Women entrepreneurs in the developing world often face challenges that limit their chances for success and growth. They often have less access to education than men and have difficulty getting financing on their own. But with an understanding of the essential aspects of doing business – such as planning, financing, networking and marketing – they can overcome those obstacles. That's where the 10,000 Women Initiative comes in. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, it's an investment in education with dividends that benefit the businesswomen, their local communities and their national economies.
The global financial firm Goldman Sachs is investing $100 million over five years to provide 10,000 women with business education, training and mentoring opportunities.
"This is a fully global program, a significant investment on part of Goldman Sachs," Dina Powell, the firm's Managing Director, says. The 10,000 Women Initiative is aimed at improving the quality and availability of business education for women.
"A wonderful quotation by Middle Eastern poet, Hafez Ibrahim, says, 'When you educate a woman you create a nation,'" Powell says. "We believe that when you empower a woman, you actually empower a family, you invest in a village and a society, and it has a tremendous multiplying effect."
Powell says some prominent American universities, including Harvard, Columbia, Brown and Stanford, participate in the initiative through partnerships with regional business schools in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The Pan-African University in Lagos Nigeria is one of these regional academic partners. Peter Bamkole is the school's Director for Enterprise Development Services.
"We are going to train 50 women every year," he says. "They come in twice, three times a week. Then, they go and practice what they have learned. They come back again, network, ask questions, go back again."
Bamkole says Gldman Sachs pays for additional "enterprise support" for one year. "Enterprise support means mentoring and advisory services. And you know that the first year is very critical for these businesses, so having this kind of networking and capacity building increases their chances of being successful."
The 10,000 Women Initiative is not a "one size fits all" program. Each participating regional university sets its own criteria and curriculum to accommodate local needs. So while the Pan-African University requires women to have run their own businesses for at least three months before joining the program, the American University of Afghanistan doesn't.
"We not only want women who are entrepreneurs currently, but who are also thinking about becoming entrepreneurs," says Melissa Rudderham, a spokeswoman for the American University of Afghanistan. In addition she says, they want applicants of all ages and experience levels.
The program is a 40-hour course. "It's meant to provide Afghan women with a basic introduction to business management," she says. "That most likely will take the form of developing a business plan – proposal writing, economic management project management and that kind of thing."
Rudderham says she hopes the program will attract ambitious women who have potential from all over the country not only the capital.
The initiative at the American University in Cairo is open to women from the Middle East and North Africa. Maha Elshinnawy, Management Professor at the school, says the University plans to offer two classes to the first group of 500 women: a beginner's program and an advanced one.
"Each of these programs is a 5-week intensive program," she says. "Not only a classroom education, but taking them out to industry and bringing in guest speakers so they can share their knowledge with these women."
Here, too, there is an emphasis on networking, amongst the students themselves, between women and industry speakers and between the women and the faculty. "There are different avenues for these women to find people that they can turn to after the program is over," Elshinnawy says.
Elshinnawy says Middle Eastern women entrepreneurs often prefer to start micro enterprises, which are businesses with five employees or less. But, with the learning, mentoring and networking experiences they are going to gain through these programs, she hopes many will become more confident and able to grow their businesses.
"We want to push those into small and medium enterprises, so we can have larger businesses owned by women," she says. "We'd like more. We would like a greater representation of women. We'd also like them to go to other fields."
She says Middle Eastern businesswomen are concentrated in trade. "We would like to see them in services. We'd like to see them in the financial sector. We'd like to see them in other industries."
As businesswomen in the Middle East and around the world succeed and expand their enterprises, Elshinnawy says, they will earn more income, pay more taxes, hire more employees, and inspire other women – and men – to start their own businesses… and the investment in the 10,000 Women Initiative will pay off for everyone.