

In the face of all these challenges, successful women entrepreneurs persist — with millions developing new business models, carving out new pathways to funding, and devising new ways to keep their businesses afloat. Supporting women entrepreneurs is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also an opportunity to help communities around the world build resilience in the face of crisis.

One woman entrepreneur, one inspiring story of resilience, millions more like her around the world

Street Business School works with women empowerment in 22 countries around the world who are lifting themselves and their families out of extreme poverty by running their own businesses.

Like every woman entrepreneur, the women in our network have felt the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their incomes. They’ve had to work harder than ever to meet their families’ basic needs, but they’re pushing ahead against all odds.

Take Victoria Achola as an example. Victoria was introduced to Street Business School in 2018 while earning the equivalent of less than $2 per day. After launching her own business selling chapatti, a traditional Ugandan flatbread, Victoria went on to mobilize 100 women in her community to join SBS and start enterprises of their own — women empowering women. Then came the pandemic, and with it a host of challenges for this woman entrepreneur and her community.

The Ugandan government issued a lockdown that caused Victoria and thousands of women entrepreneurs like her to close their businesses overnight. In response, Victoria launched two new “COVID-proof” businesses to make ends meet for her family.  She’s up before the sun at 5 a.m. making chapatti, and within two hours she’s outside tending her vegetable garden, which supplies the produce stall she launched that has since become her most successful business. Once the lockdown ended, she launched a third business, selling secondhand bedsheets and bedcovers, that has helped her increase her income to $6 per day.

Victoria is not alone. Her story is just one of millions as women entrepreneurs around the world realized they had to pivot quickly to keep their businesses afloat.

In another illustration: When the intergovernmental agency ICIMOD surveyed women entrepreneurs in South Asia, they unsurprisingly reported a loss in sales and noted that loans and subsidies from governments and NGOs were not enough to compensate. In response, they took matters into their own hands, finding alternate ways to run and restructure their businesses — including developing new products, expanding market channels, and starting online platforms to sell their wares. “It was in such difficult situations that many women entrepreneurs displayed their innovative spirit, resilience and leadership that needs to be recognized and applauded,” the researchers noted.

Entrepreneurship is crucial to keep people out of poverty

The economic fallout from COVID-19 is devastating and threatens to curtail decades of progress toward eradicating extreme poverty worldwide. The U.N. estimates that up to half a billion people may fall back into poverty as a result of the pandemic. That’s 8 percent of the global population or one out of every 12 people on the planet.

Let that sink in for a second. This cannot stand, but to prevent it, we have to wrap our arms around what exactly is happening and why.

Job loss is, obviously, the root of the problem — and it likely isn’t surprising that women face an outsized risk: The International Labor Organization projects the equivalent of 140 million full-time jobs may be lost due to COVID-19, and women’s employment is 19 percent more at risk than men. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region alone, an estimated 700,000 women are expected to lose their jobs as a consequence of the crisis, according to projections from U.N. Women.

In developing economies in MENA and elsewhere, much of this job loss is happening in lower-wage sectors, such as retail, manufacturing and agriculture. As countries seek to rebuild from an overwhelming economic hit, these jobs aren’t likely to return any time soon — at least not in the numbers necessary to provide a living wage for everyone who needs it.

Entrepreneurship can — and must — fill this gap, meaning support for women entrepreneurs is needed now more than ever.

Women entrepreneurs need a hand up — not a handout — to maintain resilience amid the pandemic

SBS has a longstanding “no-handout” philosophy — we don’t do charity, and this is by design. When we see a woman who is motivated to better her life and that of her family, we don’t see “need,” we see opportunity for women empowerment. This outlook has helped us build relationships with thousands of women, who buoyed their confidence and increased their skills in SBS workshops and went on to launch women-owned businesses, put their children through school, and give back to their communities.

But these are extraordinary times. In Uganda, where we got our start in 2004, projections suggest that 3 million people could be pushed back into poverty as a result of the pandemic (PDF). In April, we surveyed thousands of SBS alumni in Uganda, and although they were better off than many others, 83 percent were still missing an average of three days of meals each week.

At that point, we knew it was time to step in, providing small cash grants directly to families who couldn’t run their businesses because of government-imposed lockdowns. Evelyn Mwondha, Street Business School’s Uganda Co-Country Director, and her team also set about restructuring SBS training programs for women entrepreneurs.

First they hosted “Get On Your Feet” training modules, where small groups of SBS alumni discussed ways to maintain or reboot their women-owned businesses amidst the pandemic. Then, they unveiled SBS Phone Training, a 10-week remote entrepreneurship training program delivered over the phone to groups of five women. Although the original goal was to reach 300 women in Uganda this year, in response to the increasing poverty, the team revised their goal to reach 1,200 women, and to date 900 women entrepreneurs have already been trained.

Street Business School also trains other NGOs how to incorporate our proven model in order to magnify their impact.  We have 110 partners in 22 countries who are also responding to increased levels of poverty. As a program that is uniquely targeted at helping women to thrive as entrepreneurs, the demand for Street Business School will only accelerate in response to poverty growing.

We’re encouraged by the lessons we’ve learned from the women in our network and inspired by their stories of resilience, but we know this is only the beginning. The push to build back better, stronger and more equitably from the pandemic will be long, but if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s a woman entrepreneur. We’re honored to stand side by side with some of these women business owners as they lead us toward a brighter and more resilient future.

About Street Business School: Street Business School’s women entrepreneurial training program, honed over a decade of on-the-ground experience, drives impact across robust metrics including increased income, and women business ownership to help graduates sustainably rise above the global poverty line, earning $4.19/day on average within two year of graduating from SBS.

SBS provides NGOs with proven training services ranging from staff training to turn-key white label to customized individual components that meet the unique needs of each partner to help them amplify their impact on women empowerment.

The scalable SBS curriculum can be tailored to address cultural differences in multiple countries, which, through women-owned business reduces poverty, and supports and magnifies the impact of NGOs core programmatic focus areas ranging from children’s education, to health care, to climate change.

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