When I began writing about women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries with a trip to Rwanda in 2005, no one thought there was a story. I tried to mine government workers and international agency officials on the ground for interview ideas, only to be told that there were not enough small businesswomen in the country to make my trip worthwhile.
They were wrong.
What I found in Rwanda, and later in Bosnia and Afghanistan, was a small but growing group of female entrepreneurs building the kinds of businesses that stimulate economies and put people to work. I met a group of women weavers in Rwanda selling their baskets to Macy’s, and I visited a textile company near the former front lines of Sarajevo employing more than two dozen women. With little fanfare and even less support, these women were marshaling resources to run the enterprises so critical to supporting families and to lifting their countries out of poverty.
In speaking with these businesswomen about the opportunities and the challenges presented by their work, I realized the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries.
Why is it so important to support them?
There are many reasons to support women’s economic empowerment, but it is easier to envision than to implement. And while many organizations try to support women’s initiatives, few succeed. This comes in part from an aid system focused on short-term results rather than long-term investment.
What women entrepreneurs need most is
What is certain is that women entrepreneurs are playing a vital role in rebuilding their countries and are poised to contribute even more. Already, with little assistance and often limited resources, women entrepreneurs from Rwanda to Bosnia to Afghanistan are doing their part for their nation’s economic reconstruction. Their work creates jobs and spurs growth, and it is part of helping their nations reap the benefits of the talent and potential of all -- not just half -- of their citizens.
Recent news coverage of women entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries:
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a former ABC News producer who began writing about women's entrepreneurship during her second year of MBA study at Harvard. She currently is working on a book to be published by HarperCollins in 2010 about a young entrepreneur who supported her family and her community during the Taliban years.