May 21, 2018

Organizing Our Own New Ventures

Ukrainian Venture
Ukrainian Venture

In organizing HERA’s own new social enterprises, we assess the demand to determine who can most benefit from HERA’s entrepreneurship training, mentoring and grants.  All women survivors of trafficking, violence, and exploitation, and young women at risk of trafficking are not the same -- even those originating from or settling in the same country.  They vary from young women at the start of their careers, who have little formal education and work experience to those who have completed MBAs and other advanced degrees and training.  Often, they have faced poverty, but others, especially refugees and displaced women, may have been well off in their earlier lives.  The women also vary from those who have already launched successful ventures to those who are still uncertain of their career plans. 

In designing our own “products”, HERA needs to respond and adapt to the local demand.  This requires both on-the-ground research and investigation and often, trialing a small pilot first.  To address the needs of a given market, we work with established local partners and collaborate closely with them.  In some places, including the UK, Georgia, Moldova, and Armenia, we have established very good, long term partnerships.  In others, such as the US, Ukraine, and France, we are still developing a track record and proving to our partners that we can contribute to their work as well.  

For our entrepreneurship training, HERA has developed two distinct models. Our 17+ training programs for 518 women in eight countries, to date, reflect one of these two models and in a few cases, a mix of the two. The first model, the “business school model”, provides intensive classroom-based, entrepreneurship training at an established university (Imperial, Sciences Po, Seattle, and IESEG).  The training is conducted by local business school professors and trainers in the predominant language of the country. This model is most relevant for young aspiring entrepreneurs, who have not yet launched their venture.  They may have a concept for a venture but are still assessing and determining their exact career plans.  

The second model, an “after hours for working woman”, is usually held for women who are poised to launch a venture or have an established business that they are ready to scale up further.  These women, already employed either part- or full-time, have work experience in the local economy. The training, focusing on specific knowledge about the local market, may be provided through a mixture of translation and the local language.  We bring in our own teams of trainers and assessors and invite local established women entrepreneurs to share their experiences. This model of training has taken place in varied settings, including a refugee/IDP camp, NGO, bilateral aid, consulting firm, orphanage, and universities.  The women, who have attended such trainings, have ranged in age from 16-60. The majority are in their late 20s to late 40s, a key time for many women entrepreneurs worldwide.  

With either model, women benefit from gaining access to a wider professional network, sharing knowledge, and from the mentoring or coaching that often ensues.  With the “after hours” model, coaching and mentoring are often informal and organized by the women themselves.  HERA has also developed the “after hours” model not only to respond to the women’s work schedules but also, to increase and encourage more women who can benefit from our grants program.  This training has extended the benefits of our grants’ program through sharing of new technologies, marketing techniques, and financial/cost analysis.  In Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova, women with established ventures are also helping those launching new ones.  

Recent developments in London, New York and the international grants program this past quarter point to the critical importance of choosing the model and refining our operations to respond best to the local demand.  We have gained an increased appreciation of our local partners and their commitment. Without their help and input, women’s entrepreneurship to counter trafficking would not be a reality.

In London, for this year’s recruitment, Sarah Videau, our program director, has reached out to 19 counter trafficking charities, including Medaille Trust, NIA, Caritas Bakita Project, Helen Bamber Foundation, Human Trafficking Foundation, Catholic Workers Farm and Stop the Traffik, to recruit a class of 25 women.  For the first time, we are holding the three-week training at Imperial College London’s White City campus.  As this new campus is being furnished, this year’s class will be smaller than in previous years.  HERA has benefitted greatly from the support of Provost and Vice President, Professor Maggie J. Dallman, OBE and we are helping to spearhead the university’s commitment to engage in the wider community (including those affected by the fire in Grenfell Tower).  This year’s program, to be held in July, will be directed by Filipa Figueira, an economics professor from University College London.   

In NYC, a HERA team collaborated with Restore, a leading counter trafficking NGO, to develop a “business school” entrepreneurship training for trafficked women survivors at Columbia Business School.  We also reached out to Catholic Charities to recruit young refugee women, who had similar experiences of violence and exploitation.  Although we originally expected to hold this classroom-based training this July, Restore’s current client group has an average age of 38. Most do not speak English, are working full or part time and cannot afford time off work.  Restore already provides a year-long, employment readiness training so some of our classroom-based training would have been repetitive.  We offered to design an “after-hours” program; however, Restore and HERA committed to holding this program at Columbia; and Restore, to expanding their own network and outreach to a broader group of young women trafficked in and to NYC. Our final, joint decision is that we will take the time to develop the program well and based on CBS’s availability, aim for July 2019. 

The international grants program has greatly benefitted from many local partners in this year’s Annual Competition. The active outreach of Ecaterina Schilling in Ukraine and engagement of several other assessors with established relationships in Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova has led to 125 grant applications from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  Eight international HERA assessors will review and score every application.  From July to the end of September, four teams of two assessors each will visit the top scored applications on the ground.  Former grantees, Anna Hovhannisyan and Gayane Simonyan in Armenia and Tatiana Policarpova in Ukraine organized seminars for local women entrepreneurs to apply to this year’s program.  Several NGOs, including AGBU, HDIF, and Luys Foundations in Armenia, REAP and CTC in Georgia, and Fermerieul du Sud in Moldova, recruited applicants for the 2018 Competition, our sixth to date and ninth international grants round.  By providing “after hours” entrepreneurship training sessions for 12 women in Armenia, 57 in Moldova, and 27 in Ukraine, we are also generating more interest and applications for the international grants program, helping to develop new businesses and products and services, and strengthening local networks and markets. 

By providing the appropriate entrepreneurship training model to the target population, HERA’s training, mentoring, and grants are yielding outcomes.  By 2017, we had followed up on 81% of the ventures funded from 2010 - 2016. We found that 93% have been sustained, including 63% that were successful in providing employment and opportunities for young women; and 14%, highly successful in growing their business operations 10% or more.  Tracking our 2017 UK classroom-based training, we have found that the majority are furthering their careers. Those without asylum status are gaining knowledge online and/or attending our monthly seminars. One woman has gained a fellowship to study at the SOAS (University of London), another has been accepted into management and finance programs at Bristol and SOAS, and a third has registered and opened her own counter trafficking NGO in Nigeria.  

We could not deliver these results without the generous in kind and financial support of many individuals. HERA’s overhead and administrative rates continue to be low, less than 3%.  To maintain such low rates and the trust and generosity of many private individuals, we must continue to be extremely cost effective.  That means building and developing good collaborations on the ground and meeting the effective demand with the right intervention.


Armenian Applicant Training
Armenian Applicant Training
Feb 20, 2018

2018 HERA Update for International Women's Day

HERA (Her Equality Rights and Autonomy) mobilizes business, third sector, and academic expertise, creativity, and resources to prevent and redress the $150 billion/annum business of human trafficking and re-trafficking. HERA assists women survivors of trafficking, conflict, and all forms of violence and young women vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation to pursue their aspirations and ambitions for a better life. 

In celebration of the International Women’s Day themeof “Press for Progress” on 8 March 2018, we outline for you, our contributors, how HERA plans to “press” ahead.  We have also compiled some of HERA’s achievements, which have established our solid track record and made us the partner of choice for providing women survivors’ entrepreneurship training and mentoring. We focus on the bottom line, transparency, and a solid return on our investment in bringing together corporates, academics, and partner NGOs.  As social entrepreneurs, we seek to be cutting edge and dynamic in our own organization and work.  Therefore, we are always focused on leveraging our experience and model to address and counter trafficking more widely and to have a greater impact.  Based on what has been accomplished to date, we hope that you will weigh in as well with your advice and contributions from March 1 to 15, to help us support these courageous women survivors and all who work to prevent and redress the economic drivers of trafficking.


In HERA’s “press for progress”, we have several activities planned for the coming year and beyond.  Our London program will organize more on site corporate training so that women have exposure to many different work sites and careers.  On March 7th, HERA UK will hold its Fourth Annual Women’s Day Panel with a group of inspiring business and third sector women.  Held at Salesforce at Heron Tower in the City, the panelists will address “Press for Progress”. 

HERA organizers in the US are teaming up with Restore NYC, a counter trafficking NGO, that identifies and fully supports trafficking survivors. Together with the NYC business community, we plan to deliver entrepreneurship training and mentoring for 20 young women this coming summer. 

HERA volunteers from the French Association will investigate opening a new training and grants program in Albania.  Along with new grants’ programs, we will continue to deliver intensive entrepreneurship seminars, training, and business networking events for young women at risk in France and in Central and Eastern Europe.  In so doing, we will engage entrepreneurs we have already funded and/or trained to share and profile their experiences with others. 

Most trafficking prevention interventions to date focus on the “demand” side of the equation. They counter violations in supply chains, internet abuse, and users of trafficked women and through law enforcement and policing. “Supply” side interventions have largely focused on knowledge and information campaigns, and hotlines to prevent trafficking and to identify those at risk.  Although these interventions are all critical, they alone cannot address the profit motives underlying trafficking as a major business operating in local, national and transnational markets.

Each day, women are duped; some sold by family members and boyfriends. Young women fleeing conflict, famine, domestic violence, and/or extreme poverty are at greatest risk. Some feel obliged to help their children and other family members by finding employment abroad to send remittances home.  Ambitious, young, and increasingly well-educated women are willing to risk dangerous migrations to find employment.  These conditions, along with rising income disparities and migration barriers, are further fueling the economic incentives underlying trafficking.  To make a difference, we need to find economic and lasting alternatives and to provide more choices and opportunities.

HERA is a leading model of social entrepreneurship for the prevention of trafficking and re-trafficking.  By being entrepreneurial, young women, who may be at risk, can realize their rights.  They in turn provide economic opportunities for others and contribute to their local markets and communities.  HERA’s unique contribution is to press for all women’s economic autonomy by supporting young women’s entrepreneurship and by being entrepreneurial in what we do.

HERA’s Achievements to Date

Founded in 2005, HERA (formerly Women-to-Work) has provided 505 women in eight countries with entrepreneurship training to level the playing field and promote women’s equality, rights, and economic autonomy.  HERA teams, with leading universities, business professors, foundations and local charities, have delivered entrepreneurship training and/or mentoring for women survivors or at risk of trafficking in: Belgrade (2005-6), London (2008-2018), Boston (2009), Tbilisi (2010), Paris (2014, 2016-17), Seattle (2015), Yerevan (2010, 2016, 2017), Cahul (2017), and Kiev (2017).

HERA UK Program

Since 2008 HERA has developed, tested, and refined its intensive entrepreneurship training for women survivors at Imperial College Business Schoolin London. Each summer, faculty from several leading business schools, trainers, students, and companies have volunteered time and expertise to produce innovative entrepreneurship training for a highly motivated group of primarily young women survivors.  HERA has also trained an equal number of business volunteers to coach and mentor each woman who successfully defends a business or career plan by the end of the training before an expert panel and their fellow students. Throughout the year, HERA then organizes monthly evening and weekend seminars and events for the women, their mentors, MBA students, and others.  Trainers have come from the private sector, UK and US Governments, international institutions (IFC, IOM, and EBRD), and the following universities:  Imperial, IMD, Cranfield Business School, Cambridge Judge Business School, London Business School, and Sciences Po Paris.

With significant in-kind support from many individuals and organizations, HERA is remarkably cost effective. This year’s cutting edge, three-week UK entrepreneurship training, year-round career seminars, and mentoring cost $1445/participant.  That amount included materials, transport costs, food, and childcare grants for 34 young women, originating from 18 countries, to attend the summer training and monthly seminars.

Following the training and mentoring, 85% of UK women survivors followed to date report positive outcomes including: finding work, piloting a venture or self-employment, being admitted into higher education and training, and/or advancing their careers through apprenticeships and internships. Over 75% of mentoring relationships complete the one-year cycle and 33% continue for a second year or more.  Describing this year’s program, one woman writes:

With the help of HERA, I am progressing professionally as an intern, so I can strive for an even better opportunity. This experience really gave me confidence and was very unique. I haven’t come across another organization that offers that service to refugees. Your organization is to the point, and it is really great.

Although at times challenging, many mentors are enriched by the quality and professionalism of their mentoring relationships. One mentor this year reports:

She always surprises me with her energy and her ambitions.  It’s been wonderful seeing her evolve throughout the year!

Many mentors say that they receive as much, if not more, from the relationship than they give to their mentees.  Realizing some of the obstacles that the HERA graduates have overcome gives mentors a new perspective on their own lives and many mentors have further developed their own careers through this experience.  Some mentoring relationships evolve into friendships while others continue as professional colleagues over several years.

Following the entrepreneurship training and mentoring, HERA women have reported finding employment in accounting, finance, nursing, medicine, law, international development, human rights, linguistics, social work, IT, retail, fashion, the arts, humanities, charities, and services.  They also report launching their own ventures in the arts, storytelling, accounting, health care services, gardening, social services, and catering.   Many go on to higher education and obtain further degrees and/or professional training. 

From this past summer’s UK program, a graduate has already applied for a MA in Finance and Accounting.  Another has been accepted for a BA in Finance and Accounting.  One has completed formal training in beauty services and another in baking.  The impact of HERA goes beyond the critical year after the entrepreneurship program.  An earlier graduate, who works as an accountant and financial officer at one of UK’s largest banks, has volunteered to mentor in the coming year.

HERA France Association

In collaboration with Sciences Po Entrepreneurs, their graduate students, and Le Bus des Femmes, HERA France Association organized evening and weekend entrepreneurship seminars and mentoring for eight women originating fivecountries, including China, Senegal, and Kenya.  One of the HERA participants has already launched her beauty services. With the help of her mentor, she is looking at how best to attract more customers and establish herself as a sole proprietor entrepreneur in France.

With new regulations that support and encourage entrepreneurship in France, HERA France Association's work becomes more meaningful and relevant for women survivors.  At the same time, despite the more liberal regime, many refugee and irregular migrant women still continue to work in the informal economy.  Through HERA's seminars and training, we try to ease their entry into the formal economy as becoming a serious registered entrepreneur also helps with obtaining the right to remain and eventual citizenship.

HERA International Program

Starting in 2010, HERA awarded grants to women’s ventures in five Eastern European countries to prevent dangerous migration and trafficking. To date, HERA has awarded over 208 grants, at an average cost of $782 per grant, in: Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine. These grants allow women owners to purchase essential capital equipment to sustain and grow their businesses. Some owners are trafficking survivors themselves or at high risk of trafficking. All grantees agree to work to prevent trafficking wherever possible by training and employing young women (25 and under) at risk of trafficking and re-trafficking. 

These grants have generated at least 376 new jobs, in addition to the entrepreneur’s own employment, and sustained many women-owned microenterprises. The majority of enterprises are in agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, services, and education (primarily preschools and English language programs).  These women-led ventures primarily provide essential goods and services for their local communities.  Thus, they continue to have a demand when there are economic downturns.  Increasingly, women owners are selling their products on line to reach bigger markets and international customers.  By bringing vacuum packaging for cheese production in Georgia and Moldova, HERA helped to extend the farmer-to-market distance and change that industry nation-wide.  HERA-supported Moldovan cheese can now be bought in Rome.  A few ventures have grown from micro to small enterprises and provided employment for several dozen new employees.  The primary limitations on growth of the microenterprises remain the hidden costs and risks of expansion.  Of 81% of the ventures evaluated through 2015, 93% were sustaining or growing their ventures.  Preliminary results from the 2017 assessments suggest a similar success rate. 

This year HERA’s international grants’ teams of volunteers, in collaboration with local organizations, offered intensive entrepreneurship training for young women in Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  Successful women grantees shared their experiences with the trainees.  A HERA team also held its third networking event in Tbilisi for grantees selected in collaboration with USAID’s REAP program in Georgia.  At HERA’s first program in Kiev this November, 27 young women, who had been displaced by the conflict, gathered at only a day’s notice to attend an intensive one-day training in a basement room.  In Cahul, Moldova 57 young adults participated in an entrepreneurship training this past summer.  There is a strong, unmet demand in all countries for further training and networking opportunities. Since starting the program, several grantees have started their own business clubs and nonprofit organizations.  Two women owners reported that they have adopted the HERA model and provided grants to other women’s ventures. Many have mentored others and there are “HERA” branded products including cheese, woolens, candles, and scarves. 

Campaign Ahead

HERA’s overhead is extremely low (below 1%)and therefore, our direct support to women high. For our international grants program, at least two thirds of the funding, and often more, goes directly to grants to purchase equipment that the venture owners identify and select. The remaining third covers operating costs to conduct training and onsite assessments, often in remote rural communities.  We keep our cost-benefit ratio low by engaging volunteer assessors and trainers with significant expertise and in-kind support from individual contributors, businesses, universities, international institutions, foundations, and partner NGOs and charities.  In 2017, HERA’s total operating costs were $99,922.  We thank our many supporters and volunteers for the part you have played in helping women survivors and those at risk realize their equality, rights and autonomy.  Please support our March 1 to 15 “Women and Girl’s Campaign” and tell others about your work and support. Every contribution to HERA no matter the amount makes a difference for women survivors and those at risk of trafficking and all forms of violence and exploitation.

Nov 22, 2017

Prevent Trafficking and Violence against Women

Vintner in Georgia
Vintner in Georgia

Since September, our HERA volunteers have supported some hard working and aspiring women entrepreneurs in Armenia, Georgia, France, Moldova, United Kingdom and Ukraine.  Through entrepreneurship training, mentoring and grants, we are working to prevent trafficking and retrafficking and to address all forms of violence against women.  We also provide equipment to promising women entrepreneurs to scale up their ventures so as to employ young women at risk of trafficking and retrafficking and other forms of violence.

Here is a brief update of our work since September in each country:

  • Armenia - With financing from Lily Xander Foundation, we awarded grants to 11 young Armenian women.  Gayane, a young woman entrepreneur, had organised "BeesArt."  She works with women in her region to produce beeswax products, which she sells in local and regional markets.  We also gave equipment to a group of young women entrepreneurs in a remote mountain village. They are gathering, producing and packaging herbal teas. All knew women in their region who had been trafficked.  We provided a grant to a local NGO trainer who works with young Syrian women refugees, who have fled to  Armenia, and with other ethnic minority women to produce ornaments to sell in the annual Yerevan holiday market. In collaboartion with Luys Foundation, during our visit, we trained 12 women on entrepreneurship in Yerevan.  The trainees were primarily young women who had recently exited an orphanage and two Armenian social workers, who want to promote women's entrepreneurship.
  • Georgia - We awarded grants to 11 Georgian women entrepreneurs.  In Georgia many young women from rural areas seek employment in the two major cities, Tbilisi or Batumi.  When they fail to find work, they may be trafficked initially to Russia, Turkey or the Middle East.  As we saw this past summer, some young women were also trafficked to London. We collaborated with USAID's REAP (Restoring Efficiency  to Agricultural Production) to identify promising agricultural ventures as Georgia is primarily an agricultural country.  Baia, one of the young women grantees, has opened a guesthouse at her family's winery. She employs and trains local, young women and is herself involved in her family's wine production.  At the end of the visit, we organised a celebration for all the women grantees at REAP's office in Tbilisi. 
  • France - In collaboration with Le Bus des Femmes, we provided another round of intensive entrepreneurship training for five aspiring women enterpreneurs in Paris.  We also organised an online seminar on the trafficking of women in France and lessons learned from our pilot training this past year.
  • Moldova - We provided grants to 11 Moldovan women. Moldova has one of the highest trafficking rates in the world and an estimated one in 100 Moldovan may have been trafficked.  One of our grantees was a 21 year old woman who had returned from abroad. She offers the only pedicure and nail services in Cahul and currently averages 45 clients per month.  We bought her a pedicure chair. Whilst in Moldova, we also collaborated with Centrul Regional de Devoltare Economica, the Regional Medical College, and Fermeriul du Sud to offer a one day training workshop to 57 young Moldovans (many at risk of trafficking) on entrepreneurship.  Our presenters  included a past HERA grantee, who came from quite far, to share her experiences and expertise.
  • United Kingdom (UK) - In the UK, Sarah Videau, our staff director, organised 24 hours of intensive entrepreneurship training over several weekends for five older women survivors of trafficking and violence (ranging from 37 to 64 years of age). All women in our new "Wise Women" program wanted to launch their own business and had prior experience and/or a venture idea. We also continued to provide monthly, evening seminars for the 36 young women and their mentors from the summer on entrepreneurship and career topics.  Some 20 women survivors attended these seminars. Our new group of UK business volunteers are also mentoring the summer class of 36 young women survivors.
  • Ukraine - We awarded grants to three Ukrainian women entrepreneurs. One of our entrepreneurs helped to organise a HERA event to assess young Ukrainian refugee women's interest in our entrepreneurship training.  When we invited refugee women at less than a day's notice to a HERA pilot entrepreneurship training, 27 young women came.  They asked for more training and promised to bring many more, young women to the next round.  We plan to return in early 2018 to award more grants and to provide a longer training for up to 60 young refugee women.

We promoted women's entrepreneurship in many parts of Europe this autumn to support women's autonomy and prevent all forms of violence against women.  We plan to do more work ahead in all six countries and are working with potential partners to organise a new HERA program in NYC.  We depend entirely on your private contributions and in kind volunteer support to run all our programs.  Please consider donating to HERA in the upcoming "Giving Tuesday Campaign" and this year's "Holiday Season".    

In this holiday season, we also extend our greetings and thanks to our donors for your generous support, to our volunteers for all you do for our programs, to our partners who make our work so much better, and to the young women entrepreneurs for your courage and determination! You are all helping to provide sound economic and entrepreneurial alternatives to trafficking and retrafficking and to all forms of violence against women.  We wish you all a very good Holiday Season ahead!

Sewing Venture in Moldova
Sewing Venture in Moldova
Silage Producer in Georgia
Silage Producer in Georgia
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