Research shows 40 to 50 percent of enterprises in developing countries are owned and run by women.  These businesses are effective in creating employment, reducing poverty and empowering women.   But many women who venture into the so-called man's world often find their way blocked by discrimination and laws that are stacked against them.  The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development or UNCTAD runs a program called EMPRETEC that trains promising entrepreneurs in developing countries, both women and men, to develop their skills and expand their businesses.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

"I have a passion for cleaning.  And, here I am.  I have become successful in the cleaning business," says Sapphira Nyabunwa, an attractive, 39-year old single mother from Uganda.  She has transformed her passion for cleaning into a successful business.  

Based in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, Safi Cleaning Services provides professional cleaning services, including lawn care, fumigation, garbage collection, dry cleaning and commercial laundry work.  Among her clients are major corporations, hospitals, the United Nations and private aid agencies.  

Her company was established in 1996.  It has a monthly turnover of $88,000 and employs more than 800 people all over the country.

But Nyabunwa says her success did not come easily.  She graduated high school but was not admitted to university.  She lost her job at a bank and her first business venture collapsed because she says she and her partner could not agree on anything.  That is when she decided to strike out on her own.

"I registered another company now, which is Safi Cleaning Services Limited. That is when EMPRETEC was coming, EMPRETEC program which is sponsored by UNCTAD.  And they picked an interest in me and they have been training me.  They guided me on how to manage a company, not to make those mistakes that I made before," she said. 

UNCTAD's EMPRETEC Program coordinates a network of centers in 27 developing countries to promote entrepreneurship.  Head of the Program, Fiorina Mugione, tells VOA trainees are put into situations where they learn how to improve their business acumen.

"We put the entrepreneur in a situation in a role play, where he has to be able to face challenges.  From the first day, the entrepreneur has to choose a business idea, develops it through the intense 10 day course that we carry out and by the end of the course, he has to be able to have developed the idea, sell a product or service and make a profit," said Mugione.

Mugione says women in many developing countries often need extra help.  She notes they frequently run into legal obstacles, which prevent them from starting their own businesses.

"In some countries, women need their husbands' consent to do certain legal actions.  In some other countries, they do not access inheritance or they cannot own land," she added.  "So, we do recognize there are still obstacles for women to enter into business."  

This year, UNCTAD initiated the Women in Business Award to boost female entrepreneurs in developing countries.  The award aims to generate role models for women entrepreneurs.  Sapphira Nyabunwa won the second prize.   Her daughter, Marina, 13, is proud of her mother's achievements.

"I am happy for her that she has won because she has worked so hard in her company Safi Cleaners," said Marina.  "She has helped a lot of people who are disadvantaged, like people who have no jobs and all those people who have not been educated and she gives them jobs."  

Marina says she wants to follow in her mother's footsteps.

"I want to like own a hotel and also manage a cleaning company like my mother. She talks about her company all the time and she tells me about all the benefits she has.  And, I really want to do what she does.  Cleaning.  I like cleaning just like her, so," she said.

Sapphira Nyabunwa's ambition knows no bounds.  She is constructing a nine-story building.  She says she wants to go into the commercial dry cleaning business and rent linens to the hotel industry.