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Does attending formalised support programs help women entrepreneurs? One woman shares her experience with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women programme.
By Gita Ramanan
‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’
This maxim holds true to my experiences with and after the Goldman Sachs (GS) 10000 Women Certificate Programme for women entrepreneurs. “10,000 Women” is an innovative programme launched and underwritten by GS as part of a global initiative to increase the number of women entrepreneurs in the business world. In India, it is managed and delivered by the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. By the end of 2013, the school will provide 1200+ female entrepreneurs with business and management training delivered by leading faculty and industry specialists. This is also supported by mentorship, networking events, community dialogues and business advisory that will enable us women to grow our businesses.
Mala and Leena, Founders of The Giving Tree – put me onto this course. They told me that it was very unique in that the syllabus and all interactions were designed with a focus on each person’s business. It seemed perfect – almost too good to be true. My partner Shezan Bhojani and I had started a professional architectural firm, a year out of college. We did well enough, but it would be honest to say that we had no idea where we were going and also, that we hadn’t even identified the need to articulate what our goals as a company were.
Enter, the 10,000 Women course. Our business met the selection criterion, and after a fantastic interview, yours truly, as the ‘woman’ partner of the company, was selected for the 3-month course. I still remember my first reaction on entering the ‘class’ on the first morning and seeing 25+ women entrepreneurs. Wow! There were women entrepreneurs between the ages of 27 – 47, from fields as diverse as manufacturing, professional services, consultancy, retail and education.
The 10,000 Women initiative is grounded around the philosophy that when women are given tools to grow and prosper, it is the community that benefits. There were women entrepreneurs running BPOs, pre-schools and college tutorials, beauty salons, manufacturing setups, production & marketing of herbal cosmetics, jewellery designers, graphic designers and placement consultants. Women who were in the business of trading and retailing – everything from handlooms and artefacts, sourced from different parts of India and sold all across the globe. There were also some very special women who ran NGOs in support of children and their betterment.
The 10,000 Women initiative is grounded around the philosophy that when women are given tools to grow and prosper, it is the community that benefits.
It was this mixed group of 30 women entrepreneurs who spent 1 complete week each in each others’ company for the next 3 months. Experienced faculty from ISB, Hyderabad spent time with us introducing various topics like Entrepreneurship, Business Strategy, Financial Management, Basics of Accounting, People Management, Marketing Management, Operation and Supply Chain Management, Networking, Negotiation and Leadership Skills. The experience of each faculty was readily apparent. Being able to introduce such topics in a short while in a manner that each of us, with no formal management training could grasp and apply to our own businesses was no mean task.
Several of my colleagues would agree when I say that a lot of learning was also attained by the openness with which all participants discussed the topics with respect to their own businesses – as live case studies. Positive and enterprising women are the best ambassadors and cheerleaders for other women. The sheer enthusiasm, honesty, empathy, sharing and understanding that a group of women can bring to a table is unmatched. I am proud to say that my colleagues from Cohort 7 were of this mould, and contributed immensely to my development.
At the end of the programme, candidates are expected to present a business plan that articulates their growth strategy. This is a win-win strategy. We were challenged to remove time from our work commitments during the weeks between live classes and articulate a business plan for our own business. Personally, the framework ensured that both my partner and I spent a lot of time asking questions about our business which resulted in goals that were crystallized in our very first business plan. This involved an analysis on various related topics that would as a whole, allow us to reach our specified goals. To celebrate all the fresh vigour and zest, we later rechristened our firm as Design Café.
Positive and enterprising women are the best ambassadors and cheerleaders for other women.
It has been 2.5 years since the completion of the course. As I reflect on our journey since, I can equivocally state that the 10,000 Women programme was a game-changer for us at Design Café. We have transformed from being professionals who had a firm of their own, to professionals who have a focused and well-defined firm with processes in place that makes interactions with clients and vendors alike easier. The business plan we charted out has held us in good stead, with us exceeding our initial targets and constantly innovating and administering better. Also, if you’re a believer in the truth that numbers never lie: we have grown from a 2 member firm handling 6 projects to a 14 member firm handling almost 30 projects at a time.
To summarize my biggest takeaways from this programme:
1. The birth of Design Café.
2. Providing the tools (relevant management ideas) that emboldened the growth of our vision for our company.
3. Lifelong friendships and a robust supportive network of fabulous women entrepreneurs.
I came across this quote a while ago: “A ship is safe in the harbour, but that is not what ships are for.” Similarly, entrepreneurship is for the brave. The 10,000 Women programme equipped me with proficiencies in various skill-sets that allows for an adept charting of the challenging and oft-dangerous waters of this chosen life course.
*Photo credit: Snow (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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