Every day in the US, women start almost 849 new businesses. In the past 20 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the US has increased by 114% and the social entrepreneurship business model continues to attract women in even-greater numbers. According to the Independent, 38% of social enterprises are led by women, while there are more than twice as many men than women in conventional business. Furthermore, more than 90% of enterprises that focus on solving social problems have at least one woman on their leadership team, in contrast to almost half of small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have all-male directors.

While women entrepreneurs continue to thrive in social entrepreneurship, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship is helping them scale their enterprises and reach their business potential with our strategic initiative of women’s economic empowerment. Our current Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online accelerator cohort has 26 inspiring women entrepreneurs solving a wide array of problems to eliminate poverty from the world. Stella Sigana is one of those 26 inspiring entrepreneurs.

Stella is the founder of Alternative Waste Technologies, an organization that solves a really unique problem by improving indoor air quality through the manufacture and supply of charcoal briquettes across sub-Saharan Africa. Stell was recently featured in Forbes Africa as one of the 20 New Wealth Creators on the African Continent.

Stella’s journey is full of wise choices and unforgettable mistakes. Her persistence and determination to overcome all challenges are the two most important traits that made her a successful entrepreneur.

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.” - Stella Sigana

About her business and how it is impacting the lives of people

“Our business ensures that households have access to affordable and safe cooking fuels. Our impact to date is 170T of charcoal briquettes sold in Kibera community and its immediate environs; households saved US$14,790 by choosing our briquettes over traditional charcoal; we have created employment for 9 staff at the production facility and 15 sales agents.”

Stella’s strategy to acquiring customers

“The most effective way for our social enterprise in raising awareness has been through product demonstrations and word of mouth through referral systems.”

On having the right mentors

“Mentorship is very critical for a business that is starting out, and getting the right mentors is also very critical. Mentors with vested interests in running businesses similar to mine may not be the best due to conflicts of interest. A mentee must be willing to guide the process as well as be humble enough to learn from the experts. We currently have 5 mentors.”

3 Questions every entrepreneur should be able to answer

I think the most important questions for a founder are:

  1. What problem are you solving?

  2. What is your target market?

  3. Are you able to generate sustainable revenue from your enterprise without external financing?

About learning from mistakes

  • Never be in a hurry to produce your products, and start selling with the hope that customers will love the product. Carry out very thorough market research as to who your client is that you are targeting.

  • Being overly ambitious is good, but be willing to start very small, and learn to grow organically for sustainability.

  • Learn to build an asset base that one can use as security in order to access financing. Know the very language of financiers and speak their language.

About leadership challenges from inside the organization

“A leadership challenge from inside the organization was when I hired a team of advisors. They started dictating the direction of the business in total disregard of the spirit of the business, which was to support communities while creating a sustainable income. This resulted in a conflict of interest and I therefore had to let go of the team.”

Advice from Stella

“Learn to stay with the passion that drove you to start the enterprise.”

Conclusion

Women like Stella and her story shows how important it is for entrepreneurs to have a support system to create an enabling environment. The more supportive the environment is for women-led businesses, the more their businesses will grow. The end result is to create a profitable women-led business that improves the economic empowerment of women which leads to greater world economic growth as a whole.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I…

I go on my knees and talk to God in prayer. He will handle the problem for me.

If I wasn’t an entrepreneur, I would be...

I would be a CEO of a non-profit organization championing for economic opportunities for marginalized communities

Being a woman is…

Being a woman is learning to create your own standards and finding your own space where you can excel by your own terms

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done professionally is…

Resigning honorably from a well paying job to venture into entrepreneurship

If I could add one skill to my personality, I will add...

Time management in balancing the different demands as a woman (mother, employer, student, wife, sister etc.)

3 people who inspire me every day are…

My Father for his integrity, honesty and justice for all those he works with

My Mother for believing that Education is the only door that you can use to unlock your future especially for women

My children for their curiosity by asking a lot of life - related questions which have no answers but must be answered intelligently

One quote I live by is…

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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.