America’s Private Sector: Advancing Economic Security and Stability around the World

October 30, 2013

The number of women-owned businesses in the US has increased by 59% since 1997, according to American Express. That amounts to more than $1 trillion in revenue and employment of more than 8 million. But American women aren’t the only ones leading the charge on owning businesses and contributing to their economies. Women in some of the world’s most volatile regions are increasingly launching and growing their own businesses, including women who have been part of the Goldman Sachs  10,000 Women initiative, that for the past five years has invested heavily in the future of women business owners from over 40 countries around the world.

Global Communities has partnered with 10,000 Women since 2008 to bring the program to hard-working women business-owners of small and medium-sized enterprises(SMEs) in Liberia, as the country recovers from more than a decade of civil war.  Now in its fifth year, the program is showing incredible promise. 10,000 Womenprovides the business and management training, access to mentors, and networking opportunities that Liberian women need to grow their businesses and ensure better futures for their families and communities.

10,000 Women is founded on research that demonstrates that “investments in women —  particularly in education and labor force participation — lead to real GDP growth, as women take their earnings and invest them back in their families and communities.” Globally, 10,000 Women participants have reported data showing immediate improvements in their businesses and within 30 months of graduation from the program:

  • 83% of participants increased revenues over the previous year,
  • 74% added new jobs, and
  • 90% of women mentored others in their families and communities.

In Liberia, over 200 women have so far completed 10,000 Women; 19 months after program completion, 97% of Liberian graduates have reported an increase in revenues. Consider the successes of some recent graduates based in Liberia:

  • Pauline Thomas, 42, first developed an interest in baking and interior design while living in a Nigerian refugee camp during the Liberian war. She notes: “I love to bake and decorate, so it seemed like an opportunity when I returned to Liberia and there was only one wedding shop in all of Monrovia. I decided to put into practice what I learned in Nigeria.” When she returned to Liberia, and with the benefit of 10,000 Women, she learned to keep excellent financial records, and stock her product more efficiently.  Today, Pauline’s cakes can sell for up to $450 apiece – “not something I thought would happen when I was in the refugee camp,” she adds.
  • Idell Blake Johnson, 39, had a small woodworking business that opened in 2007, but as her business took off, she wanted to run one that was even bigger and more profitable. She knew she would benefit from the additional training offered by the 10,000 Women program, where she learned a lot about how to attract customers and retain staff. These were especially challenging since she faced additional barriers around heading up a business in a male-dominated industry. The training also helped her network with other business leaders and with men in the field who weren’t used to working with women. Now she wants to expand her business even more and help bring about more gender balance in the industry.
  • Garmai K. Smith, 47, is the owner of Shinna Day Care and Primary School in Monrovia.  She recalls: “During the war this building was gutted. It wasn’t a school before but, given the location and the structure, I suggested that if we could make some big repairs, it might just be the school I always wanted. So in 2009 when I started the 10,000 Women program, my husband helped me by fixing the roof – that was just the beginning. Before I opened the school, some of the children weren’t in school or any kind of day care because they were too young. But, we give special care to them all day so parents can go to work knowing their children are safe, both learning and having fun.”

The program has been lauded by those at the top levels of the Liberian government, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has attended previous 10,000 Women graduations.  During Sirleaf’s remarks at the 2012 graduation, she noted: “We need business people and entrepreneurs to take the initiative and create the thousands of SMEs that drive growth and build economic security for our people through employment, through skills and through the acquisition of assets.  This is why this part of [the program] that provides business advice and access to capital enables us to achieve those goals.  It gives the small or medium enterprises, which these graduates create, the kind of support that their new businesses need.”

Outside of Liberia, the program is also making strides. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), the pre-eminent research organization focused on women and girls, in 2012 concluded the first ever independent assessment of the impact of the 10,000 Women program in India. A summary of key findings include:

  • 10,000 Women is filling a gap in the provision of business services to small and medium-sized women’s enterprises,
  • 10,000 Women graduates experienced doubling of revenues and an increase in employees, and
  • 10,000 Women graduates attributed positive changes in business practices and increased confidence due to their participation in 10,000 Women, which meaningfully contributed to business growth.

10,000 Womenis making it possible for hard-working entrepreneurs to realize their potential in regions of the world that have long been far more familiar with poverty and conflict. It is yet another example of how the private sector is successfully partnering with NGOs and governments to advance innovation, prosperity and security in the 21st century.