I arrived in Tanzania this week, ready to begin another inspirational initiative with the Vital Voices team where we will assist budding entrepreneurs with their business. #VVGrow. As I prepared for this trip I recounted the path that lead me here, the lives I saw impacted and the friendships I made along the way:
Fifteen years ago, I was walking up and down the narrow and hilly cobblestone streets of Granada, Spain to offices buildings where I interviewed Spanish women. From elderly Franco supporters, to working mothers and gypsies (“gitanos”). I saw the resolve in these women and I was inspired to figure out how to integrate these women into the workforce, after the fall of Franco’s dictatorship.
Perhaps it was growing up in a single parent family, where my quadruplet siblings and I had to take care for ourselves and take on domestic duties at an early age after our mother’s death. I identified with women who suffered similar tragedies and had to care for their families with little or no assistance.
Maybe it was working with microfinance organizations in the shanty-towns in Latin America for two years where I met extraordinary, driven and resourceful women who worked from sun up to sun down selling candy on the street or weaving blankets to sell in the village market. Their drive and determination motivated me to help because I saw that they struggled to provide basic necessities for their families like food and school uniforms. I experienced, first hand that when they received resources, support and financial assistant to start a business they excelled! I met single moms who once lived in a makeshift mud and tin roof house with kids that begged on the street to feed the family were now living in sturdy homes who now had enough money to put food on the table and send their kids to school. They engaged in their communities and gave back. Remarkable!
These experiences revealed that most of the economic drivers in developing countries are women. As business leaders, employees, consumers, and entrepreneurs, women are accelerating economic growth and improving conditions in their communities.
So, two years ago, I was introduced to Vital Voices Global Partnership through a friend.
(I met up for lunch with Alysia Fullen, a University of Virginia schoolmate of my good friend, Sonita Reese. Upon hearing about my interested in women empowerment and entrepreneurship as a vehicle for economic development, she introduced me to the work of Vital Voices Global Partnership. It was through Alysia that I met Belisa De Las Casas, a former Senior Advisor for Latin America at Vital Voices Global Partnership, whom I later worked with on a M&E contract with WEConnect International.)
Vital Voices Global Partnership’s mission is “to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.”
Despite the proven benefits of women’s economic engagement, Vital Voices Global Partnership recognizes that women business owners face disproportionate barriers in growing their businesses: they have difficulty accessing business networks, technology, training, credit, markets, and equal protection under the law.
Over the past two years, I helped develop Vital Voices’ economic empowerment initiatives. In conjunction with the U.S. State Department’s WEAmerica’s initiative we developed a market access, business strategy and finance training in Nicaragua for women owned enterprises. We made recommendations for a new global curriculum which is now being piloted in 31 countries and contributed to the launch of a business and finance training for African entrepreneurs. These targeted interventions that cultivate women’s business leadership by fostering growth aspirations, building their confidence and integrating them into networks that can expand their businesses and reach new buyers and markets.
Vita Global is committed to cultivating long-term economic growth in developing countries by partnering with companies and organizations like Vital Voices whose shared values guide entrepreneurs in building a promising future.