How does a business school with just 44 professors educate 100,000 female entrepreneurs? In 2009, Thunderbird Global School of Management in the US took on this challenge and today they celebrate its completion. The 100,000th woman to graduate is Maria Zulema Ballona Morante, an Avon consultant in Peru.
Kellie Kreiser, executive director of Thunderbird’s social impact initiative Thunderbird for Good, is in Lima for the celebration. “Women entrepreneurs have been proven to be powerful economic drivers, and I expect that Peru will see benefits from this newly educated group,” she says.
The programme is designed to train micro-entrepreneurs through television dramas – telenovelas - scripted by Thunderbird’s teaching staff. Characters in the soap operas navigated business obstacles, while women in groups of 200 watched and learnt. The screenings were supplemented by mentoring, microloans and access to other educational resources.
This innovative form of teaching was the first component of a larger project called Strengthening Women Entrepreneurship in Peru. The second component linked to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative which also reaches significant milestones this year.
“The genie is out of the bottle. These women are now aware of what they can achieve,” says Ms Kreiser. “That’s the true definition of sustainability - they are now going to carry on because they are aware of their own capabilities, plus responsible for them.”
Reflecting on the past five years, Ms Kreiser says she has seen a notable shift in people’s attitudes to women in business. “Five years ago, we really had to convince people there was a business case for women,” she says. “Now, people know there is a business case and are focusing on how to get these women the capital, how to help them sustain their networks, how to get them access to the supply chain… There has been a remarkable groundswell on women being a smart investment.”
The event in Peru will include opportunities for programme partcipants to share lessons learned and foster debate around women in business.