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TEDxWomen 2011

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Women entrepreneurs, example not exception

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Views 553,462

Women aren’t micro--so why do they only get micro-loans? Reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon argues that women running all types of firms-- from home businesses to major factories-- are the overlooked key to economic development.

- Reporter
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about women around the world living their lives at war and in conflict zones. Full bio

We do not invest in victims,
00:15
we invest in survivors.
00:18
And in ways both big and small,
00:20
the narrative of the victim
00:23
shapes the way we see women.
00:25
You can't count what you don't see.
00:27
And we don't invest in what's invisible to us.
00:30
But this is the face
00:33
of resilience.
00:35
Six years ago,
00:38
I started writing about women entrepreneurs
00:40
during and after conflict.
00:42
I set out to write a compelling economic story,
00:44
one that had great characters, that no one else was telling,
00:46
and one that I thought mattered.
00:49
And that turned out to be women.
00:51
I had left ABC news and a career I loved at the age of 30
00:54
for business school,
00:57
a path I knew almost nothing about.
00:59
None of the women I had grown up with in Maryland
01:01
had graduated from college,
01:04
let alone considered business school.
01:06
But they had hustled to feed their kids
01:08
and pay their rent.
01:10
And I saw from a young age
01:12
that having a decent job and earning a good living
01:14
made the biggest difference
01:16
for families who were struggling.
01:18
So if you're going to talk about jobs,
01:20
then you have to talk about entrepreneurs.
01:22
And if you're talking about entrepreneurs
01:25
in conflict and post-conflict settings,
01:27
then you must talk about women,
01:29
because they are the population you have left.
01:31
Rwanda in the immediate aftermath of the genocide
01:34
was 77 percent female.
01:38
I want to introduce you
01:41
to some of those entrepreneurs I've met
01:43
and share with you some of what they've taught me over the years.
01:45
I went to Afghanistan in 2005
01:48
to work on a Financial Times piece,
01:51
and there I met Kamila,
01:53
a young women who told me she had just turned down
01:55
a job with the international community
01:57
that would have paid her nearly $2,000 a month --
01:59
an astronomical sum in that context.
02:02
And she had turned it down, she said,
02:05
because she was going to start her next business,
02:07
an entrepreneurship consultancy
02:10
that would teach business skills
02:12
to men and women all around Afghanistan.
02:14
Business, she said,
02:16
was critical to her country's future.
02:18
Because long after this round of internationals left,
02:20
business would help keep her country
02:23
peaceful and secure.
02:25
And she said business was even more important for women
02:28
because earning an income earned respect
02:31
and money was power for women.
02:34
So I was amazed.
02:37
I mean here was a girl who had never lived in peace time
02:39
who somehow had come to sound like a candidate from "The Apprentice."
02:42
(Laughter)
02:45
So I asked her, "How in the world do you know this much about business?
02:47
Why are you so passionate?"
02:50
She said, "Oh Gayle, this is actually my third business.
02:52
My first business was a dressmaking business
02:56
I started under the Taliban.
02:58
And that was actually an excellent business,
03:00
because we provided jobs for women all around our neighborhood.
03:02
And that's really how I became an entrepreneur."
03:05
Think about this:
03:10
Here were girls who braved danger
03:12
to become breadwinners
03:14
during years in which they couldn't even be on their streets.
03:16
And at a time of economic collapse
03:19
when people sold baby dolls and shoe laces
03:22
and windows and doors
03:24
just to survive,
03:27
these girls made the difference
03:30
between survival and starvation
03:32
for so many.
03:34
I couldn't leave the story, and I couldn't leave the topic either,
03:36
because everywhere I went I met more of these women
03:39
who no one seemed to know about,
03:42
or even wish to.
03:44
I went on to Bosnia,
03:46
and early on in my interviews I met with an IMF official
03:48
who said, "You know, Gayle,
03:51
I don't think we actually have women in business in Bosnia,
03:53
but there is a lady selling cheese nearby
03:55
on the side of the road.
03:57
So maybe you could interview her."
03:59
So I went out reporting
04:02
and within a day I met Narcisa Kavazovic
04:04
who at that point was opening a new factory
04:07
on the war's former front lines in Sarajevo.
04:09
She had started her business
04:12
squatting in an abandoned garage,
04:14
sewing sheets and pillow cases
04:16
she would take to markets all around the city
04:18
so that she could support
04:20
the 12 or 13 family members
04:22
who were counting on her for survival.
04:24
By the time we met, she had 20 employees,
04:27
most of them women,
04:29
who were sending their boys and their girls to school.
04:31
And she was just the start.
04:34
I met women running essential oils businesses,
04:36
wineries
04:39
and even the country's largest advertising agency.
04:41
So these stories together
04:44
became the Herald Tribune business cover.
04:46
And when this story posted,
04:48
I ran to my computer to send it to the IMF official.
04:50
And I said, "Just in case you're looking for entrepreneurs
04:52
to feature at your next investment conference,
04:55
here are a couple of women."
04:58
(Applause)
05:00
But think about this.
05:05
The IMF official is hardly the only person
05:07
to automatically file women under micro.
05:10
The biases, whether intentional or otherwise,
05:13
are pervasive,
05:15
and so are the misleading mental images.
05:17
If you see the word "microfinance,"
05:20
what comes to mind?
05:22
Most people say women.
05:25
And if you see the word "entrepreneur,"
05:27
most people think men.
05:30
Why is that?
05:32
Because we aim low and we think small
05:34
when it comes to women.
05:37
Microfinance is an incredibly powerful tool
05:39
that leads to self-sufficiency and self-respect,
05:41
but we must move beyond micro-hopes
05:44
and micro-ambitions for women,
05:46
because they have so much greater hopes for themselves.
05:48
They want to move from micro to medium and beyond.
05:51
And in many places,
05:54
they're there.
05:56
In the U.S., women-owned businesses
05:58
will create five and a half million new jobs by 2018.
06:00
In South Korea and Indonesia,
06:03
women own nearly half a million firms.
06:06
China, women run 20 percent
06:09
of all small businesses.
06:11
And in the developing world overall,
06:13
That figure is 40 to 50 percent.
06:15
Nearly everywhere I go,
06:18
I meet incredibly interesting entrepreneurs
06:20
who are seeking access to finance, access to markets
06:22
and established business networks.
06:25
They are often ignored
06:27
because they're harder to help.
06:29
It is much riskier to give a 50,000 dollar loan
06:31
than it is to give a 500 dollar loan.
06:34
And as the World Bank recently noted,
06:37
women are stuck in a productivity trap.
06:39
Those in small businesses
06:42
can't get the capital they need to expand
06:44
and those in microbusiness
06:46
can't grow out of them.
06:48
Recently I was at the State Department in Washington
06:50
and I met an incredibly passionate entrepreneur from Ghana.
06:53
She sells chocolates.
06:56
And she had come to Washington,
06:58
not seeking a handout and not seeking a microloan.
07:00
She had come seeking serious investment dollars
07:03
so that she could build the factory
07:06
and buy the equipment she needs
07:08
to export her chocolates
07:10
to Africa, Europe, the Middle East
07:12
and far beyond --
07:14
capital that would help her to employ
07:16
more than the 20 people
07:18
that she already has working for her,
07:20
and capital that would fuel her own country's
07:23
economic climb.
07:25
The great news is
07:27
we already know what works.
07:29
Theory and empirical evidence
07:31
Have already taught us.
07:33
We don't need to invent solutions because we have them --
07:35
cash flow loans
07:38
based in income rather than assets,
07:40
loans that use secure contracts rather than collateral,
07:42
because women often don't own land.
07:45
And Kiva.org, the microlender,
07:48
is actually now experimenting with crowdsourcing
07:50
small and medium sized loans.
07:53
And that's just to start.
07:55
Recently it has become very much in fashion
07:58
to call women "the emerging market of the emerging market."
08:01
I think that is terrific.
08:05
You know why?
08:07
Because -- and I say this as somebody who worked in finance --
08:09
500 billion dollars at least
08:13
has gone into the emerging markets in the past decade.
08:16
Because investors saw the potential for return
08:19
at a time of slowing economic growth,
08:22
and so they created financial products
08:24
and financial innovation
08:26
tailored to the emerging markets.
08:28
How wonderful would it be
08:31
if we were prepared to replace all of our lofty words
08:34
with our wallets
08:36
and invest 500 billion dollars
08:38
unleashing women's economic potential?
08:40
Just think of the benefits
08:43
when it comes to jobs, productivity,
08:45
employment, child nutrition,
08:47
maternal mortality, literacy
08:49
and much, much more.
08:51
Because, as the World Economic Forum noted,
08:55
smaller gender gaps are directly correlated
08:58
with increased economic competitiveness.
09:01
And not one country in all the world
09:03
has eliminated its economic participation gap --
09:06
not one.
09:09
So the great news
09:11
is this is an incredible opportunity.
09:13
We have so much room to grow.
09:15
So you see,
09:18
this is not about doing good,
09:20
this is about global growth
09:22
and global employment.
09:24
It is about how we invest
09:26
and it's about how we see women.
09:28
And women can no longer be
09:30
both half the population
09:32
and a special interest group.
09:34
(Applause)
09:36
Oftentimes I get into very interesting discussions with reporters
09:43
who say to me, "Gayle, these are great stories,
09:46
but you're really writing about the exceptions."
09:48
Now that makes me pause for just a couple reasons.
09:51
First of all, for exceptions,
09:54
there are a lot of them
09:56
and they're important.
09:58
Secondly, when we talk about men who are succeeding,
10:01
we rightly consider them
10:04
icons or pioneers or innovators
10:06
to be emulated.
10:08
And when we talk about women,
10:10
they are either exceptions to be dismissed
10:12
or aberrations to be ignored.
10:15
And finally,
10:18
there is no society anywhere in all the world
10:20
that is not changed
10:23
except by its most exceptional.
10:25
So why wouldn't we celebrate and elevate
10:27
these change makers and job creators
10:31
rather than overlook them?
10:33
This topic of resilience is very personal to me
10:36
and in many ways has shaped my life.
10:39
My mom was a single mom
10:42
who worked at the phone company during the day
10:44
and sold Tupperware at night
10:47
so that I could have every opportunity possible.
10:49
We shopped double coupons
10:52
and layaway and consignment stores,
10:54
and when she got sick with stage four breast cancer
10:56
and could no longer work,
10:59
we even applied for food stamps.
11:01
And when I would feel sorry for myself
11:04
as nine or 10 year-old girls do,
11:06
she would say to me, "My dear, on a scale of major world tragedies,
11:08
yours is not a three."
11:11
(Laughter)
11:13
And when I was applying to business school
11:15
and felt certain I couldn't do it
11:17
and nobody I knew had done it,
11:19
I went to my aunt who survived years of beatings at the hand of her husband
11:21
and escaped a marriage of abuse
11:24
with only her dignity intact.
11:26
And she told me,
11:28
"Never import other people's limitations."
11:30
And when I complained to my grandmother,
11:34
a World War II veteran
11:36
who worked in film for 50 years
11:38
and who supported me from the age of 13,
11:40
that I was terrified
11:42
that if I turned down a plum assignment at ABC
11:44
for a fellowship overseas,
11:46
I would never ever, ever find another job,
11:48
she said, "Kiddo, I'm going to tell you two things.
11:51
First of all, no one turns down a Fulbright,
11:53
and secondly, McDonald's is always hiring."
11:56
(Laughter)
11:59
"You will find a job. Take the leap."
12:01
The women in my family
12:05
are not exceptions.
12:07
The women in this room and watching in L.A.
12:09
and all around the world
12:11
are not exceptions.
12:13
We are not a special interest group.
12:15
We are the majority.
12:18
And for far too long,
12:20
we have underestimated ourselves
12:22
and been undervalued by others.
12:24
It is time for us to aim higher
12:27
when it comes to women,
12:29
to invest more and to deploy our dollars
12:31
to benefit women all around the world.
12:34
We can make a difference,
12:37
and make a difference, not just for women,
12:39
but for a global economy
12:41
that desperately needs their contributions.
12:43
Together we can make certain
12:47
that the so-called exceptions
12:49
begin to rule.
12:51
When we change the way we see ourselves,
12:53
others will follow.
12:56
And it is time for all of us
12:58
to think bigger.
13:00
Thank you very much.
13:02
(Applause)
13:04

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About the speaker:

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon - Reporter
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about women around the world living their lives at war and in conflict zones.

Why you should listen

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon never set out to write about women entrepreneurs. After leaving ABC News for MBA study at Harvard, she was simply looking for a great -- and underreported -- economics story. What she found was women entrepreneurs in some of the toughest business environments creating jobs against daunting obstacles. Since then her writing on entrepreneurship has been published by the International Herald Tribune and Financial Times along with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.

Now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Lemmon continues to travel the world reporting on economic and development issues with a focus on women. She is the author of Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield (2014), as well as the best seller The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (2011) about a young entrepreneur who supported her community under the Taliban.

More profile about the speaker
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon | Speaker | TED.com