This week, my graduates of the Women Innovators Network in the Caribbean Acceleration Programme (WINC AP) and I had a meeting with officers from the World Bank and the Government of Canada to discuss the successes of the programme.
WINC AP is part of the Entrepreneurship Programme for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC) which seeks to build a supportive ecosystem for high-growth and sustainable enterprises throughout the region. The seven-year $20 million programme is funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by infoDev which is a programme of the World Bank Group.
I was very pleased with the feedback from the participants about the programme, especially how they have benefitted. What was even more pleasing, is their willingness to pay it forward. Just in case anyone is not familiar with the term, “pay it forward” is an expression for describing the act of someone who is the recipient of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the person who did the deed.
In this case, the participants considered that they received significant benefits from the programme that outweighed the small investment that they made. Hence, they are willing to contribute to the next round of the programme so that the new participants will benefit.
I am truly heartened to see that even in tough economic times (although things do seem to be improving slightly), I have graduates in the restaurant and catering business, who are willing to donate refreshments for the incoming participants. Those who do not have a restaurant or deli are willing to offer other benefits like spa products as gift items for speakers or free wellness and fitness sessions.
I have also been very encouraged by the response I have had to my request for mentors to provide their time and expertise to the participants (free of cost) in order to give back, or pay it forward. These are people, some of whom are very busy, who recognize that women entrepreneurs need help and who are willing to mentor them as they seek to grow and expand their businesses.
One of the team members from the Canadian Government (a male) asked if women entrepreneurs really need help, i.e. why was it WINC and not INC. I think he was playing devil’s advocate to stir up the ladies because, out of that, we had some stories of being a woman entrepreneur and trying to get funding from a bank, for example.
I am fortunate because my products are knowledge-based (and therefore not capital intensive) so I have not had to seek financing from a bank. However, the stories shared by many women, including some of my graduates, tell me that we still have a long way to go in Barbados to equalize the treatment of women in business, particularly by financial institutions.
Can you imagine that in 2016 there are women entrepreneurs who are unable to get a credit card if they are unmarried because they are self-employed (and therefore cannot produce a job letter) and have no husband to jointly hold a card with? Yet some of these same women must provide a job letter for their employees to get credit facilities. Is this not ludicrous? Then there are the incidents when a woman entrepreneur is asked to bring the decision-maker to a meeting when they own the business because it is inconceivable that they could have the ability to make decisions about a business.
So yes, women entrepreneurs need extra help. They need somewhere that they can share their frustrations and offer help to each other about how they have overcome or gotten around some of the archaic and patriarchal behaviours that they encounter as women in business.
Having experienced the networking and camaraderie through the WINC programme over the last nine months, it is not surprising that they are willing to pay it forward to help another group of women benefit from the next round.
Last year was the first for the programme in the region. I know that in Barbados we like to wait and see before we try something new, but I am anticipating that having seen and heard the great benefits experienced by the participants of the first round, we will have a deluge of applications from women who need help to grow their businesses and make them more sustainable.
So look at some of the good deeds and benefits that you have received in your life and, as the term urges, “pay it forward”!
(Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She is also the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014 – 2016), the Barbados Facilitator for the InfoDev WINC Acceleration Programme and the Barbados Affiliate for the FundRiseHer Campaign. Contact her at email@example.com; Website www.donnaevery.com; www.facebook.com/DonnaEvery1)