This article was written by Jessica Alderman – Envirofit International Director of Communications & PR – for The Guardian Labs in partnership with Business Call to Action.
Lisa Charity Mwangi, 34, is a small business owner in Nairobi, Kenya. She wakes up early to get her kids off to school and then heads to her shop, a small roadside stand filled with cheap, nameless household goods and a few branded items too, some durable goods such as solar lanterns, improved cookstoves and other small appliances. She lost her job in the hospitality industry in 2008, and has been unable to find another, so her income depends on what she sells that day. Next to her are 30 other shops just like hers.
The women’s empowerment and development sector looks at female entrepreneurs like Lisa and sees potential. People working in this area believe that by providing her with training and funding to help expand her business they can also help move her out of poverty. Grant-makers often point to metrics such as “number of female entrepreneurs created or empowered”. They offer programmes that help refine marketing strategy, manage finances, and grow business. The higher the metrics, the better off women are, or so the thinking goes.
What these programmes can overlook is that starting, managing, and growing a business is hard work. While the goal of helping female entrepreneurs is laudable, it can miss the key question of whether people living at or just above the poverty line are entrepreneurs by choice, or by circumstance. Given the chance to have a job with a steady salary, incentives to perform and an opportunity to rise, would many female entrepreneurs still choose to run their own business?
Read the full story in The Guardian Labs
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