When Women Invest In Women, Many Problems Find A Solution

Posted: June 5, 2015

Investing in social entrepreneurs with a focus on women and gender equality can help tackle poverty in many communities.

“I was six years into a banking career. Unfortunately, I unknowingly handled a fraudulent transaction; the developments thereafter brought forth a slew of experiences and learnings about the ‘other world,’” recalls Teresa Njoroge, Founder, SMiMS Africa, an organization that entrepreneurship programmes for Reformed Prisoners & Ex-Prisoners.

After two years of braving a legal battle, Teresa was sentenced to jail, with her daughter, for a year. In prison, Teresa heard the stories of women from very poor backgrounds, illiterate, with scarce means to ensure a decent livelihood. The year in prison opened Teresa’s eyes to the startling poverty and injustice faced by women around the world.

Kritika Kishore Photography_ Sankalp Summit-0725

Teresa Njoroge, Founder, SMiSM Africa

To solve the problems that plague our world, we often turn to governments, private organisations or NGOs for solutions. Sometimes, however, with a powerful sense of empathy, we find ourselves a place in the larger scheme of solving these issues.

After serving her term, Teresa founded an advocacy team called ‘Support Me in My Shoes’. Their efforts were to create awareness within the community about issues that women, like those she met in prison, battle with in rural areas. Simultaneously, she began to assist women in raising capital to start their own micro-ventures.

Though Teresa was dealing with about 1,000 women, the total number of women in the community who lived in similar conditions of poverty was over 20 times this number. Teresa didn’t view these women as criminals but connected with their plight in poverty; her empathy with this community and efforts to tackle its poverty were to prove as a model in meeting with similar issues across the globe.

Scaling up remains a challenge for entrepreneurs like Teresa

While access to healthcare, education, technology and telephones has dramatically improved across the world, these facilities don’t reach many women in the developing world. In this year alone, approximately 10 million women will die from curable diseases as a result of poor healthcare and more than 60 million women will not have access to even primary education. Additionally, a woman is 21% less likely than a man, according to a UN study, to own a mobile phone in low and middle income countries. None of us should really be surprised by the UN observation that women constitute 70% of the world’s impoverished and continue to live at a disadvantage, despite the social and technological advances that the world has witnessed over the last few decades.

…a woman is 21% less likely than a man, according to a UN study, to own a mobile phone in low and middle income countries.

Teresa knew the problem she wanted to solve and the impact she wanted to create. However, she needed to find a business model that would make outcomes from her efforts sustainable. Committed social entrepreneurs like Teresa need access to an ecosystem that would help build an enterprise with the right knowledge, capital and network; these are crucial to scale real impact.

Incubators such as SPARK* International, based in Australia, help entrepreneurs build and refine business models in order to ensure sustainable solutions. With support from SPARK* International earlier this year, Teresa went on to found another initiative – a social-enterprise in Kenya called ‘Clean Start’ – to provide women with professional cleaning skills and a platform to find them jobs. Clean Start not only helps women in achieving employment, but also helps them manage their salaries so that they can fund their own micro-ventures.

With SMiMS and Clean Start, Teresa aims to reduce the number of women behind bars and bring down the unacceptably high levels of recidivism emanating from poverty-related crimes.

Closer to home, Mritunjay Tiwary, founder of Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital (AJEH) in Bihar, employs and trains young women with the skills required to be opticians. 90% of his workforce consists of women who come from villages. Mrityunjay’s model keeps lean bottom lines by empowering women to take up larger responsibilities, both within and outside the enterprise. They are also given the opportunity to inspire their communities to find solutions to poverty and its allied burdens.

Currently, more than 90% of rural India lives on less than USD 4 per day. If we take into account the urban poor, it would be safe to assume that the number of poor in India would easily cross 800 million. This population, with an average daily expenditure of USD 2-3, has a potential market size of USD 900 billion.

Time for more women to become angel investors?

While they face complex challenges, entrepreneurs like Teresa and Mritunjay have found models that help tackle poverty with a focus on gender equality and also allow the communities they work with to gather profits to sustain their businesses. While these two stories illustrate the power of gender-focused enterprises in transforming communities, this understanding has not resulted in the channelling of funds and resources for women-focused business models.

…a report by Mckinsey in 2012 found that while, on an average, 50% of the total employees in the financial-services sector are female, only about 25% of these occupy its management tier.

In fact, a report by Mckinsey in 2012 found that while, on an average, 50% of the total employees in the financial-services sector are female, only about 25% of these occupy its management tier. To tackle this paucity of leadership among the women-workforce, Dr. Reena Mittal founded Sankhya Partners with a mission to change the lives of 2 million women in 5 years. Sankhya Partners is a pioneering impact fund focused on empowering women investors and supporting early stage enterprises targeted, primarily, at economically disadvantaged women.

Even though impact investors appeared in India in 2001 (with about US$ 1.6 billion to be invested into more than 220 enterprises), only recently have women-centric impact investment funds and angel networks surfaced in the country.

Just like for any other business, for gender-focused enterprises to thrive, access to Intellect, Capital and Networks is paramount. The Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N) invites women angels to support this movement by joining their network. Alongside I3N, Sankalp Forum has pitched in to bridge deficits in this regard and asks you to join our conversation on Investing in Women, for Women.

If you’re an entrepreneur on the lookout for the right connections, don’t miss the Sankalp Summit in 2016. Click here to follow Sankalp Forum and stay tuned for more information.

Excerpts taken from the panel discussion ‘Investing in Women, For Women’ held on April 10 at the Global Sankalp Summit 2015, New Delhi.

Images provided by Sankalp Forum 

Rahel Chakola is an Associate at Intellecap. Her growing drive for social enterprise and human capital development led to her current engagement with the Sankalp Forum at Intellecap, where her focus includes building & delivering partnerships that help propel the inclusive development dialogue. She is a graduate of Economics from St.Xavier's College and an AIESEC alumnus.

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