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Women entrepreneurs share lessons for success

When Deborah Naybor opened her business 27 years ago, she was one of just a few women in the construction field. "I started my own business in 1988 as a land surveyor," says Ms.Naybor. "I started with $1000 and an old pick up truck that I literally had to push onto the job sites."

Today, her company has 16 employees and does work on some of the largest projects in New York City.

More and more women are following Ms. Naylor's footsteps. According to Beverly Inman-Ebel, President of the National Association of Women Business Owners, or NAWBO, they're starting small businesses in construction and other non-traditional fields.

While the majority of women business owners are still in service industries, Ms. Inman-Ebel says, "We're finding that women are starting businesses in high tech industries and also construction. They are really getting out of what would be thought of as the typical businesses for women to start."

Many of those entrepreneurs are using their experiences and expertise to help other small business owners, not only in America but also in other parts of the world. Several years ago, Deborah Naybor was invited to talk to women in New Zealand and Africa about business skills.

"I found myself so inspired by the stories of these women and the challenges they had to face, " says Ms. Naybor. "I started a micro-loan program in a village in Uganda. I donated $250, each woman got a $25 loan for one year. They bought goats and pigs. They paid the money back within a year and those women actually doubled the income of their families."

Last year, Ms. Naybor received the Optimist Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. She used the prize money to expand her business loan project, starting a grassroots nonprofit organization to help create self-sustaining income sources for women.

Ms. Naybor says she recently leased 40 hectares of land in Kenya for a program to help farmers. The program also provides seeds and basic tools "so they and their families can grow their own crops and continue to make an income," she says. In a village in Malawi, she built a school called Mama Debbie's House. And in Uganda, she says she helped the women she loaned money to to buy goats and pigs create a sewing cooperative. Similarly, in Senegal, she works with women who raise money with both farming and needlework.

Most of these projects focus on women's traditional activities and handicrafts. But Ms. Naybor says, African women are capable of doing business in non-traditional fields as well.

"I work with South African women in construction, helping to create jobs, train them to own their own construction businesses in South Africa," says Ms. Naybor. "One of the things that I've seen there is that women are much more willing to take on the low-income housing projects, the small projects that maybe men would not want to take on. They (men) want the highly profitable jobs, but women are much more willing to take on the jobs that have a great social impact."

And that can have a great economic impact. NAWBO President Beverly Inman-Ebel says women-owned small businesses can bring positive changes to a community… and even a nation.

"Women, I believe, in any culture can set the standard and lead," says Ms. Inman-Ebel. "Women raise the children, so they have a tremendous influence over the culture of their countries, their families. By becoming a woman business owner, they also become an economic force within their countries."

To succeed in their projects, Ms. Inman-Ebel says women should learn from other women's experiences in setting up and running a business… and, they should network.

"I encourage them to mentor each other and work with organizations that had laid some groundwork," says Ms. Inman-Ebel. " So that you don't have to find everything yourself, and you certainly don't have to make all the mistakes yourself."

Women-owned businesses in the United States now employ 19 million people and generate $2.3 trillion in sales. Business owner Deborah Naybor says women everywhere can make similar contributions with their own businesses, if they start small, grow slowly, and trust themselves.