Happy International Women’s Day: Pay It Forward!

An International Women’s Day message from our CEO, Helen McEachern, published in March 2020.

This year’s International Women’s Day marks the 12th since the Foundation’s inception. It also marks a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come: as we enter 2020, I’m very pleased to report we have now reached more than 160,000 women in over 100 countries with our unique programmes tailored for women entrepreneurs.

Giving women the opportunity to transform their futures through making their own livelihoods is inspiring work. Our focus on women business owners from the micro to small and medium businesses means I am regularly reminded how many more lives we reach. Evidence from our work means we know the women we work with help others – their own families, but also their communities and other women to fulfil their potential. They ‘pay it forward’.

Take Novita, from Indonesia, who owns an online clothes shop which she runs from home employing other women who would like to generate a livelihood and financial independence from home. She was mentored this year through our Mentoring Women in Business programme, as a result of which she has found investors that like the social impact of her business and want to help her grow. She told us ‘I loved the guidance my mentor provided … she helped me find out things for myself and really analyse what is best for my business. For me and the housewives that I employ, I want to do my best for my business … I hope to hire more housewives in the future’. So while it is easy to feel daunted by the challenges ahead it is important to remind ourselves of the incredible progress we’ve made and the number of lives we’ve touched.

Launching our 100,000 Women Campaign!

This International Women’s Day also marks the start of a new journey for the Foundation, as we have just launched our ambitious new 100,000 Women Campaign at Davos, alongside the World Economic Forum. We launched this Campaign because we are hungry to make more progress. To reach many more women and change the environment around them. We also wanted a platform for the voices of the women with whom we work and people everywhere who want to work for economic equality.

One of these women is Ilgin Ozdemir Yazgan, who shared her experiences of entrepreneurship at our launch in Davos this January. Ilgin is also a graduate of our flagship Mentoring Women in Business programme, and the founder of maternity and nursing business wear brand, Accouchée. She gave a powerful, moving speech, describing her journey from being a working mother with an idea and ambition to empower other mums in business. You can read and watch her speech here.

The multiplier effect: breaking stereotypes; changing the ecosystem!

For every woman like Ilgin or Novita, there are many thousands more who would be able realise their ambitions with the right support. This support can take many forms, and indeed our programmes are delivered in many ways – through apps, like HerVenture, blended learning, like Road to Growth, or face to face, like Mujeres AVE – but perhaps the most challenging and fruitful constitutes changing the way business is done in order to be more enabling for and inclusive of women.

So this International Women’s Day, we’re releasing new research on the motivations and challenges for women entrepreneurs who, like Ilgin and Novita, have applied to and participated in our Mentoring programme. ‘Levelling the Playing Field: What Women Entrepreneurs Want’ shares the firsthand experiences of the barriers to entrepreneurship women business owners encounter, and also makes tangible recommendations towards financial institutions, governments and companies to strengthen the ecosystem for women entrepreneurs.

As our research shows, access to finance is still the biggest barrier behind the gender gap in entrepreneurship. We all need to do more to tackle this problem and the report lists steps that can be taken. But these practical steps must be accompanied by changing the way we think: stereotypes and bias are deeply embedded in our societies and came through strongly in the women’s experiences. Nearly two thirds had experienced instances of negative stereotyping, with comments such as ‘women should prioritise motherhood and domestic duties’, ‘women aren’t good with money’, or my personal favourite, ‘women aren’t as ambitious as men’! When you consider that these opinions can be held by anyone from family members and customers to financial service providers and policy makers, the scale of negative impact negative stereotypes can have on women in business is enormous.

Through our new Campaign we plan to not just reach another 100,000 women with our programmes, but also to expand our efforts to create a thriving ecosystem for women in business for years to come, so they can participate equally as entrepreneurs. For this, we’ve already received some incredible support – Hillary Rodham Clinton is an important ally of ours (and you can watch her video message endorsing the Campaign here), and we were lucky to gain many more at our launch in Davos, such as fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, and broadcaster and diversity expert June Sarpong:

…And many others, whose video messages you can view on our Youtube channel.

As our supporters recognise, investing in enhancing women entrepreneurs’ access to skills training and networks, coupled with confronting restrictive stereotypes, business practices and laws, forms a pathway towards a future where women can prosper as equals around the world.

Will you join us?

To achieve these important goals, we need to raise £10million by 2022. It’s an ambitious target to go with an ambitious plan, but wholly achievable thanks to the generosity of people like yourselves who share our vision of a world where women and girls have the same access to entrepreneurship as men do – one from which we all stand to benefit. Having just launched mentee intakes for the next round of our Mentoring programme, we’re already making tracks towards reaching 100,000 more women so, this International Women’s Day, why not join us on our journey as a supporter?

You can sign up to our e-newsletter, become a member of our Global Campaign Boardpartner with us as a company or institution, spread the word, and of course make a gift which will change the lives of thousands and thousands of women.

You can play a part in enabling 100,000 more women entrepreneurs to start and grow successful businesses and create better futures for themselves, their families and their communities, and with your help we really can change the world for the better.

From all of us at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, happy International Women’s Day!