Sisters Doing It for Themselves

The dialog about women’s entrepreneurship can seem to be only about helping them to do better at their businesses.  But entrepreneurs–male or female–are  “all about” doing it for themselves, aren’t they?

To be sure, assistance and support for women’s economic participation in all aspects and in every country is needed and appreciated.  But, around the world, there are emerging many different forms of collective action taken by groups of female entrepreneurs who have banded together to work for their mutual interests.  It’s a whole new phenomenon of female activism.

One of the most impressive of these groups is Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) in the United States.  I heard their president, Barbara Kasoff, speak at the Global Sourcing for Women Vendors meeting in Mexico City last fall.  Wow!  What a powerhouse!

WIPP is an active and effective coalition focused on getting the governments in the US to facilitate women-owned businesses.  They have a focused, articulated plan:  you can read the executive summary here.  There should be an organization like WIPP hounding every government in the world, as far as I am concerned.

So you can imagine how pleased I was when Gloria Larkin wrote spontaneously saying she would like to come to the Power Shift Forum.  Not only is Gloria a board member of WIPP, she is a leading authority on getting government contracts.  She has written a book that is absolutely the last word on how to sell stuff to the biggest consumer in the world: the United States of America.

When Francisca Valdez co-founded Mujeres Empresarias in Chile, there was no organization for women in business.  Today, they have 3,500 members, most of whom are entrepreneurs, but some are executives.  This organization has focused on having members from all industry sectors and on getting press coverage of women’s business activities.  Indeed, the leading Chilean newspaper, El Mercurio, now produces an annual feature on the 100 leading women in business. Though Mujeres Empresarias recognizes, as we all do, the need for governments to ameliorate the harms to women in the domains of violence and poverty, they have also effectively lobbied their ministries to begin programs aimed at empowerment, especially economically, not just protection. They have also entered into issues that are normally not addressed by women’s entrepreneurship organizations, such as the need to get more women on corporate boards.  So, again, we have a whole new breed of activism, working on several fronts.

Pacita Juan is a new member of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, about which my student, Mary Johnstone-Louis, has just written a case study.  But in the Philippines, Pacita is not only a highly admired and successful entrepreneur, she was head of the Philippine Coffee Board and is president of the Women’s Business Council.  In other words, her leadership activities cross several organizational forms, national and international, coffee and non-coffee, women and men.

Each of these women is actively engaged in changing the environment for women-owned businesses, at home and abroad.  Each of them represents a group of other women who are not waiting to be rescued, but are reaching out, not only to help themselves, but to help others as well.

I am pleased that they will be on a panel discussing “Collective Action” at the Power Shift Forum next week, in a session moderated by Dr. Izzy Warren-Smith of Harper Adams University. More details about the Forum can be found here.

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