What is your connection to enterprise?
It really comes from my own professional experience of meeting women around the world who face discrimination and the realisation that with some support, they could become financially independent and have more of a say in their own lives and their children’s lives. As a barrister, I am an entrepreneur in a way – I had to carve out my own practice and build up my business. And when I started out, there was a very small percentage of women at the bar. I was successful because I had a network of support that I could rely on, and I’d like to give something back, to help disadvantaged women so they can enjoy the benefits that come with achieving a level of success and earning your own income.
What holds women back from becoming entrepreneurs?
There are a number of reasons – in many countries women do not own land or other assets and so they find it difficult to access credit. Many continue to face discrimination and are discouraged from seeking financial independence. In other cases, women have the motivation but do not have access to the networks necessary to start their own businesses. Others still have gaps in business skills such as marketing or financial management. There are so many women with the potential to be successful entrepreneurs, but they lack the support needed to make it happen.
So how can your foundation change that?
Our focus is on fostering female entrepreneurship mainly in developing countries – particularly at the small and medium business level. Working with local partners, we support women who either are ready to start a business or are ready to expand to the next level. We are particularly focused on helping women grow their businesses to a size where they can make a sustainable profit and create employment opportunities in their region, helping them to contribute to their economies. We launched our first projects in August 2009 in the Middle East and have since expanded internationally.
Will it provide capital to women launching businesses?
The Foundation does not provide direct investment to women but partners with loan organisations and formal financial institutions to secure funding for promising entrepreneurs. Our aim is to improve access to finance, as well as access to business skills training and networks.
Why do we need to encourage women to get into business?
Because it isn’t just good ethics – it makes economic sense. Research shows that on average women invest 90 per cent of their income back into their families, so female entrepreneurship means benefits for more than just the women themselves, it has knock on benefits for those they directly support and their economies as a whole.