As a woman and lifelong entrepreneur, it’s heartening to hear the statistics that, between 2007 and 2015, the number of businesses owned by women in the U.S. increased by 68 percent.
No such statistics are easily available for the developing world, yet reports from organizations like the United Nations repeatedly point to the need for more women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs if poverty is going to be eradicated at the global level.
As with other career paths, female entrepreneurs in the U.S. face significantly more challenges than their male counterparts. They often start with less capital, it’s harder to secure loans, and profit margins can be significantly lower.
But the difficulties here pale in comparison to those faced by women in developing nations. Social and cultural norms that exclude women and girls from school and work-outside-the-home are a huge barrier, as are basic infrastructure issues like access to clean water.
So, while we have still have our own significant hurdles, I firmly believe that helping female entrepreneurs in developing countries will truly make the world a better place for all.
It starts with education. Basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic are mandatory if girls are going to be able to do anything more than the most menial of labor. In order have the vision and access to business resources necessary to start a business, advanced (secondary) education is a must.
Yet, according to Unicef, an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were not in school in 2013.
While not all of us have the skills and ability to leap on an airplane and build schools for girls like Katie Meyer did in Liberia, there are a variety of large and small nonprofits that need financial support.
The Malala Fund, founded Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, provides resources for girls in multiple developing nations to receive 12 full years of education, in a safe environment.
Smaller organizations, like Rafiki Africa, concentrate on one village or city hoping to change the lives of the entire community.
But, beyond basic education, women need practical help: money, supplies, and business training.
One of the simplest ways to help a woman become self-sufficient is to support an organization that provides “starter kits,” that is, all the supplies a woman needs to do the work she’s chosen.
By supplies, I mean everything from the goat, to the goat feed, to training in caring for a goat, to networking women with other women so they can engage and mutually support and grow their efforts. One woman, working with other women, can go from having a single goat to becoming part of a collective that produces goat cheese to sell at markets.
Heifer International has focused on agriculture and sustainable farming initiatives for over 70 years. Recognizing the “beyond one goat” need, they also have a Women’s Empowerment campaign that provides training and assistance (including bill paying classes!) to women.
Again, there are also country-specific options. My foundation supports WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) which helps women in Israel in a variety of ways. There’s legal assistance, leadership training and even day care, which allows women to focus on their business knowing their children are in a safe place.
Another organization, Women for Women International, works specifically in war-torn countries. They have programs that that equip women with life, vocational and business skills. They even connect women with supportive financial institutions.
Finally, there are ways to give direct financial support that can either be seed money, or emergency need money. Microloans are a popular financial device and have been semi-effective in helping women start businesses.
But they are even more effective, according to this article on NPR, at meeting emergency needs—like a new roof.
If you want to expand beyond donating to, or volunteering for, nonprofits, you don’t have to look farther than your local mall or online for ways to mindfully purchase everything from cosmetics to jewelry from socially conscious companies.
Teen Vogue recently highlighted the jewelry line Órama, “whose proceeds micro-finance entrepreneurial projects by women in marginalized communities.”
Ten Thousand Villages is committed to providing fair and sustainable income to its artisans, many of them women, in developing countries.
Another great way to potentially support female entrepreneurs around the world is to ask your local store owners where they source their goods and frequent those that purchase from international women’s collectives.
Once you apply an entrepreneurial, get-it-done attitude to supporting female entrepreneurs in developing countries, the options and opportunities are endless.