Professor Emeritus at Babson College
Professor Patricia Greene discusses the barriers and keys to success for woman entrepreneurs in developing economies.
SKILLS, CONFIDENCE, NETWORKS AND UNDERSTANDING
Professor Patricia Greene Professor Emeritus at Babson College, a business school in Massachusetts with a global reputation in her own field of Enterprise Studies. However, Professor Greene’s career has always taken her beyond academia’s ivory towers.
With a background in healthcare, she has, for example, been Director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor (with a self-deprecatory laugh she refers to herself as a “former policy wonk”). But above all, it’s her vast experience in developing and delivering successful programmes for women entrepreneurs, such as the ground-breaking 10,000 Women (see box), that made her a perfect partner for FMO’s Empow(h)er Programme.
Asked if there are any qualities any woman entrepreneur needs if she is to achieve sustainable success, Patricia singles out three. “An entrepreneur needs to be able to identify opportunities, organise their resources and provide the leadership to create something of value, and they get to decide what that value should be.” And she feels there can be another key ingredient: confidence. “But confidence is something you can build. We have a self-assessment test, for example, that helps businesswomen identify areas where they feel less comfortable. We then place extra focus on bringing those particular skill areas up to the right level..”
“An entrepreneur needs to be able to identify opportunities, organise their resources and provide the leadership to create something of value, and they get to decide what that value should be.”
Over the years, Patricia has run entrepreneurship programmes on every continent except Antarctica. She feels that, while a factor, local cultural differences don’t alter the core requirements for successful entrepreneurship, which remain universal. “How people identify opportunities, organise resources and provide leadership can vary between cultures; but they still have to be done. The biggest practical differences tend to be found in two areas: finance, where for example there are different reporting requirements in different countries; and marketing, where how best to bring a product or service to market can vary. But the basic principles are the same and we work with local partners to ensure the specifics of the programme remain relevant, so people can apply the principles to their local context.” For Patricia, one of the most uplifting moments comes at the end of a programme, when she sees women’s natural entrepreneurism come to the fore. “After the closing session, I often find myself at the back of the room, quietly watching as delegates spontaneously start networking and helping each other work out how to build their businesses.” It’s a good example of the positive legacy of the programme, beyond the technical knowledge and skills learnt. Another vital, not unrelated benefit is the increase in the number of women mentoring other women the programme facilitates.
One reason Patricia feels EMPOW(H)ER is so powerful is that it will bring together business owners and bankers. During the programme they will learn more about each other’s worlds and perspectives, and for the participant entrepreneurs this can be a basis for an on-going fruitful relationship with their bank. “I think some bankers in particular arrive at a programme with two misconceptions about these businesswomen: one, that they’re financially unsophisticated; and two, that they’re running their business as a part-time venture, a hobby almost. When they then meet someone like the woman on our course in Zambia who runs a business importing second-hand cars from South Africa, they quickly see for themselves that these are serious, hard-nosed businesspeople, and that their preconceptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. They leave the programme with a much more positive picture and a far better understanding of their market.” Another benefit of the programme is that it teaches women to be what Patricia calls fluent in the language of finance, or 'finance-ready’. As well as being better able to present their needs to financiers, she believes this fluency also improves their standing, giving them better access to the business world around them and thus significantly enhancing their long-term prospects of success.
“I think some bankers in particular arrive at a programme with two misconceptions about these businesswomen: one, that they’re financially unsophisticated; and two, that they’re running their business as a part-time venture, a hobby almost.”
There’s much talk nowadays of the importance for young and female entrepreneurs of access to ‘ecosystems’ if their businesses are to thrive. Patricia agrees, but explains it’s a little more nuanced than that. “Women entrepreneurs obviously want access to all the resources they need, but an effective ecosystem is far more than an inventory of resources and support. It’s a system that delivers support in an integrated way.” It’s also important, says Patricia, that women have access to an ecosystem in which they can recognise themselves. “Often there aren’t really any good local female role models for these women. Or there are only one or two who keep being paraded, which can have the counterproductive effect of suggesting these isolated female role models are actually the exceptions not the rule. So women need role models with whom they feel connected. To quote one woman who attended the programme, ‘I never saw myself in all this, and now I do’.”
“Often there aren’t really any good local female role models for these women.”
Economic empowerment holds the key
FMO believes that to achieve the SDGs by 2030, some serious acceleration will be needed. Looking at gender equality, and specially women entrepreneurship, Patricia picks out one key accelerator she feels can make a difference. “The programme we are developing asks key questions around areas like access to opportunities and markets, cultural differences and family challenges. We try to approach these issues from a position of strength: building on what the women’s current strengths are, while trying to figure out what needs to be different. And one clear conclusion for me is that economic empowerment is critical. If you look at the countries where the numbers of successful female-led businesses have been growing, you see that once women have economic power a lot of the social changes fall into place. Because people see that this is a route to achieving stronger, healthier families, communities and societies. So for policymakers wondering how they can support an entrepreneurial ecosystem where women can sustain thriving businesses, I think economic empowerment is the place to start.”
EMPOW(H)ER: enabling women entrepreneurs to fulfil their potential
EMPOW(H)ER is a programme being set up by FMO in partnership with Babson College to make available world-class tools for female entrepreneurs to run, maintain and grow successful businesses in our ever-changing world.
Over the years, hundreds of initiatives have sought to empower women in this and similar ways. The successful ones tend to be a collaboration between partners willing to learn from each other, and including community organisations who can reach marginalised women with limited educational prospects.
A good example is Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative, which has shown remarkable results in helping female entrepreneurs in over 50 countries. Its flexible approach uses innovative facilitating and learning processes, making it easy to replicate across different regions.
In 2016, FMO made this programme available to 100 women in Zambia through a small pilot with Stanbic Bank.
Following its success, in 2019 FMO ran a Train the Trainers programme in Bangladesh in partnership with Babson College and BRAC Bank. This equipped 22 BRAC employees and 36 women entrepreneurs, from sectors ranging from Fashion to IT, both to expand their own businesses and train more entrepreneurs across Bangladesh. The 4-day programme covers areas such as negotiation, leadership and strategy. EMPOW(H)ER builds on FMO’s successful partnership with 10,000 Women and Babson College in Zambia and Bangladesh (see also article on women entrepreneurs). It aims to help women entrepreneurs fulfil their potential through high-quality educational materials and access to finance. Thus, improving the economic position of the women, their families, and their communities. EMPOW(H)ER builds on FMO’s successful partnership with 10,000 Women and Babson College in Zambia and Bangladesh. It aims to help women entrepreneurs fulfil their potential through high-quality educational materials and access to finance. Thus, improving the economic position of the women, their families, and their communities.
David Hernández-Velázquez Capacity.email@example.com