The power of partners: Three lessons on cross-border collaboration

Director of Programmes, Emily Scott, shares her insight and experience from working with partners around the world.

 The Foundation is proud to work with partners around the world to support women entrepreneurs in starting, sustaining and growing successful enterprises. Here, our Director of Programmes, Emily Scott, shares reflections and lessons learned from working with partners.

“At the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women we are all about empowering women in low and middle income countries to start, sustain and grow successful businesses, which we do very well. Our success in this area is in part due to our 15 years of experience in women’s entrepreneurship and women’s economic justice, but we really couldn’t do without expert partners in the countries where we work.   

This partnering with local organisations to develop and deliver our work is one of the main pillars of our new organisational strategy, Ready for Business and underpins everything that we do. 

Our partners bring vital skills and experience combined with a deep and invaluable understanding of the cultural context that we don’t and can’t have.

Emily Scott, Director of Programmes, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Our partners bring vital skills and experience combined with a deep and invaluable understanding of the cultural context that we don’t and can’t have. Together, we design learning content that’s culturally and contextually relevant. We deliver it in ways that work for women entrepreneurs, and we enhance our offering based on their feedback and in response to changing contexts, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, business digitisation and the cost of living crisis.   

It’s been my pleasure to nurture these partner relationships during my time at the Foundation and throughout my career. I’ve learned so much from working with partners around the world. Here are my top takeaways. 

Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa sits in the grass at her farm and uses HerVenture
Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa, founder of Abavina, and HerVenture user in Vietnam

Cultural context and expertise is invaluable 

Without women entrepreneurs, we wouldn’t exist, so it’s crucial that we keep them at the heart of our work. Our partners have a critical role in this, as they have access to important cultural contexts that we don’t have. They understand local contexts and are embedded in the communities and cultures of the women we work with. They know how best to support, nurture and facilitate the learning and development of the women entrepreneurs in different regions in their countries, and because of their ability to regularly meet with and speak to women entrepreneurs, we’re able to get insight and feedback on our programmes. Their conversations with women often highlight what’s working and what’s not, allowing us to strengthen our programmes and better meet women entrepreneurs’ needs.   

I remember when Women’s Initiative for Startups and Entrepreneurship (WISE), who we work with in Vietnam, used their expertise to reach women entrepreneurs of ethnic minorities in rural Vietnamese communities with our HerVenture app. They leveraged their networks and grew partnerships in new parts of Vietnam, travelling to meet women’s unions in these areas and supporting them to promote HerVenture to women in the community who might not have had access to business skills and training otherwise. HerVenture reached around 25,000 women from 2020-2022 because of this outreach, which we couldn’t have done ourselves. 

Carlotta John, a participant in the Road to Growth program, welcomes a student to her childcare centre
Carlotta John, owner of Children R Us and Road to Growth participant in Guyana

The best innovation comes from collaboration 

One of my favourite aspects of working with partners is collaborating  to meet the challenges and opportunities facing women entrepreneurs. The business landscape is constantly changing. New technologies, trends and global issues can all impact the state of trade for women owned businesses, for better or worse, which is why we are always working with partners to adapt our services and ensure women entrepreneurs are well supported. 

Last year, we learned from partners in Guyana, GTT and ActionINVEST Caribbean Inc, that despite the opportunities mobile money presents for businesses, use by women entrepreneurs was limited. Together, we recognised a need to engage more women with this emerging payment form and created a new learning track for our HerVenture app. This builds women’s knowledge of mobile money and encourages them to use it in their business. For many users, using mobile money has increased their ability to monitor their finances and save money, which supports their financial independence. 

We also worked with partners in Guyana to solve a common challenge facing the women in our Road to Growth programme. We found that many women were struggling to attend our trainings as they needed to look after their children, so we worked with ActionINVEST to pilot a childcare service for participants. This has been so successful that we will be piloting a similar offer with partners in Nigeria. 

This sort of collaboration is business-critical for us as it enables us to increase scale and impact and ensure greater sustainability for longer term change – not just for women entrepreneurs but also for local ecosystems.

Meeting between the Foundation and Absa in Nairobi, Kenya
Foundation staff speak to partners in Kenya

Working together benefits everyone 

Our work with partners takes many forms. Different organisations offer their own unique value to the Foundation’s mission; some support us with funding, others connect us to women entrepreneurs or deliver our training programmes for us.  

It’s very much a two-way street. Working with the Foundation offers many fantastic opportunities and benefits to partners. By working with us, partners can increase women’s participation in their economies, boost their employees’ engagement and satisfaction, and make their mark as an instrumental driver of women’s economic justice. Partnering with us also gives them the opportunity to co-create women’s entrepreneurship development programmes that support their strategic aims. 

What’s next?  

At the end of August, I’m delighted to be visiting our project in Guyana for the first time. This will also allow me to meet with partners face to face, after years of working closely together from across the world. I’m excited to see and hear firsthand how our services are being delivered and the impacts they are having for women entrepreneurs. I also look forward to getting a better understanding of the rapidly changing context in the country, so that together with partners we can build programmes and services that revolutionise business opportunities for women. 

This will contribute to our ambitious new goal of reaching one million women around the world with our work. Get in touch to learn how your organisation can partner with us to achieve this goal.”