Four years ago this month, Goldman Sachs invited me to attend the launch of 10,000 Women, a $100 million philanthropic initiative, which at the time, was the largest in Goldman’s history. The goal of the five year program is to provide business and management training to 10,000 underserved female entrepreneurs in developing countries. Why? Goldman’s own research (and that of many others) shows that female education is a driver of macroeconomic growth. Moreover, there was (and still very much is) a stark need to expand access to business education for women in emerging markets. When Goldman launched 10,000 Women, there were only 2,600 women attending MBA programs in all of Africa, a continent of 900 million people. Calestous Juma, a professor of international development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has estimated that if African women were given equal access as men to vocational training and technology, the continent’s economy would expand by at least 40 percent.
10,000 Women’s focus is very much on nurturing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a sector of the economy with significant economic growth and employment potential. An interesting report from the International Finance Corporation notes that while there are roughly “8 to 10 million formal women-owned SMEs in emerging markets (representing 31 to 38 percent of all SMEs in emerging markets), the average growth rate of women’s enterprises is significantly lower than the average growth rate for SMEs run by men.” The report identifies several factors that have hindered the growth of women-owned businesses, including: institutional and regulatory issues, lack of access to finance, relatively low rates of business education, risk aversion, concentration of women’s businesses in slower growth sectors, and the burden of household management responsibilities. 10,000 Women addresses each of these issues, teaching its graduates how to recognize and navigate their legal environment, how better to access loans, prepare business plans geared for higher growth, and juggle a business with their family life. While the program does not provide credit directly, it has formed several public-private partnerships to do so. In Liberia, it is working with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; in Tanzania with the Government of Denmark, CRDB Bank, and the U.S. State Department; in Peru with the Inter-American Development Bank and Mibanco.
From the start, Goldman has been serious about measuring impact. It has worked with The Bridgespan Group to establish a credible monitoring and evaluation system (M&E), and in 2011 engaged the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to conduct an impact assessment of the program’s work in India. That evaluation, just concluded, finds that half of 10,000 Women graduates in India saw their revenues at least double in an 18-month period. Also, many graduates report that the program has given them confidence to engage in male-dominated sectors. The report acknowledges that 10,000 Women was not the only factor contributing to graduates’ success: after all, the program picks people who are determined to succeed, and the overall business environment in India is one of growth. But ICRW credits 10,000 Women with providing women entrepreneurs with the critical skills and tools they need to grow their businesses.
In 2010, I visited with several 10,000 Women graduates in Rwanda. While not all of them were successful, many of them had significantly grown their businesses after the program. Rosalie Mukangenzi, the owner of a successful flour mill, sticks out in my mind. Her husband died in the 1994 genocide, leaving her and her three children nothing. With a micro-loan, she started a charcoal business, but in 2008, she moved into milling flour since she thought it could be more profitable. Before the 10,000 Women program, she had only felt comfortable taking small loans, but after graduating, she had the skills and confidence to take on more debt to expand her business. She opened a retail store, hired more employees (when I visited her in 2010, she employed fourteen men and three women), and increased her sales four-fold. She has built a new home for her family, which she plans on using as collateral for her next loan application. “My dream is to own a big factory, one which can impact the social and economic development of Rwanda,” she told me. Of course, many successful entrepreneurs flourish without formal business training, but Rosalie and thousands of other women around the world have bigger ambitions, and more skills to meet them, thanks to 10,000 Women.