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Posted on 11/03/2021
Women entrepreneurs face many challenges as they pursue their businesses, ranging from gang violence to restrictive gender norms. Grameen Foundation has developed several training programs for microfinance institutions, local partners, and aspiring entrepreneurs to address these barriers.
The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) podcast recently highlighted these initiatives, interviewing Grameen Foundation's Bobbi Gray, Research Director, and Amelia Kuklewicz, Regional Director for Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Host Ken Jaques, Bobbi, and Amelia discuss the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) consortium, of which Grameen is a key member; Grameen’s Reducing Barriers Initiative (RBI), and the Resilient Life Resilient Business (RLRB) Curriculum. These projects address women’s needs as entrepreneurs but also as holistic individuals facing broad systems of legal barriers, social norms, corruption, and gender-based violence.
Amelia Kuklewicz: “One of the big takeaways [of our research] was the mental mathematics. 'Oh, I have to pay this much to a gang to sell my goods. I know someone’s going to come by my business and ask for fees.' They were even wondering about growth ceilings--if they had signage or a bigger space, they were in a riskier situation. So they’d keep the business in their home or travel to other neighborhoods to mitigate risk.”
Bobbi Gray: “They want to grow a business, but it’s risky to keep it in their home because people know where you live, but if you take it outside of the home you become exposed. So some women would have a business but go to a different community and then leave, and then danger wouldn’t follow them home. So there’s a lot of tradeoffs going on. It’s better to be poor than to die, with the violence and danger going on in the neighborhood. It’s complicated for them to pull themselves out of a poverty situation.
“One of the first things at the very beginning that we recognized was that it’s a very complicated environment to work in. But we knew women wanted training. And since many of us had business training curriculum, health curriculum, etc. we wanted to use this opportunity to create an integrated curriculum to support these women entrepreneurs."
AK: “It’s not if a shock is going to happen, it’s when a shock is going to happen. And surprise surprise, a pandemic happened in the middle of this initiative. We were able to pivot our RLRB modules to have relevant information on how to deal with the pandemic, and adjust it so that it’s not only in print but has a digital version so women know how to pivot their businesses to a new working reality.”
BG: "One of the biggest lessons we had at this stage was that women really wanted these institutions to understand their reality better. We went back and reflected on this feedback--what are the practices institutions need to have when gender violence is a reality and gender norms are a reality? We had never directly addressed these social norms. We tried to work around some of the issues--if they don’t have mobility, let’s work closer to home--but we didn’t address why they didn’t have mobility. And if you want gender equity in your community, do you have gender equity in your workplace? Even for field staff, there aren’t a lot of women on staff working with women in the field. We have to get our own houses in order in order to be effective working with women, and make sure staff aren’t facing barriers to advancement."
AK: "Grameen has a gender piece of training with [Search for Common Ground] that was helpful for us evolving as an organization. Seeing it implemented has been so impactful. The training focused on understanding ourselves and our organizations. What are our internal biases? A branch manager, a field staff, can also be someone who is inadvertently not helping someone progress. When you're presenting the topic of gender-based violence, which can be a very dynamic activity, it's key to have a safe space and very good trainers. A lot of topics come out about how conflict impacted their lives, women realizing they were gatekeepers to other women. It's been extremely powerful."