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Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship

by HERA (Her Equality Rights and Autonomy)
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Prevent Trafficking in Women thru Entrepreneurship
Summer in Regents Park Race
Summer in Regents Park Race

This Summer Update recognizes all our donors and volunteers.  As you may know, HERA has only one paid staff person. Our work depends almost entirely on our volunteers, who organize and run our day-to-day operations and on private individual donors and foundations, who support the costs of running our entrepreneurship training, mentoring, and grants to women-owned ventures, to prevent and address trafficking.   Our volunteers include women and men in financial services, academics, law, social services, marketing, and business. As a group, we are lawyers, engineers, bankers, investors, economists, coaches, counselors, artists, consultants, and business professors, etc.  Several of us are entrepreneurs.  As volunteers, we give of our time, experience, and expertise.  HERA also depends on a unique group of donors who share our vision that supporting women’s entrepreneurship helps to prevent trafficking while allowing young women survivors and those at risk to make valuable contributions to their societies, local economies, and economic development.

Not surprisingly summer remains HERA’s busiest season of the year as it is a period when many of us can take some time to help in teaching, assessing, coaching, and advising young women survivors, women entrepreneurs, and young women at risk of dangerous migration and trafficking.  This summer the HERA volunteers have helped with fundraising, organizing and delivering the 12th London Entrepreneurship and Mentoring program, and with launching our 10th International Grants Competition.

In early June, the “Summer in Regents Park Race” brought together eight volunteer runners, who competed to raise funds for HERA. A majority of the runners came from the National Physical Laboratory. Meanwhile, HERA’s UK Program Director, a HERA trustee, and one of our former students cheered them on and organized a picnic after the race for all contestants. 

This summer ten volunteers, currently residing in Germany, France, Italy, and the UK, read and ranked 176 applications from women venture owners for our International Grants’ Competition. The Competition was again held for women entrepreneurs from four countries – Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  Two former grantees in Armenia – a farmer and a beekeeper - voluntarily organized and delivered seminars for new venture owners to prepare and translate their applications. Former grantees from all four countries, including a group of women refugees in Ukraine, distributed our competition announcement.  Several NGO partners, including Armenia General Benevolent Union, Caritas, Orran, and Homeland Development Initiative Foundation in Armenia; the Center for Training and Consultancy, Rural Development Association, and Elkana Biological Farming Association in Georgia; and our long term partner, Fermierul de Sud in Moldova, vetted applicants to submit serious proposals in English. The volunteers’ and NGOs’ support in all four countries resulted not only in the most proposals HERA has received to date but also, some of the best. Thus, the four assessment teams of eight volunteers plan to visit 45% of the ventures in each country and to meet with all our local partners.

This summer many volunteers supported Sarah Videau, HERA’s Program Director, and Professor Ebrahim Mohamed, our Academic Director, to run the 12th HERA London Summer Entrepreneurship training for 22 young women survivors of trafficking and other forms of violence. The women participants averaged 30 years in age and ranged from 18 to 43 years. Students were referred by previous HERA graduates and several UK charities including, Hackney Migrant Center, Women at the Well, Hestia, Hibiscus, Medaille Trust, Refugee Council, RCDOW and Rahab. All took time and effort to identify a diverse and highly qualified group of young women to attend this year’s course.  The largest number came from Albania and Nigeria with the remaining from Philippines, Cameroon, Angola, Kenya and Eritrea.  According to Amanda Pelham Green, CEO and Founder of Odyssey Mentor Ltd., this year’s class was “Truly, the most interactive and engaged group I have worked with at HERA to date.”[1] 

The Entrepreneurship course covered a wide range of topics, including ideation and concept development, professional networking, accounting and finance, business planning, marketing, design thinking and pitching. The modules were taught by experienced professionals, entrepreneurs, and academics, who volunteered time and expertise. Universities and businesses provided the venues and in-kind support. Most sessions took place at Imperial College’s Invention Rooms at the White City Campus. Salesforce and the London School of Economics (LSE) also hosted sessions. The students experienced London business hubs starting with the Brigade, a social enterprise supported by Price Waterhouse Coopers followed by a market exercise at Borough market. Students visited a London startup, Zzish, where Founder, Charles Wiles, and COO, Daisy Hill, shared their experiences. The three-week training culminated in the students pitching to a panel of entrepreneurs and business experts:  Grace Olugbodi and Lucy Smith, two successful women entrepreneurs; Dr Nadia Millington, LSE Professor; and Ian Zilberkweit, Founder of Le Pain Quotidien. The students’ pitches covered beauty, catering, fashion, social care and well-being ventures, which they will develop further over the coming year with their mentors, who all volunteer their time.  

In early July, HERA UK Trustees, Anne Waldron and Joanne Chidwick, ran two training sessions for this year’s 18 mentors.  The first evening session was held at Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP’s Office and the second, online. The mentors learned mentoring and coaching techniques with a focus on listening and communication skills, maintaining boundaries, and managing expectations. The trustees will provide continued supervision and support to the mentors over the coming year to help address any queries and provide guidance.  

Finally, without our donors, none of these volunteer efforts would be possible. We thank our donors not only for your financial contributions but also for your good advice and belief in this work.  Many of you have also been volunteers, served as mentors and international assessors, or through our volunteers and the HERA women themselves, you learned about our work.  In the days ahead, we will continue to depend on our donors’ support and many different volunteers to mentor, organize, teach, assess, advise, and all the other ways that you engage with and help young women survivors and those at risk of trafficking and dangerous migration become autonomous.  Please know that your contributions matter and make a difference.

[1] Permission has been obtained from the individuals cited in this report.

Amanda Pelham Green
Amanda Pelham Green's CV and Interview Session
Professor Ruth Bender (Cranfield) teaching Finance
Professor Ruth Bender (Cranfield) teaching Finance
HERA Students Preparing the Final Pitch
HERA Students Preparing the Final Pitch
Montessori Children
Montessori Children's Club Team in Tiraspol

Spring is the season when HERA again organizes and recruits for our London Summer Entrepreneurship and Mentoring programs and launches our International Grants Competition to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking.  During this past quarter, we participated actively in Global Giving’s Women and Girls Campaign and held an International Women’s Day event at London School of Economics (LSE). Our France Association received valuable and encouraging feedback from our 2018 grantees (one of whom is profiled below).  The London team organized two business seminars for the 2018-19 cohort of students and mentors as part of our monthly “Wednesday Wisdoms.” Currently, we are moving ahead on organizing this year’s entrepreneurship training at Imperial College London’s Invention Rooms at the White City Campus, mentor training at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP, and our International Grants program to encourage young women’s entrepreneurship and employment in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The aim of HERA’s programs is to prevent trafficking and retrafficking and other forms of gender-based violence by developing and supporting women’s entrepreneurship.

International Grants Competition 2019

The International Grants Competition has been launched in the four countries both on line and through direct contact with our local partners.  This year, the HERA France Association, which manages the international grants program, is encouraging innovation.  The purpose of the international grants’ program is to prevent dangerous migration and trafficking by supporting women’s entrepreneurship in areas of high migration of young adults.  The program supports women entrepreneurs of any age provided that the venture owner makes a commitment to hire and train young women at risk.   

The International Grants program also supports women’s social enterprises that encourage and generate training and employment for young women.  Many of these social enterprises have supported some of the most at risk women – Syrian refugees in Armenia, Ukrainian displaced in Kiev and in border towns on the front line, and internally displaced South Ossetian women in Georgia.  Although we will continue to encourage young women farmers and their agribusinesses, given increasing urbanization, we will also seek ways to support young women’s ventures in urban areas. Many young, unemployed women migrate first from rural areas and without job prospects, they seek to migrate abroad.  This rural-to-urban displacement puts many young women at risk of being exploited within their own countries and/or by international smugglers and traffickers.

Last autumn the HERA France Association team funded five young women in Tiraspol, Transnistria, who have organized a Montessori Children’s Club, a social enterprise.[i]  The Club provides seminars on early childhood development, psychotherapy for women and children through clay modelling, classes for childbirth and breastfeeding, and advice on women’s income generation.  They also provide Montessori education for infants from birth-to-three years and children, three-to-six years, including those with special needs.  The Club encourages women participants to start their own courses as well. 

At their request, our team provided the Club with a projector, printer, and chairs.  Based on the the support provided, the Montessori Children’s Club reports that they have been able to employ a young psychologist and a young woman to market their work through social media.   They have used the equipment for a series of seminars by the psychologist on parenting skills and breastfeeding for children over 12 months. The Club’s monthly turnover has also increased by 17%.  They plan to increase the outreach of their work ahead by hosting more seminars for parents both at the Club and through social media.

HERA France Association Plans Ahead

On May 1st, the HERA France Association launched our 10th  Annual International Grants Competition.  Already we have received a few applications. In late June, an international team will read and rank all the applications. During the summer and early autumn, teams of two assessors will visit ventures ranked in the top two quartiles and with the successful grantees, we fund their chosen equipment or other costs on the spot.  

Several partners, including local and international NGOs, a Government agency, and former grantees, have reached out to promote and recruit applicants for this year’s competition. Some of our former grantees at their own cost are organizing information seminars to women venture owners in their local communities about HERA’s grants criteria. The former entrepreneurs and NGO partners are also willing to collaborate with us on training and networking events during the field assessments.  With all this strong support, we look forward to assessing and funding more grants and offering more training sessions in the four countries in the coming summer and autumn.

International Women’s Month Events

For International Women’s Day on the 6th March, Sarah Videau, HERA UK’s Program Director and Joanne Chidwick, Trustee, participated in Salesforce’s Panel Discussion, which followed a screening of a UNICEF film against trafficking. This event attended by 40 people was held at Salesforce’s London headquarters for secondary school students and company employees. Following the event, the students reported organizing their own information campaign against trafficking at their school.

That same day, in partnership with London School of Economics (LSE), the HERA UK team organized a panel of women entrepreneurs and leaders hosted by LSE.  The Deputy Director of LSE’s MSc Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Nadia Millington, moderated our Woman’s Day Panel, which included: Elise Do, HERA’s Chair of Trustees and Associate Director at Augusta and Co.; Grace Olugbodi, Founder of BeGenio and Easymaths Skills; and Ana Maria Torres, Founder of Hilo Sagrado, a social enterprise that promotes artisan communities in Latin America. Some 100 people attended the event. The LSE amphitheatre was filled to capacity such that the organizers had to turn students and visitors away. 

Monthly Seminar Series – “Wednesday Wisdoms”

In April Chris Merrington, author and founder of Spring 80:20, led a seminar on pricing and marketing for this year’s cohort of HERA students and mentors.  Chris advised the audience that the clients/customers should be your priority, because without them “you do not have a business.” He explained how to define who is your customer and how to attract and negotiate without devaluing your product or service. Chris also discussed how to counter people’s preconceptions based on your gender, age, or origin. The HERA women asked several questions, including "when you start your business and don’t have much experience, is it better to price low and increase later, or does that set a bad precedent?"

In May, our final Wednesday Wisdom session for this year’s cohort, held at Salesforce, was on personal and professional development. The Salesforce team recommended starting with “why?”, setting goals, establishing realistic plans to achieve them, and obtaining feedback. The team shared their own plans and motivation techniques. The session ended with everyone writing a motivational postcard to their future selves that they will receive in six months. 

HERA UK Plans Ahead

HERA’s 12th London Entrepreneurship Program will be held from 1-19 July for 25 women survivors of trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence. Preparations are well underway. The team has reached out to 15 first responder charities and already six candidates from three charities have been offered a place on this year’s course.   Since inception in 2008, the course has been hosted by Imperial College.  For the first time, the Mentor Training will take place over one day on 29 June at from 10:00 – 16:00 at the law firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP.   

This year’s course will be led by Dr. Mohammed Ebrahim, who has taught finance for previous HERA programs, and Sarah Videau, HERA UK’s Program Director. Since 1992,  Ebrahim has been a principal Imperial teaching fellow and faculty member in Finance and Accounting at Imperial’s Business School and Entrepreneurship Hub. A graduate of the LSE, Ebrahim teaches, researches and consults in accounting, finance, innovation and entrepreneurship.  He has held visiting lectureships for the LSE, City University, Queen Mary University of London, and is an accredited examiner of the University of London external program and fellow of the Institute of Learning and Teaching.  Together Ebrahim and Sarah, who has organized HERA entrepreneurship training for over three years, bring extensive experience in teaching HERA’s UK entrepreneurship program.  This year, in addition to the annual Borough market analysis, they have also planned several experiential-based learning opportunities and teaching events at Salesforce, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and LSE.  

Upcoming Event and Appreciation

A HERA team is participating in the Regent’s Park Run Summer 10k Series to raise funds for our summer programs.  The race will be held on Sunday, 2 June at 9:30 am and we will host a picnic for all participants immediately after the run.  Please contact us if you are interested by joining our Team and/or in any mentoring, grants, and training opportunities.  

A sincere thanks to all our generous donors for your contributions during this year’s Girls and Women’s Campaignand for your kind support throughout the year.  We depend entirely on private in-kind and financial donations.  We could never do all this without your support!

[i] We received permission for the photographs and names cited in this report.  All citations adhere to GDPR safeguards and HERA’s policies for protection of vulnerable adults.

International Women
International Women's Day at LSE
Pricing and Marketing Seminar
Pricing and Marketing Seminar

Links:

Assessing a Dairy Venture
Assessing a Dairy Venture

At the start of 2019, the HERA team updated our outcomes to date. Here are our most recent figures:

  • Since 2005, HERA teams have trained 952 women in mentoring and/or entrepreneurship in eight countries to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking;
  • HERA teams have awarded 254 grants at an average cost of $US 712 per grant for women for their ventures in five Eastern European countries to prevent dangerous migration and trafficking;
  • Our operating costs are under $95,000 per annum; our assessment costs for the international grants average 30%; and our overhead remains less than 5% of total costs. 

Despite rising anti-immigrant sentiment, HERA UK trafficking survivors continue to find work; study for advanced degrees and training; and pilot a few ventures.  In a brief survey of 15  women, who attended the holiday party this year, all (100%) reported positively about their mentoring experiences this year. 

To prevent trafficking and increase women’s employment, HERA’s France Association provided grants this year to a record 45 women entrepreneurs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.  To date HERA teams, who follow up the ventures a year or more later, have evaluated 78% of ventures funded through 2017.  Of 78% evaluated, 94% are sustaining or growing their ventures. The 254 ventures funded through 2018 have created some 463 new jobs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine at an average cost of $390/job. Through hard work and determination, these women entrepreneurs are helping to prevent trafficking by employing and training young women at risk of dangerous migration and trafficking. They are also delivering essential goods and services to local economies. 

A few Reports from the 2018 Entrepreneurs

A Bakery Owner in Armenia, writes that with the freezer HERA helped to purchase, her team now produces 168 packets of frozen dough monthly from which she earns an additional $121/month.  For the new dough production, she employed two more young women (24 and 31 years of age), who according to the owner, “refused to go to Russia and stayed to work with us.” 

The Director of a Montessori Program in Tiraspol, Transnistria, writes that with the printer she bought with the HERA grant, “we increased the quality of classes for children under three years old. Now we can print colorful pictures for crafts.”  She also writes that their resident young, woman psychologist used the projector provided by through the HERA grant to deliver seminars on parenting and breastfeeding. With the HERA support, the program was able to offer another job to a young woman (bringing the total to seven women employed) and its monthly profit increased by 17%.

A Dairy Farmer from Moldova, reports that with HERA’s provision of a fodder mixer, she improved the quality of her cattle feed and saved 20% on feed costs. She also writes, “I hope that I will be able to increase the number of cows in order to produce more milk. In the future, we also want to raise cattle for meat, because we have the opportunity, with approximately 300 animals, to improve food supplies.”

The President of an Armenian Social Enterprise, writes that the “industrial sewing machine [bought with the grant] made our production process faster, now we produce 3 times more than before. We also provided employment opportunities to two more unemployed, socially disadvantaged women.”  She also reports that their average monthly turnover increased from $170 (EUR 150) to $507 (EUR 450) and their sales outlets from five local ones to seven local, five in Yerevan, and one in Aghtala in the south.  The enterprise team is also working on developing an export market. 

HERA UK Activities 

During this last quarter, HERA UK organized monthly entrepreneurship and business seminars for the 2018 women summer graduates (who survived trafficking and other forms of violence), as follows: 

In September, a communications expert spoke to the HERA women on “How to Tell Your Story.”  The speaker had a career in politics as special assistant and speech writer for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and for UNHCR in Geneva. She has also led her own business for over 12 years and written on presentation and personal branding. 

In October, a young woman entrepreneur addressed “My Entrepreneur’s Journey and What I Learned.” She explained that entrepreneurship had been part of her life from an early age. As many entrepreneurs, she wears several hats from impersonating Diana Ross to being a keynote speaker and coach. She described her several attempts to launch ventures before succeeding and why they had failed. She urged her audience to take care not to waste time with a venture where there is no demand and to trial the business with a small audience first. She advised the HERA women "to be patient, passionate and to remember that you can make it work even when all does not go as planned." Her observation that “failing is just learning” was well received by the HERA audience.

In November, a Woman's Corporate Network presented an online learning platform. The HERA women went to the corporate offices in the City of London to learn about the platform. Prior to the event, the HERA Coordinator, worked with the Women’s Network to design platform content specifically tailored to the HERA women graduates’ career interests and requirements.

In January, a young woman trauma survivor shared her positive experiences of resilience and learning.  She spoke about “Becoming an Overcomer in 2019.” Many HERA graduates are currently discouraged by lengthening asylum waits. The speaker advised the women not to let bad experiences drag them down but to look forward. For making 2019 resolutions, she recommended the HERA women ask themselves, “What do I want to pay attention to this year? What resources do I have for that? What will I do next?”  The speaker said that her personal motto when life becomes difficult to handle, and bad memories resurface, is: “Fearfully made, uniquely loved and eternally purposed.” 

Halloween Bake Off 

In early November HERA UK held its first Halloween Bake-off, where children from age 8-14 met at a Community Centre in London to raise money for HERA.  The owner of a Cake School and Cookbook author judged the children's baked products. The 8-10 year old winner wowed all with his amazing ‘Day of the Dead’ sponge cake. The 11-14 year old winner's product was inspired by ‘Skulltrooper’ from the latest XBOX trend Fortnite.  All in all, the youth raised £1,200 for HERA.  Many thanks to these young bakers and to the HERA Trustee, who volunteered many hours of her time, to organize this event.  

 

The HERA team wishes all our supporters a happy and fulfilling year ahead. Once again, please accept our heartfelt thanks for your contributions!

Fodder Machine
Fodder Machine
Rabbit Farmer in Moldova
Rabbit Farmer in Moldova

As we head into the end of 2018, the HERA teams would like to provide a few updates of our activities and accomplishments this past year that you have generously supported.  

With your support, we were able to:

  • award 43 grants to women entrepreneurs in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (including to refugee and displaced women in Ukraine) to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking;
  • organize four entrepreneurship seminars and networking sessions in Armenia and Ukraine and train 38 women;
  • hold our annual London summer training for 21 trafficked women survivors at Imperial College's new Innovation Centre; 
  • train 25 business mentors to advise the 2018-19 HERA cohort of women survivors in the UK;
  • organize monthly seminars at Imperial College, Salesforce Tower, and Weil law firm, for all trafficked women survivors, who have attended past and present HERA programs.

Your support this year alone has helped to:

  • create at least 40 new jobs this year for young women at risk of dangerous migration in regions of high rates of trafficking in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine;
  • sustain at least 140 women-owned ventures in those same regions;
  • develop or expand innovative women-owned businesses in marketing, printing services, wine making, and dairy production, as well as social enterprises that employ and train women in remote rural and border communities; 
  • support 21 young women survivors in the UK to attain a greater sense of self-worth and esteem and to develop new plans for the future to avoid being re-trafficked;
  • allow these young women to demonstrate their resilience and willingness to make useful contributions to the UK economy and society;
  • assist UK women survivors in obtaining leave-to-remain, employment, apprenticeships and/or internships; in continuing schooling or training, and three women from this year’s cohort, in launching their own ventures;
  • bring the total in the UK and coming from 26 countries that HERA has trained to date in entrepreneurship, business, and leadership skills to 326 women survivors of trafficking and other forms of violence;
  • develop new business networks of women entrepreneurs in Central and Eastern Europe, including women farmers, and new social  and professional networks for women trafficking survivors and their business mentors in the UK.

Here are three examples of how your support has made a difference:

  • Gayane, the owner of "BeeArt" in Northern Armenia, received two HERA grants to purchase: (1) a machine to make honeycomb paper; and (2) packaging equipment. Since receiving HERA’s support, Gayane has mentored five other women entrepreneurs in her town in a region that has suffered some of the highest rates of migration and trafficking of young people from Armenia. From her mother's honey production, Gayane creates beeswax candles, honeycomb, cosmetics, and other products which she sells in Yerevan’s Central Market and in Western Europe through Homeland Development Initiative Foundation, one of HERA's partners.  Depending on the demand, Gayane employs five to ten young women working in their homes to make the products.  This past year, on her own initiative, she extended her sales outlets to Georgia.  Gayane has spoken about her venture at two HERA seminars and organized a training session for the women in her village to apply for HERA grants.
  • Natalia, one of the HERA UK 2017 students, came to a recent monthly seminar and told the HERA team that not only was she accepted for an undergraduate degree in psychology at Birkbeck University, but she also won a full scholarship. From hundreds of applicants, Natalia was one of 23 students chosen! She started her course in early October and reported that she is loving it. 
  • Oxana from Kiev started a marketing firm four years ago, only a few months after she had fled the conflict in Donetsk near the Russian border. She had been a successful entrepreneur in Donetsk where she co-owned a marketing firm. When Oxana arrived in Kiev she decided to re-start her own, sole proprietor business. Beginning all over again was initially very difficult. Kiev banks would not give her a loan, because all her tangible assets were in a war zone. After some negotiation, Oxana managed to obtain a small loan at a very high percentage rate. With support from friends and relatives, she then had just enough capital to rent a room and start again on her own. Her high energy, entrepreneurial spirit and excellent social networking skills helped her quickly find clients. Over the last four years she has earned enough to pay off her debts and employ two other young refugee women from Donetsk. With the HERA grant, she purchased a high quality computer screen and plans to employ and train another young refugee woman.

Why HERA?  

  • See the link to Bryerly Long’s film. This vertical film was developed with HERA women.  Three actresses portray their stories and Lynellyn D. Long, HERA Founder, and Elise Do, HERA UK Chair of Trustees, tell about why they volunteer for HERA.

We wish everyone a lovely Holiday Season ahead.  Please consider contributing to HERA on “Giving Tuesday” - November 27 – when your donation may be matched. Or, if you give to HERA any time before the end of this year, you can help us towards reaching our funding goal of $100,000.  The current campaign, launched in 2012, is making a difference in allowing all of us to support women’s economic empowerment and to prevent trafficking and re-trafficking.  We could not have done it without all the support of many generous individuals.  

Thank you!

Cafe in Armenia
Cafe in Armenia
Dried Fruit Producer in Armenia
Dried Fruit Producer in Armenia

Links:

UK Entrepreneurship Training
UK Entrepreneurship Training

In this Second Quarter, HERA UK and HERA France Association members conducted three major activities to prevent re-trafficking of women survivors in the UK and dangerous migration of young women from Central and Eastern Europe through strengthening women’s entrepreneurship.  In May and June, the HERA France Association’s expert panel concluded its review of the Sixth Annual International Grants Competition submissions from women entrepreneurs in four countries – Armenia, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine -- and informed all applicants of the competition results.  In June and July, HERA’s UK team ran its 11th Entrepreneurship Training and Mentoring Program at Imperial College London for 22 trafficked women survivors.  In July, one of four HERA France teams carried out the assessments of the highest ranked ventures in Armenia, delivered networking and training sessions in three different regions, and met with local partners.  What follows is a brief summary of our outcomes and results from these three activities. 

Sixth Annual International Grants Competition – The international assessment panel of seven reviewers received 133 applications this year from the four countries, which is the highest number received in any competition to date.  Of the 133 applications, the panel rated 41 in the top category (10 out of a total 15 points).  The seven reviewers came from Germany, Britain, France, and Italy and included a banker, business professor, economist, engineer, NGO manager, and agricultural specialist.   

After the peaceful revolution and transfer of power in Armenia in May, several applications from there came in later so the assessors held the competition open through mid-May. Three former grantees in Armenia also spread the word far and wide and helped women to fill out the forms correctly. Caritas, an NGO working with the Government, also wanted to send us over 100 applications but we persuaded them to take their top five that best fit with our criteria of supporting ventures that would employ young women at risk of dangerous migration and trafficking.  We also agreed to open our networking and training sessions to their Government applicants.  In addition, several applications came in later from Ukraine which we considered to the extent possible since many are refugee women, who only heard late about the competition.  When all the applications were eventually scored, only 30% were in the bottom quartile; and the overall quality of the applications this year was higher than ever.  HERA France Association then organized teams of two to evaluate the ventures in the four countries over the summer and early fall.  The teams agreed to consider ventures in the top two quartiles to the extent possible and to follow up with ventures from earlier years to assess their progress.  

HERA UK Entrepreneurship Training and Mentoring - This year’s entrepreneurship program, the 11thto date held at Imperial College London, was the most competitive ever.  For the first time, the program was held at Imperial’s newly created Innovation Centre and was supported  by the University Provost and Vice President.  Given this university-wide support, the team decided that this year’s program had to be selective and only enroll women who were ready for and wanted this training and that it could make a difference to the women's self esteem and careers.    

Following individual interviews with Sarah Videau, the HERA UK Director, and Jo Chidwick, HERA UK trustee, to assess the women’s readiness and desire for the program, 22 of the 34 applicants (representing a 65% acceptance rate) were enrolled. The 22 women ranged in age from 19 to 45, with an average age of 32.5 years old (which corresponds with international findings that the average age of women entrepreneurs is the mid-30’s). Together the women represented 14 different nationalities of origin, including Nigerian, Zimbabwean, British, Jamaican, Senegalese, Pakistanis, Iranian, Filipino, Gambian, Bangladeshi, Colombian, St Lucian, Vietnamese and Chinese. They were referred to us by HERA’s partnering charities: Medaille Trust, Sophie Hayes Foundation, Caritas Bakhita Project, Hibiscus Initiative, Catholic Workers Farm, Women @ the Well, and Hestia. 

The women all came with the objective of acquiring new skills and eventually opening a business. Although some already had strong ideas about what their venture and/or career plans, a few joined HERA with the hope of gaining clarity. Each of their unique backgrounds and skillsets came together during the three weeks at Imperial Business School to produce accomplished presentations of their business plans.  

Prior to and during the course, the team trained 26 mentors over three sessions and thus, were able to provide each woman who successfully completed their business plan presentations with a mentor tailored to their plans and interests.  The additional mentors will be assigned at a later date as some mentor-mentee relationships invariably do not work.  A mentor may move and/or find that s/he cannot make the expected time commitment.  As with any relationship some just do not work so the team arranges mentor-mentee exchanges in September.

For the entrepreneurship training, the UK team engaged a wide range of professionals and academics, which again ensured a very high quality level of training. The women appreciated having the chance to study at Imperial College.  They were also hosted for an afternoon at Salesforce offices in the City.   The team kept the same MBA format as previous years.  They divided students into teams to present final projects together and organized a Market Exercise with a real-life entrepreneurship test where the students interviewed businesses at the Borough Market, and then in teams, had a small amount to invest and/or build on from which to generate a profit.

Some positive features of this year’s program were:

  1. The smaller class size (22 students versus an average of 34 in past years) meant that each student had more one-on-one time  with the speakers and HERA team members alike, which led to the high quality of the final business plans;
  2. Throughout the programme every student remained actively engaged and some took photos of the slides and almost all participated with pertinent questions and note taking; 
  3. For the first time, an overwhelming majority (20 out of 22) plan to open a venture in the future and a couple have already begun;
  4. As in earlier years, the students bonded and supported each other over the course of the three weeks;
  5. Attendance, as in past years, was high – all students, save for medical and legal/migration meetings, attended 100% of the course; and
  6. This year’s Academic Director, Dr. Filipa Figueira, a professor from UCL, taught at least one class per week to ensure continuity with the students that both encouraged and reassured them.

The students wrote at the end of the course: 

“This program is one of a kind! You teach minds, touch hearts, transform lives!” 

“I suggest we should not stop this program because there is a lot of people out there that still need this type of program to empower themselves.” 

“I would love to work and give back to HERA in a very near future!”

“Thank you to all the HERA team and all those professors and participants. You are doing an excellent work to help other human beings. I am grateful. Well done HERA.” 

“Thank you for helping us find ourselves.”

On a scale of 1-5 (with five being the highest score), 16 of the 22 students rated the program at five, three rated it four.  This year’s program, with an 87% response rate, received an overall score of 4.8 out of five. 

Armenia Assessment – Two HERA France Association members, Lynellyn Long and Sonia Boubekri, met with Armenian venture owners whose applications had been ranked in the first two quartiles.  During the assessment, they met 26 women-owned ventures and funded 16.  They also funded the mentoring/transport costs for two women entrepreneurs, former grantees, who are actively mentoring other women venture owners in their region.  

Of the 16 ventures funded, only three – a bakery, printing business, and meat packing business – were second time grantees.  These grantees had clearly  demonstrated that their businesses were growing and they were employing more young women.   In the case of the bakery, the owner also plans to open a new Syrian sweet line and employ three young Syrian women refugees in her village.   The first time ventures funded included three social enterprises in the arts, handicrafts, and fruits/jams; an English and math center; kindergarten; cosmetic production; hair dressing; bakery; wedding events planner; florist; fruit farm; and leather production.  All demonstrated a track record of sales and market demand, good financial management, and the capacity to grow their enterprises.  

In addition to the applicants, the team met with five former entrepreneurs – all of who had businesses that are performing well.  One of the former grantees agreed to produce and ship another 100 scarves for HERA UK. Another former grantee has opened a new market for her products in Tbilisi and two others are selling their products internationally.  From one of HERA's partners, the team also learned that one of the former grantees, a single mother, who had suffered extreme violence and was supporting her children and parents, was continuing her bakery business and had received a fellowship to continue her university education.  

In addition, to meeting with past and current grantees, the team met with three local NGO partners, including the Armenia General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Homeland Development Initiative Foundation (HDIF), and Caritas.  One of the partners, HDIF subsequently opened a new market for one of this year’s grantees; and AGBU and Caritas are providing ongoing support to the grantees that they recommended to HERA.  Their collaboration is making a serious difference to advertising the program widely, helping HERA to select ventures, and providing needed support to help the ventures grow their businesses.

As promised to our partners and former grantees, Sonia and Lynellyn organized three entrepreneurship and networking workshops that brought together 12 women entrepreneurs in Gyumri, two entrepreneur owners in Dilijan; and ten in Yerevan.  Through Caritas, the Government Employment office, offered to send many more women to the networking event in Gyumri but since the team had promised to give current grantees some serious networking opportunities, they limited outside participation to five for this round.  However, there clearly is a demand for networking and entrepreneurship training events. One woman travelled over two hours by mountain roads at night to meet with the team in Dilijan.  At the other two events, several women travelled an hour or more away to attend. Given this demand and commitment, the HERA volunteers discussed the idea of collaborating with the NGO partners to organize more such events in the future.

To meet with all the grantees this year, the two HERA France Association volunteers travelled some 288 kilometers, north-south from Koghb to Yeghegnadzor, and covered many more kilometers west to east to reach ventures close to Armenia’s western border with Turkey and to its eastern border with Azerbaijan.  The team benefitted from an excellent driver and a translator, two Armenian men, who refused to increase their rates from last year (but clearly covered more ventures and kilometers). They were very proud of the women’s ventures; and kindly encouraged and championed all owners along the way.  It was very hard for the team to turn down any of the ventures.  Thus, the France Association funded more in Armenia this year than ever – partly by keeping assessment costs below 30% so as to allocate more funds to the ventures.  The average grant size of Euro 453 per venture is small but the potential impact large.  As one of the NGO partners wrote the team recently, “Love what you guys do!”  Working in Armenia is extremely gratifying because the women entrepreneurs themselves want to make a difference not only for themselves but also their families and communities.

In looking ahead, other HERA France Association teams will soon travel to Ukraine and Moldova and at time of writing, Nico Nissen and Elise Do are assessing ventures in the Republic of Georgia. Meanwhile the UK team is organizing a networking picnic and monthly entrepreneurship seminars for this year’s and former HERA students in the UK. 

Florist Shop Venture in Armenia
Florist Shop Venture in Armenia
Mentor in Armenia
Mentor in Armenia
 

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Organization Information

HERA (Her Equality Rights and Autonomy)

Location: London - United Kingdom
Website:
Twitter: @herequality
Project Leader:
Lynellyn Long
London, London United Kingdom
$90,786 raised of $200,000 goal
 
745 donations
$109,214 to go
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