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Training 10,000 Future Women Entrepreneurs

Rasha Lotfy founded Afnan (Arabic for “talents”) in 2007 to sell traditional Egyptian arts and handicrafts produced by Bedouin artisans in Egypt.
Forbes | 02.11.2011
Recently the 5000th woman enrolled in the $100 million, 5-year campaign launched by Goldman Sachs in 2008 to provide business and management education to 10,000 underserved women around the world. The program was designed in response to research postulating that investment in women has a significant multiplier effect. Senior GS global economist Sandra Lawson, in a report called “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” concludes that female education is linked to higher productivity, higher return on investment, higher agricultural yields and a more favorable demographic structure.” Furthermore, Lawson summarizes that narrowing the gender gap in employment in the Bric countries (Brazil, India and China) and the N-11 (including Bangladesh, Egypt and Pakistan) “could push income per capita 14% higher by 2020.”

Currently active in 22 countries, The 10,000 women program is coordinated by a network of over 75 local academic and NGO partners. Interest has been so strong that admission rates are comparable to the world’s most selective MBA programs. For example, the first class in Kigali, Rwanda had 600 applicants for 60 positions; similarly in China the admission rate was 10%, out of 1000 who applied. To qualify, women must have run established businesses for two years with a minimum of five employees. Generally, the women enroll in local certificate programs ranging from five weeks to six months, including courses on writing business plans, strategic planning and accessing capital. Sometimes to accommodate cultural and individual needs, the courses are arranged for evenings and weekends. According to Goldman Sachs Vice President and program director, Noa Meyer, “These courses, both the information and especially the confidence and network they provide, have been game changers for thousands of women.”

When her father decided to retire in 2008, one recent graduate, Divya Keshav, stepped up to take over her father’s printing business, Krishna Printernational, a manufacturer of self-adhesive labels for companies in the pharmaceutical, aviation, consumer durable, and garment industries. Previously she had been working as a project quality control manager for Indiamart, designing websites for major companies.

She was selected for the 10,000 Women Program after responding to a newspaper ad, and says the program “worked wonders for me. It turned me around both professionally and personally with classroom courses and on the job training with follow up support from mentors.” Divya says the biggest value is that the program “gives women entrepreneurs needed confidence by honing our business skills, creating a strong network as well as providing mentors.” As a result, Divya has breathed new life into Krishna, growing revenues 100% in the past year and adding new employees for a total of 26. Now her goal is to scale the business with a clear view to “making the company a preferred vendor in all industries and also the best place to work for employees.” In addition, the program encouraged Divya to “pay it back” which led her to organize an NGO called Fragrance to work with disadvantaged communities in her native New Delhi.”

In Egypt, Rasha Lotfy, a former accountant, founded Afnan (Arabic for “talents”) in 2007 to sell traditional Egyptian arts and handicrafts produced by Bedouin artisans from villages throughout Egypt. Besides a showroom in Cairo, Rasha is developing an online business both for crafts and for cotton and linen exports. Through the 10,000 Women program, which lasted about seven weeks for a total of 200 hours, Rasha learned how to create a business plan and build a website to market her brand. She also set up a small factory, located in the Siwa Oasis, where 20 local women embroider traditional motifs on bags and scarves and other fabrics. Because of her interest in the advancement of women, she too is currently starting an NGO called Alensan which helps children learn to paint and make handcrafted products; it also teaches women, including Sudanese refugees, how to produce home accessories for sale. Rasha credits the 10,000 Women program with “helping me think outside of the box to develop my brand. It also inspired me to do more outside of my business to improve the plight of women.”

One of the earlier graduates of the program, Ayodeji Megbope started a catering company, No Left-Overs, for both individuals and corporations in Lagos shortly after she resigned as a school secretary in 2006, but it didn’t take off as she had hoped. One night for a dinner party in her home she cooked a delicious bean cake wrapped in banana leaves, called moinmoin, a popular Nigerian dish. Her sister-in-law immediately placed an order, followed by other family and friends who loved her version. While Ayo understood she had the makings of a business that could grow by word or mouth, her bigger problem was, “I was unable to sell myself, much less my product.” After joining the 10,000 Women program, she enrolled in the Lagos Business School where she learned to manage cash flow and operations. “Frankly, I was an overwhelmed business woman when I was selected for the program.” After six months of training, Ayo says she learned to network to continue to help refine her skills. Now she caters for corporations and sells through retail outlets and online her expanded menu of soups and stews and other traditional meals; she also sells lunch packs to schools. She stays in touch with others in the group for which she proudly says “I have become a leader because I want to help other women entrepreneurs.”

In the research supporting the 10,000 women program economist Sandra Lawson concludes that educating women affects not only one family but the entire community. So far the 5000 women who have completed the program no doubt agree with her message that when women are economically empowered, all of society benefits.

In 2006 Haines become founding director of Henry Hudson 400 New York, a project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the historic arrival of Henry Hudson in New York. When that project ended in 2009, she became a managing director of Golden Seeds, an angel investing group that supports women entrepreneurs. Haines also blogs for The Huffington Post. Now with this new blog, wStartup.com, the plan is to broaden the mission to become a go-to resource for all of you.