It is finished! At least this cohort. Last Friday was the graduation of the WINC (Women Innovators Network Caribbean) Acceleration Program which was funded by the Government of Canada under the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC) and implemented by the World Bank. I am delighted to see how this program has transformed the lives and businesses of these eleven women entrepreneurs and although some may have experienced a greater impact than others, all have benefitted from being in the program in some way.
We were honoured to have Her Excellency Marie Legault, High Commissioner to Barbados attend and speak to the graduates and guests. She spoke about her involvement in the Caribbean, which goes back several years, and of Canada’s involvement in the EPIC program in the region. Using statistics concerning women’s issues globally, she emphasized the need for women to achieve equality in the workplace and in business. She also shared, with humour, one of her own experiences as a woman High Commissioner which is often still perceived to be a man’s role.
Our guest speaker was Ms Debbie Simpson, CEO of Simpson Motors Limited who addressed the ladies about issues that they need to be aware of and look out for as they operate their businesses and employ staff and how to deal with them. Some of the male guests may have been a little uncomfortable with the message, but it reflected the real challenges that women face in the marketplace, especially when they work with men.
I was encouraged to hear the testimonies of three of the graduates who shared the ways that the program helped them. One of them, who has been in business for about twenty years, said that she figured at first, that she didn’t really need the program because she didn’t have the time to spare and she already had a well-established business. Realising that she had she become very insular, basically going from home to business and back, she decided to give the WINC program a try and she was very glad that she did. The monthly sessions provided her with the experience of stepping back from the business and sharing concerns with like-minded women entrepreneurs. As a result, many of them have now become her friends as well as people whom she does business with.
The other two entrepreneurs sang the praises of their mentors, Hudson Husband and Sheryl Whitehall, who helped them to make significant changes in their businesses and even in the way they perceive themselves. The mentoring/coaching is one of the unique aspects of the program and has been tremendously impactful in helping the participants to focus on their particular business needs, something which is lacking in most other types of training. As I said to the audience, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” as I have now seen other programs emulating the WINC approach. Just a few months ago, Caribbean Export launched its WE Export program to provide training and technical assistance for 20 women entrepreneurs across the region and included coaching as part of the program based on the preliminary report of the first WINC program.
So what now? The ladies are asking if I’m planning to start another program or hold networking and conversations every month. What these questions and the comments I used to get after my Women’s Entrepreneurship Day events tell me, is that women entrepreneurs need a space where they can connect and talk. I have also discovered that many others want to grow their businesses and need help to do so. Unfortunately, the World Bank’s involvement has come to an end, so it is now up to us in Barbados and in the region to continue to help our women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
This is imperative because, while there are many women in business, many of those businesses are micro businesses which are sometimes barely meeting their needs. While some may be doing better, in most cases, none of the entrepreneurs have businesses that can run without them. Many of them are of the same type (hair, nails, food) and very few are positioned to significantly increase output or export their products or services. This can be attributed to various issues such as lack of confidence, lack of skills, lack of knowledge, lack of contacts and lack of finances.
Therefore, we have to address these issues so that women entrepreneurs are positioned to grow their businesses, employ people and export their goods and services. We must also help them to innovate and perpetuate the same types of businesses. Above all, we need to help women to create businesses that can operate without them because women, as we all know, are very often the caretakers in the home as well as the ones having to earn income from their business.
The good news is that this is not only an area that is of concern to us in Barbados; it is a global concern. That means we can learn from and work with global agencies to address these issues to help our women entrepreneurs, which will, in turn, help our economy and provide us all with a better quality of life.
Donna Every is an author, international speaker, and trainer. She was the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014-2016) and is the Barbados Facilitator for the WINC Acceleration Program.