Celebrating the Unbreakable Tenacity of Women Entrepreneurs

Over the next 10 months, Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) has the privilege of hosting Narges Khoramshahi, a next generation leader. A native Iranian, Narges teaches entrepreneurship at universities in Tehran and is recognized for having started the first university-based female entrepreneurship clubs in the country. Narges shared her experiences, and the stories of women entrepreneurs she has encountered. These stories, full of challenges and successes, are similar to many we hear from Nigeria, where YTF has run entrepreneurship programs for women for well over a decade.

Female entrepreneurship represents a vast untapped source of innovation, job creation and economic growth. However, women entrepreneurs continue to face obstacles in accessing credit, training, networks and information, not to mention legal barriers. In addition to providing appropriate, affordable training, partners need to take into consideration women's time and mobility constraints. In this regard, mobile phone technology can help by providing entrepreneurs with access to a global customer base.

With nearly 100% wireless coverage and a 92% cell phone rate of ownership, the use of mobile technologies in Nigeria provides entrepreneurs with the ability to create, increase and diversify income anywhere at any time. Take Eucharia, a 36-year-old woman entrepreneur we work with in Nigeria. She has owned a tiles and building materials company for eight years. With training she received from YTF and support from partners like MasterCard, Eucharia has not only begun to use her phone to maintain better customer records, but has created different customer groups in WhatsApp. She uses the application to market her products to them.

Just as important as technology is providing young women entrepreneurs with role models. When it comes to starting and growing businesses, we have found that many women entrepreneurs have had some sort of awakening inspired by a female (or male) mentor. In my case, my mother gave me the confidence to know that, in business, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. (MIT Innovations, Pioneering the Youth and Technology Movement in Africa and Beyond.)

Afoma, another entrepreneur YTF works with in Nigeria shares her dream of ensuring that the future of her daughters is even better than hers. A leader in her community, a job creator and a mother, she is clearly leading by example.

There are many such role models in Iran. The country has one of the largest cohorts of female engineering and science students in the world. Women in Iran own and manage businesses, many of them in male dominant industries like oil and gas, construction, mining, and new technology.

Changes in cultural and social behavior in Iran have led to the creation of an environment that supports entrepreneurship. Iranian female film directors, actresses, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of raising awareness about women's rights and creating a culture of acceptance, one that will alter social perceptions and empower women. However, Iran is still far away from making that culture a part of its national DNA. It is hard to be taken seriously as a female entrepreneur in Iran, but Iranian women are not following behind or waiting for permission to enter the marketplace. They are bravely fighting against inequality, and in doing so inspiring their families, peers, and communities.

In the process, they have built networks to reinforce the emerging culture of entrepreneurship. Iran's female entrepreneurs are very welcoming of support groups like the Association of Iranian Women Entrepreneurs,the National Foundation for Women's Entrepreneurship Development, and encourage Startup Weekends for women. There have been many obstacles to women's participation in the workforce, but Iranian women need not wait for the government to remove them.

As a social entrepreneur and teacher, Narges has been following the story of women entrepreneurs in Iran. Many of them agree that the support of their families is pivotal to their success. Having a father, mother, or spouse that believes in them and wants them to be courageous can keep them engaged and focused on their goals.

There are a large number of bright, educated, talented women in Iran willing to take part in their own destinies. Despite the limitations placed on them, they are filled with hope, and it is inspiring to see these brave women attending schools and universities, breaking into the business world, and enjoying social activities with a smile on their faces and a strong belief in a bright future in their hearts.

Women have emerged year over year as a force for innovation. They have demonstrated that they have the confidence and capacity to start and grow a business to the point where, in many African countries, women entrepreneurs outpace their male counterparts. And because women entrepreneurs and the women apprentices they hire spend their income primarily on the welfare, education, and healthcare of their children, they are often the ones who develop new innovations for currently untapped markets. Whether in Nigeria, Iran, or elsewhere around the world, women entrepreneurs have learned to be creative and to thrive in difficult environments, and have grown their businesses as a result.

This blog was co-authored by Njideka Harry and Narges Khoramshahi, Women's
Entrepreneurship Day, November 2016