From 10,000 to 100,000 Women

Thursday 13th November 2014

GBA Newsletter

Noa MeyerThe 10,000 Women initiative was launched in 2008 by the Goldman Sachs Foundation (GSF) to educate women entrepreneurs in emerging economies. The initiative was designed specifically to provide a business education, access to mentors and networks, and links to capital for 10,000 underserved women operating small businesses. By the close of 2013, the initiative had enrolled its 10,000th woman. In mid-2013, Babson College, in partnership with the GSF, conducted the first ever analysis of the data that had been systematically gathered across cohorts and countries over the course of the initiative’s first four years. In this interview, Noa Meyer, Managing Director and Global Head of 10,000 Women, shares key findings and insights from the initiative’s first phase, how it is informing the next phase, and the role she sees the GBA playing in supporting women entrepreneurs worldwide.

GBA: What are the key elements of the 10,000 Women program?

Noa Meyer: 10,000 Women was launched in 2008 to provide 10,000 underserved women in developing countries with business and management training. We work through a network of 90 academic and nonprofit partners to provide women with practical business education. The program teaches them how to write a business plan, access capital, manage staff, negotiate, etc. When they complete the education piece, we connect them with mentors and a network — which has proven invaluable for them. Many of these women business owners have operated in isolation for so long, the network is incredibly valuable to them.

GBA: How is the Program set up on the ground?

Noa Meyer: We’ve identified education partners who are highly reputable and whose brand is a real draw for many of these women. We’ve heard from so many women in so many countries that they never imagined they’d be a student at these top institutions like the American University in Cairo (AUC). Many of our women come from underserved backgrounds and the opportunity to go to a program for free at a prestigious institution is a very affirming experience, one that marks the beginning of the transformation that we’ve seen so many of our women undergo.

The second piece is we have cultivated networks of our women and these are really a lifeline for them. They can talk to peers who have shared similar experiences, and we’ve really seen very deep communities born. Our women talk about being “transformed” as they go through the program. Their confidence soars; the way their employees and their families see them changes.

GBA: Is the network in which the women participate a network of classmates and alumni?

Noa Meyer: Yes, individual cohorts of 35 to 50 women are plugged into the alumni network, and then we hold quarterly mentoring events where we do continuing education programs — the education doesn’t stop when they complete the program. We have guest speakers, often representatives from local banks, who come and talk about accessing capital. These events also give the women a big opportunity to network with one another. Apart from the quarterly events, we have organized a LinkedIn community. But actually a lot of women self-organize. For example, there’s a cohort of women in India who organized their own nonprofit. They felt such gratitude for being invested in that they wanted to invest in others, and they created an organization called Fragrance. They go into communities and volunteer at schools for the blind and make investments to support other women. So some of the things we organize, but some the women just take it and run with it.

GBA: What business impact has the program had on participating women so far?

Noa Meyer: The Babson evaluation showed that 69% of participants increased their business revenues, 58% added employees (measured 18 months after graduating), and 90% of graduates mentored other women. The growth these women demonstrated is impressive by any account, as is the “pay it forward” dimension of how they take what they’ve learned and invest it in other women. It speaks volumes about why investing in women makes so much sense, and why we made the decision to invest in women in the first place. They’ve proved themselves to be such a smart investment and one that has an exponential impact. The growth is staggering and certainly affirms that if you give women education, a network and some mentors that they really put it to work, not only for themselves, but for others.

GBA: If we had to choose just three subjects in business education to support women with, what would they be?

Noa Meyer: Negotiation is always a favorite because women often feel at a disadvantage when negotiating, and that’s true the world over, in our experience. Writing a business plan is something that women find to be critically important. And I would say money and metrics: Women often find the financial piece a bit intimidating, but if taught correctly, it becomes easily accessible to them.

GBA: The report also mentions the need for the creation of “a universal training program” that “takes into account contextual needs, while at the same time provides a set of widely applicable entrepreneurial business skills.” What would a universal training program look like, and is this the long-term goal of 10,000 Women?

Noa Meyer: Yes, it is. We’ve been working with Babson College on developing a global curriculum. Babson works with Goldman Sachs on our 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, and they developed a national curriculum for that program, which serves 10,000 SMEs in the U.S. They implement it through a network of community colleges. Similarly, with 10,000 Women, we’ve worked with Babson to develop a global curriculum.

10,000 Women is unique in that we have so many different countries that have so many variables. We prioritize working with our local partners on everything from the selection process to integrating the curriculum so that it can be tailored and localized.

GBA: What are the remaining constraints 10,000 Women graduates have in realizing their full potential?

Noa Meyer: The biggest hurdle we’ve seen is around access to capital; despite all the growth these women experience, they hit a wall with access to capital. That’s the lifeblood of any growing business. From our own data we’ve seen that only one-third of our graduates are applying for capital. Of that one-third, three-quarters are able to access it, which is a tremendous success, but it’s not enough when so many women aren’t applying in the first place. It became clear that the only way to move the needle economically was to try to tackle the access to capital constraint.

GBA: How have the key learnings from the first years of 10,000 Women impacted the next phase?

Noa Meyer: In March we launched a partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to raise up to $600 million to create the first-ever global financing facility for women-owned small businesses. It will reach 100,000 women in developing countries by providing incentives to local banks to reach out to this segment with targeted programs. It will provide not only capital, but also advisory services — technical support and training to help the banks better serve the market. Goldman Sachs contributed $32 million, and the IFC committed $100 million. We’re raising the rest from development finance institutions and private investors who share our commitment to seeing the women’s small-business lending pool grow around the world.

GBA: What is the best way for banks to partner/ participate in this initiative?

Noa Meyer: We would love to work with banks that are interested. They should reach out to us, to the IFC, and we will begin the process of getting to know each other and developing those relationships.

We want to showcase banks that are having success with the Women’s Market and are really deeply committed. We want banks that are willing to talk about their success, and why women are a good investment. We’d like to work with GBA to put these banks forward as models for others around the world.

GBA: What role do you see the GBA playing in supporting this initiative?

Noa Meyer: The GBA is critical to this initiative in terms of building this global community of like-minded banks that are sharing best practices and learning from one another. Recruiting banks from the GBA that could participate in the initiative would be exciting. We’re all invested in generating more awareness about the critical role women-owned SMEs can play in economies around the world, and lending to women is a fundamental step on that path. Helping banks understand that the opportunity exists is something the GBA has been doing very well. We hope that together we can broadcast that message even more widely.

GBA: What is your vision for 10,000 Women?

Noa Meyer: We’ve set a really ambitious goal of reaching 100,000 women over the next five to seven years through this global facility. We’re counting on this broader community of people who have been focused on this space for a long time and the growing number of banks that are recognizing the opportunity that exists here. We’re excited to work in close partnership with a community of likeminded stakeholders, and grow this community to get more capital into the hands of women SME owners.

— As told to the Global Banking Alliance for Women