It’s been five years since the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women started and in that time our Enterprise Development Programme has reached 2,200 women in Africa, Asia and the Middle East enhancing their access to capital, as well as providing links to new markets, delivering tailored business training and facilitating business registration across six countries. But when disasters strike, such as the recent outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone, we also support women as they adapt their businesses through difficult times.
Over the last three years, our Sierra Leone Women Entrepreneurs project has provided women entrepreneurs with business training, incubation opportunities, and access to markets and networks. We’ve seen women like Gladys grow their businesses and expand their opportunities. Gladys originally wanted to establish a juice production factory but due to lack of capital she started on a smaller scale and set up the Oasis Juice Bar and Café in Freetown.
She was able to establish the business with prize money from the Sierra Leone’s National Business Plan Competition called ‘Business Bomba’, which gave her an extraordinary opportunity not available to many other women in Sierra Leone. As with most small businesses, Gladys needed additional support around business management and how to develop her business further. Luckily, she was introduced to OWNERS (Organization of Women’s Networks for Entrepreneurs), developed by the African Foundation for Development with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which was able to help.
OWNERS supported Gladys to attend business management training courses and she also received one-to-one business coaching during a one year period. The network supported her to develop a marketing plan that saw Gladys acquire a grant for internet connectivity in her bar and café. In June this year her future looked promising: she had taken on 15 staff and diversified her business with the opening of a six-bedroom guesthouse.
But as the scale of the Ebola epidemic became widely recognised the repercussions have been felt by businesses across the country and she has been hit hard. Gladys’s hospitality business has had to make 12 employees redundant. A representative of OWNERS has visited Gladys’s guesthouse to provide the remaining staff with educational health materials on how to prevent Ebola, listen to their concerns as well as provide moral support. She has also provided Gladys with one-to-one support on a regular basis to help her through this difficult period. This has been a huge boost to Gladys confidence and self-esteem. It helped her to cope with her fears and implications of Ebola on her business. Though she has currently significantly scaled down her business to just a portion of the juice café, the one-to-one support from has seen her develop cost cutting strategies that ensure her business survives this crisis.
Being part of the project has been a life line during this difficult time of the Ebola crisis, it provides me with a ‘listen ear’ and a place to talk about business challenges, fears and stress that may be difficult to talk about with anyone else.
The world is rapidly changing. For us at the Foundation, empowering entrepreneurial women means giving them confidence, capability and access to capital they need to grow their business. But it also means supporting women to make difficult business decisions when times are tough.