May 11, 2014 7:03 pm

Business education for women in developing economies

Divya Keshav©Tom Pietrasik

Local knowledge: Divya Keshav attended classes in Delhi while running her label printing business

When Divya Keshav took over the small Delhi company founded by her father to prevent it from closing, she did not feel fully prepared for the responsibility.

Krishna Printernational, which makes self-adhesive labels, was at risk because her father did not want to continue investing in it when his daughters were pursuing other careers and there was no successor. Loath to let his years of effort go to waste, Keshav left her job in 2008 and took the reins.

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“When I took over the company, I did not have the business skills or confidence to allow it to reach its potential,” she recalls. So she decided to take a short executive education programme developed by Hyderabad’s Indian School of Business in partnership with the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative, which supports female entrepreneurs in developing economies.

On the course Keshav learnt skills such as creating a branding strategy for a small business and how to negotiate with vendors and customers. She says revenues have since grown by more than 100 per cent a year and she has increased her workforce by 25 per cent.

Part of the appeal of the programme was that classes were in Delhi. “One of the reasons I chose the course was because it was locally based,” Keshav says. “I didn’t have much time when I could travel away from the business.”

For those who can afford it, short programmes overseas can also be worth the investment. Gigliola Aycardi, Colombian co-founder of Bodytech, a chain of gyms in Colombia, Peru and Chile, chose a leadership programme developed by Stanford Graduate School of Business and Endeavor, a global non-profit organisation that supports entrepreneurship.

For Aycardi, the appeal was access to technology expertise and the chance to join a global cohort of like-minded entrepreneurs. “It was good for me to do something new and to find out about trends in management and leadership,” says Aycardi. “And doing this at Stanford was great because of the IT connections the school has.”

Gigliola Aycardi

Fit for purpose: Gigliola Aycardi chose Stanford for its global cohort and IT

Rena Shalimar Riyanto, managing her family’s logistics enterprise in Indonesia and planning to start a restaurant business, also looked for a course that would offer business skills and a global network. She chose the Entrepreneur’s Boot Camp offered by Babson College in Massachusetts.

“So many industries and nationalities were represented,” she says. “And what was really valuable was first-hand tips from the experienced entrepreneurs, investors and academics they brought into the programme.”

However, for millions of female entrepreneurs in emerging markets, the fees, travel costs and time away from the company mean these kinds of courses are out of reach.

It was to help fill the gap for local, short executive programmes that Goldman Sachs launched the 10,000 Women initiative used by Keshav. The idea is to promote economic development by giving female entrepreneurs in emerging markets access to management education and mentors. While Babson College developed the global curriculum, schools can customise the emphasis placed on different topics, delivery methods and programme length.

In some regions, business skills are only part of what female entrepreneurs need – it can be difficult for women to become accepted as businesspeople at all. In the Middle East and north Africa, fewer than one-third of early-stage entrepreneurs are women, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, compiled by Babson. Even once they have broken through cultural barriers and created a business, women may find it hard to see themselves as leaders.

“One of the most important things someone could get out of an executive course is confidence – because women can sometimes hold themselves back,” says Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and chief executive of Endeavor. “Confidence building translates into people thinking bigger about their business.”

Nicole Stubbs, chief executive of First Access, which creates risk scores for microfinance clients in emerging economies, agrees. “It’s about confidence and finding best practices for framing what you’re doing, so family members and others can understand.”

But for borrowers in low-income communities, even local courses may be out of reach. This can hinder economic development, as female entrepreneurs make important contributions to these economies – and women tend to invest returns in the education and healthcare of their children.

Often women are “necessity entrepreneurs” – their decision driven by circumstances – rather than “opportunity entrepreneurs”, says Elaine Eisenman, dean of executive education at Babson College. “They are the sole support for their family and don’t set out to become entrepreneurs.”

Elaine Eisenman

Necessity: Elaine Eisenman says women often do not set out to be entrepreneurs

Some argue that for these women what is needed is not formal classroom training but on-demand content accessed via mobile devices.

“I’m not sure the standard executive education programme is what I’d focus on,” says Guy Pfeffermann, founder and chief executive of the Global Business School Network, a non-profit that supports management education in the developing world. “The main issue in terms of scaling up business education for women is to make it easy for extra-busy women to absorb – and even two days at a school may be too much.”

Several organisations are developing programmes that can be accessed online or via mobile phones. Acumen Fund, a non-profit venture fund that invests in social entrepreneurs, works with a range of partners to offer online leadership programmes. The African Management Initiative is working with business schools to develop online and mobile content for regions with low bandwidth. Participants support each other through virtual communities, and online training is supplemented with face-to-face workshops to make content available from top African institutions.

“We’re currently targeting both men and women but we’re thinking about a course designed specifically for women at some stage,” says Rebecca Harrison, the programme director. She adds that there is likely to be a community for women entrepreneurs on the social learning platform under development.

Pfeffermann believes online courses that can be accessed anywhere may prove the most useful tools for female entrepreneurs. “Women have no time, and it’s worse in developing countries, where it’s hard to get things done and women spend a lot of time stuck in traffic,” he says. “If you can reach them there [with mobile technology], then you’re on to something.”

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