"Don’t give a woman a fish and feed her for a day; rather teach a woman to run a fishing business and feed a village for a lifetime.”
This is how Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship views the power of women’s economic empowerment to transform the world. We believe in a world that provides equal social and economic opportunities for women and sets the stage for gender equity in the future.
Our GSBI accelerator programs so far have served more than 1000 social enterprises that have positively impacted more than 390M lives. All social entrepreneurs, in one way or another, have compelling, challenging and exciting stories about their entrepreneurship journey. For some, they found difficulty in the beginning and shaping their business idea or finding the right start-up capital investment. For others, it was the lack of moral support from their family and friends, or enduring gender-bias when they least expected it.
I reached out to some of GSBI’s inspirational, powerhouse female entrepreneurs to learn more about the biggest challenges they’ve had to face. Here is what they had to say.
Maria from TPMocs on Funding and Gender Bias
Maria Running Fisher Jones, Alumna of GSBI Online Cohort 2017
“Funding is a challenge for any start-up, but it’s uniquely challenging for female founders. While more and more women are becoming successful entrepreneurs, it remains unfortunate that funding for women-owned businesses isn’t at the same level as men. The challenge is being respected at the same level as men. When I walk into the room, people don’t expect me to be the CEO and co-founder of the business. Female founders want to be treated with the same respect as their male peers, which unfortunately can be undercut by micro-aggressions and unconscious bias. However, I’ve been able to overcome this challenge by remaining confident, prepared and passionate about our company. I’ve also surrounded myself with amazing and inspiring mentors who have experienced this themselves. Finding a supportive community is pivotal.”
Leanne from Mintor on What Matters and Having a Support Group
Leanne Viviers, Alumna of GSBI Online Cohort 2016
“As a founder, you always have a million things to do and not enough time or money to do even a fraction of it all. The question I ask myself on a daily basis to make sure I put my effort where it is baring most value to the business, is ‘what matters most’ right now / today / this week / this month. I’ve not experienced any significant challenges as a female entrepreneur. In fact, I’ve had more support than what I could have asked for. Since I started my business 4 years ago, there’s been a conscious focus within the startup communities in South Africa to support female founders through meetups, inspirational talks by female leaders and even funding to women-owned businesses.”
Manka from Grassland Cameroon on Getting a Seat at the Table
Manka Angwafo, Alumna of GSBI Online cohort 2018
“I think the biggest challenge I faced initially was not believing that I ought to have a seat at the table. Given the country/industry my business is in, and the type of operations we run, I had only male advisors to look up to, and male counterparts to work with. Subconsciously, it made me doubt every decision and plan I would come up with, and then go back to the same men for validation. As time went on, I started noticing my advisors asking me for my input and feedback on their business strategy and it helped me realize that I actually am able to think strategically, and I had, without any doubt, earned my place.”
Shivani from Tala on an Overlooked Consumer Base
Shivani Siroya, Alumna of GSBI In-residence cohort 2012
“Our journey has always focused on proving potential and showing the market opportunity of emerging, mobile-first consumers. The challenge was that there was a whole set of consumers that have been overlooked by the marketplace, and underserved by traditional financial institutions that do not have products or services that cater to the needs of these consumers, nor understand their affinity for mobile adoption. We learned to turn misconceptions about our customers into opportunities to leverage data to prove that the market exists and that the Tala team is best-suited to serve it.”
Yvonne from Miyonga Fresh Greens on Funding Options
Yvonne Otieno, Alumna of GSBI Online cohort 2018
“One of the challenges we faced was, where to find investors and what type of funding we should seek whether equity or debt and if equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And lastly, because, our business cares about positively impacting the community, how do we as a business measure our social impact? These are questions we struggled with every day during our journey.”
In spite of the challenges presented above, these women are still positively impacting thousands of lives. This isn't to say that more obstacles will not arise as they continue to develop their enterprises. The new challenges will replace the old ones for them, but what will matter in the end, is their determination to be leaders in their respective sectors.
About the Author
Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement new research, initiatives, and projects to help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.