“I want to help my community” is a line that I have heard in some shape or form from every women entrepreneur I’ve interviewed from San Francisco to Hyderabad. Yes, as someone in the development sector, I knew the statistic well – women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families and communities. But it wasn’t until I embarked on a year focused on entrepreneurship, girls and women and met incredible woman founders from all around the world that I’ve really started to understand the power of these individuals to transform their communities, societies and the world. I’m taking International Women’s Day to reflect on some of the “women are awesome” observations I’ve made along the way:
Difference Driven: At Startup Weekend – Women’s Edition in San Francisco, a whopping 80% of the pitches had a social impact component. All ideas put forth were tech-based and for-profit, yet they had a social cause or problem they were addressing or contributing to – from education to healthcare to hunger there were few issues that were left untouched. The trend continued when I started the second leg of my year in India. I asked Raj Janagam [Founder of Unltd Hyderabad – a social entrepreneurship focused incubator] if they had trouble recruiting women, he looked surprised and answered, “No it’s obvious women want to change the world, 50% of our entrepreneurs are women and this was not by design or intention – it just happened!” Whether is for-profit, non-profit, a social business or enterprise – I believe [and have seen] that if women are given the reins they want to and will make a difference.
“We vs. Me” Story: The entrepreneur story is often one of the lone wolf battling the world. What I’ve heard in the stories of women entrepreneurs is of the lone-wolf inviting and welcoming the world to become part of her pack. From New York’s Shaila Ittycheria [co-founder of Enstitute], to San Francisco’s Andrea Bouch [co-founder of IQ Collective], to Hyderabad’s Neha Swain [founder of Pravah Pahal] – all three women respectively quoted their co-founders, mentors, and families as the reason they were able to succeed. I have yet to meet a women entrepreneur that claims to be the “solopreneur”. From their own personal networks to the individuals they serve, it’s become no surprise to me that women fundamentally engage their communities because their startups and their stories are based on the “we” story vs. the I.
We want to do business, to do good: Sitting in the dim-lit hall of the My Choice centre in Golkanda Fort, Hyderabad, I was fortunate enough to hear the struggles and aspirations of a group of future entrepreneurs. Each of them was currently being trained in making export-quality embroidery products. I was in particularly curious about their future aspirations – what did they want to do with these new skills? From the youngest women there, a 17 year old to the 32-year-old mother, their answers were one and the same “I want to one day start my own business and help others. If we don’t help our people – who will?” I can’t do justice to the emotion behind the words spoken that day, but I one thing was clear – empower a women to be an entrepreneur, to stand on her own two feet, and you empower everyone around her.
I’ve shared the rosy side of the story – the inspiring tidbits I’ve picked up by being able to meet and learn from these awe-inspiring women. But the reality isn’t that pretty – when I asked Neha Swain some of challenges she faced, she didn’t hesitate to say “Society. As an Indian women in her mid-twenties, I’m expected to get married not to be starting a company. Men start to get an inferiority complex.” This isn’t just an Asian problem; the US has a depressingly low number of female entrepreneurs – in the booming tech industry only 3% of founded by women. Women around the world face an avalanche of barriers that discourages them from taking a risk, from venturing out on their own, from becoming economically and socially independent. So on this International Women’s Day – let’s not just celebrate women, but start taking an initiative – through something as small as encouraging or supporting a woman in your life to take that risk and go after her dreams. The theme for IWD this year is “Equality for women is progress for all” because once a woman is given the ability to act on her dreams, she can and will change the world.
Manasa Yeturu is spending one year, in three countries/organizations, focusing on the question she most gives a damn about “What are the best practices in entrepreneurship education and how (if at all) are they being targeted at girls?” (read more here). Are an amazing women entrepreneur yourself or know of interesting organizations in #girlsed – please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow along at – GOOD // Teaching Myself // @myeturu .