The woman survivor of trafficking may have a different profile these days. Women’s entrepreneurship in countries where HERA provides grants to prevent trafficking is also changing. Organizationally HERA itself is changing to bring in a new generation of organizers and leaders. This quarter, our report will focus on some of these new trends in terms of the women HERA assists, how we work, and who we are as an organization.
The young women survivors, who attended this past summer’s entrepreneurship program at Imperial Business School in London, came from 18 countries. They represented the most diverse class to date. For the first time, the largest number came from Albania whereas those coming from Nigeria's northern and rural areas, decreased. This year’s class profile resembled that of our first years, 2008 and 2009, of HERA's UK program rather than that of recent years. The majority of young women were also educated and consequently had more of an academic focus than in recent years. Their interests and reasons for enrolling in HERA ranged from improving their English language skills to opening a design business, requalifying for a law degree, or pursuing a doctorate in business. Used to classroom based learning, their attendance, excluding excused absences, was over 98%. Several of the business professors and trainers noted that the women’s level of engagement was higher than anticipated, and they revised their presentations accordingly. As in previous years, several women asked for more hands-on, finance training at the end of the course while others with a masters’ in economics or MBA background could have easily taught these sessions. The opportunity to practice English was critical for several young women living in safe houses. The major difference with this year’s cohort, however, was that only a few have been granted asylum; and most are caught in lengthy asylum proceedings. Given their status they have not been able to work or enroll in a degree program after the HERA entrepreneurship training. Thus, their business mentors face a challenge in helping these young women maintain their enthusiasm, confidence, and motivation.
These trends, particularly related to lengthening asylum periods, reflect the rise in immigration barriers in the UK and throughout the European Community. Increasing barriers may be forcing more educated women to depend on traffickers’ services to migrate for work. Likewise, young rural and refugee women without degrees and experience face stiffer migration barriers and may be reluctant to risk a negative trafficking decision. With lengthier asylum decision periods and fears of rejection and deportation, more women may be working underground. Given the uncertainty of the women’s future statuses, the final project for this year’s program was to develop a group venture so that the HERA participants would not be discouraged if they could not pursue their own microenterprise or other career plans in the near future.
The average age of this year’s entrepreneurship program in London at 29.5 years was younger than in past years. This younger trend reflected a deliberate decision of the HERA organizers to offer a separate program tailored to women trafficking survivors over 40 years of age. Over the past few years, an increasing number of older women are escaping trafficking situations. Their needs, demands, and how they learn best are often quite different from those of young women, who have an interest in pursuing further education and training and have less work experience. Instead of classroom based training at Imperial Business School, HERA UK is organizing a “Wise Women” program for women over 40 years at different work sites and places. As one of our partners observed, many of the older women have no access to pensions so retirement is not an option and any income generating activities must be sustainable. Providing ongoing technical and emotional support and networking specifically targeted to older women’s ventures and self-employment, as HERA France organized for several women this past year, will be critical to find and sustain their work.
HERA France Association likewise is witnessing a need to develop new forms of support for several groups of refugee women and to offer training in both English and French. Many of the women they plan to serve come from Nigeria, China, the Middle East, and South Asia. These groups of refugee women, particularly the Chinese, have prior entrepreneurship experience so they mainly require targeted assistance for organizing a microenterprise in the French context. The HERA France Coordinator is investigating how best to assist these women to access the new procedure of "regularisation par le travail" so that they may continue to live and work in France.
Women's entrepreneurship is also changing In the countries, where HERA currently provides grants (mainly in the form of equipment) to women’s ventures. This support is intended to assist the ventures to scale up so as to provide employment and training opportunities for young women at risk of trafficking. In Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, many women-owned ventures continue to be involved in food services and production, and textiles. However, an increasing number of women entrepreneurs are leading agricultural ventures, particularly as men migrate to the Middle East and Russia for construction work. The diversity of agricultural products is also increasing and this year's grantees include wine, nut, corn, honey, wild herb, berry, and tea producers. Young rural and urban women are increasingly involved in tech ventures and developing new apps. Young women entrepreneurs are also more likely to utilize e-commerce and report selling their products on line to reach more distant markets. For example, one of HERA's Armenian grantees, who was featured in Yerevan Fashion Week, sells her designer wear in Moscow. Tea and wild herb producers market their products through online outlets in the UK. Women, who are trying to generate more employment in their communities, are organizing social enterprises. While many of these social enterprises continue to focus on traditional handicrafts often produced by older women at home, young women leading these ventures are also developing products and services related to tourism; wild herb, lavender and tea production; printing; beekeeping; cultural icons; and nanny services.
Access to new markets is critical for sustaining and growing these ventures. Most of the ventures that HERA supports remain as microenterprises that provide subsistence incomes. Many women owners and their employees are thus obliged to find other employment and can only commit part-time to the ventures. Training and expertise in marketing, selling and expanding one’s customer or client base are critical to their sustainability. The microenterprises also need to grow by adding value. In these uncertain times, no venture owner can afford to assume the sustainability of her customers or customer base.
In collaboration with the grants programs, HERA has developed training sessions for young women at risk of dangerous migration in Armenia. We have also organized networking events for our current and former grantees in Armenia and Moldova. A second, follow up training on entrepreneurship for young women exiting an orphanage was recently held in Yerevan. One of the most inspiring trainers and role model for others, was a 2016 HERA grantee, a young woman, who developed “BeeArt.” This venture in rural Armenia produces beeswax candles, honeycomb, and other bee products that are sold in Yerevan, local markets, and trade fairs. BeeArt also employs four women to produce the honey and products. In the future, the international teams of volunteers plan to organize more combined training and networking events in several of the countries, where HERA provides grants to women entrepreneurs to prevent dangerous migration and trafficking.
Being entrepreneurial, HERA is also changing and growing. This year several trustees completed one or more five year terms. The HERA Board voted in new trustees with legal, marketing, investment, and financial expertise on both our French and UK Boards. In June, Gwenaelle Pellerin, an Imperial MBA from Paris, became President of the French Association. In early July, Elise Do, a trustee, former mentor, and Imperial MBA, became Chair of the UK Board. They in turn are bringing on other new members, several of whom have volunteered in the past for HERA as mentors and trainers. Gokce Tuna, our UK Director, had to step down to complete her doctorate in business at Imperial. In July, Sarah Videau, a Sciences Po masters graduate, who organised the Paris program last year, became the new UK Director. Clemence Tondut, another Sciences Po graduate, took over organizing the French program. This coming Friday, September 29, HERA France is organizing its first on line seminar on trafficking to increase awareness of this issue in France (see link below). Finally, the HERA teams are very happy to report that our “Prevent Trafficking in Women Thru Entrepreneurship” project has been selected as GlobalGiving’s high-impact "Project of the Month" for October 2017. Many thanks to all our donors and volunteers for your support!
25 September 2017
BeeArt Training in Yerevan
Nut Producer in Georgia