Touring women owned businesses in Guyana
An inside look at a recent visit to women-owned businesses in Georgetown, Guyana.
Our Founder, Cherie Blair CBE KC, recently travelled to Guyana to attend the graduation of 131 Road to Growth participants, meet with partners, and see the businesses of women entrepreneurs first hand. She was joined by a few members of the Foundation’s team, including Leanne Baker, our Senior Programme Manager. Here, Leanne shares their experience visiting women-owned businesses in Georgetown.
As a Senior Programme Manager at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, I am very lucky to be part of bringing our programmes to women entrepreneurs in Guyana.
However, given I spend a lot of my job focusing on ensuring the programmes are delivered to the highest quality, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day detail of emails and logistics. Meeting our participants is an important reminder of the realities that our programmes respond to, and of the amazing work being done by the women who are at the heart of what we do.
Meeting our participants is an important reminder of the realities that our programmes respond to, and of the amazing work being done by the women who are at the heart of what we do.
In August, I not only had the chance to meet some of these women, I had the joy of taking others along with me. We got to experience their stories first-hand through visiting some of their businesses and attending the graduation of the latest cohort of our Road to Growth training programme.
On a blisteringly hot Tuesday, our Founder Cherie Blair CBE KC had invited the First Lady of Guyana, Arya Ali, and representatives from our donors, ExxonMobil Foundation to join us as we went to visit three businesses in and around Georgetown, Guyana’s capital. The women who own and run these businesses have all taken part in at least one of our three training programmes: Road to Growth, Road to Finance and Road to Leadership.
First up was lunch at EcoGarden International Restaurant, owned by Road to Growth graduate Dionne Graham. EcoGarden is one of the first fully vegetarian restaurants in Guyana, and we were treated to a three course meal of delicious vegetarian cuisine – the ‘prawns’ and ‘steak’ were so convincing that my brain had a hard time believing they weren’t the real deal. While we ate, we heard from Dionne about her experience of growing her business from a catering operation run out of her house, and the confidence that being part of Road to Growth has given her. She has grown her popularity and customer base through putting herself and her food out there, even in spaces where they may not be expected, such as the Annual Pepperpot Festival. Pepperpot is Guyana’s national dish, and is traditionally very meaty, but this didn’t stop Dionne’s delicious vegetarian version from coming second place!
Barely able to move from all the incredible food, we piled back into the cars to visit Children ‘R’ Us, a daycare and nursery founded by Carlotta John. Carlotta has taken part in all three of our training programmes and oozes ambition and determination. She has already been able to secure a grant to grow her business through extending the centre to provide space for more children. Her next ambition is to start another centre in another region from where women currently travel to leave their children in her care. Carlotta’s success is also having a ripple effect for other women entrepreneurs – safe, quality childcare provision is vital for women to enable them to focus on their work. Carlotta’s business is now providing childcare during our training programmes, meaning that more women can fully benefit from the same programmes she did.
Our final stop was to Triple S Zinc and Block factory, owned by Bibi Mobarkhali. With the Guyanese economy growing rapidly, the construction industry is booming, and with her skills from the Road to Growth programme, from which she was graduating later that day, Bibi is poised to take advantage of this. She told us about how, although she’s been running the factory for a while, she had never kept business records. Having started to do this only a few weeks previously, she already had more clarity and direction. As a woman in a male–dominated sector, it was inspiring to see her strongly leading her – mostly male – employees.
The cars on the way back to the hotels were buzzing. It is impossible to spend time with these women entrepreneurs without being infected by their energy and excitement for the future of their businesses and of Guyana as a whole.
The cars on the way back to the hotels were buzzing. It is impossible to spend time with these women entrepreneurs without being infected by their energy and excitement for the future of their businesses and of Guyana as a whole. The graduation later that evening, saw 131 women entrepreneurs, of different ages, geographies and sectors, proudly take the stage and celebrate their amazing achievement and look forward to what comes next.
For me, the whole day was summed up in the final, spine-tingling moment of the event, when 131 women entrepreneurs, as well as previous graduates, their trainers and families, rose to their feet and shouted ‘Empower her!’. Did I shed a tear? Maybe.
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