By: Beth Colosimo
Picture yourself as an entrepreneur sitting on the ground in a small village in Gulam, India, population 3,500, surrounded by brilliantly-clad women in their finest saris, who speak no English, struggle for reliable water, work in farming, raise families, make a family income of $2/day, yet have aspirations for improving their place in the world by starting their own small businesses.
This, in fact, was my experience.
I thought I knew a great deal about what it takes to be an entrepreneur; how to develop a minimum viable product, how to create a marketing strategy, branding, and launching a product. Sitting knee to knee with hopeful women trying to improve their circumstances by gaining knowledge from American business people and students, I felt totally inadequate and struggling to convey what I thought were basic principles.
They were looking for answers, ideas, solutions as to how to better provide for their families, how to monetize a craft, a food product, with no knowledge about business whatsoever. Our conversations were delayed as interpreters tried to convey concepts like ‘the 4 P’s of marketing’, how to name your company and place branding labels on your handmade bag, how to get your product from the village-all the way to a larger market-like the next village over-which is less than 5 miles but an incredible distance if you have no means of transportation.
Culturally women are not encouraged to start businesses, yet this amazing village of women were organized by the village visionary, a women named Alpana, who managed to complete a water project which convened 3 tributaries into one to feed the village with reliable water. She gathered the women and asked us to offer any ideas or advice as to how these ambitious women might earn an extra few rupees to improve their lifestyles.
Our SLCC students were champions as they tried to understand the women’s needs and business ideas. They worked hard to offer advice and encouragement. After three separate visits, we watched their confidence soar. We watched them find their voice. We formed tremendous bonds of trust and friendship. At the conclusion of our meetings and Snake Festival Celebration (a whole other story!), we listened to them express their gratitude for giving them the courage to stand up at a microphone for the first time and speak to an audience, to demonstrate their enthusiasm and excitement about their small business possibilities.
Despite working with dozens of entrepreneurs throughout my career, I’ve never struggled so much offer advice or convey meaningful nuggets that I hoped would make a difference. I’ve also never seen such tremendous gratitude for sharing ideas and skills we take for granted and an immediate impact on how to help budding entrepreneurs take the next step.