By Mauro Guillen, Director of the Joseph H. Lauder Institute and Dr. Felix Zandman Endowed Professor in International Management at the Wharton School
“This has been an amazing experience,” observed Victoria Kisyombe, an entrepreneur who founded a leasing company in Tanzania to help other entrepreneurs gain access to the coolers and freezers, sewing machines, baking ovens, gravel-making machines, or tractors and trucks they needed to pursue their dreams. “It is a business that allows me to give to others, but has simultaneously contributed so much to my own personal development.” Victoria’s experience is both unique and commonplace throughout the emerging economies and developing countries. Myriad women entrepreneurs have launched a business, some in response to a perceived opportunity, many out of necessity given a lack of viable alternatives.
Stories like Victoria’s are important. They inspire, and they show how it feels and what it means to be an entrepreneur in countries in which starting any kind of business can be a daunting challenge, especially for women.
Women entrepreneurs in the emerging and developing world are so important because they can truly make a difference. In spite of decades of massive efforts to promote economic development and eradicate poverty, human societies differ vastly in terms of the quantity and quality of economic and social wellbeing that individuals can hope to enjoy during their lifetimes. These fundamental differences manifest themselves at all levels—across continents, countries, rural and urban areas, social classes, and communities. Governments and nonprofits have attempted to create markets, launched development programs, and built new institutions; and yet, poverty and lack of opportunity continue to be rampant realities in much of the developing world.
This is why I have collected case studies about women entrepreneurs into a new book, Women Entrepreneurs: Inspiring Stories from Emerging Economies and Developing Countries. These case studies were written by faculty and students at the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania, and at select other universities from around the world. They provide examples that illustrate a wide array of experiences in entrepreneurship by women from different countries around the world. Each case presents a set of unique yearnings, circumstances, accomplishments, and limitations, women entrepreneurs who imagined, launched, and managed a venture somewhere in the developing world, to varying degrees of success, confronting various types of barriers, and finding different kinds of fulfillment. These inspiring stories offer insights into the ingenuity and persistence of entrepreneurs, their needs and desires, and the striking ways in which they assess their own experiences.
The book’s journey throughout the emerging and developing economies starts by examining the process of launching a new venture. Case studies of a toy company in Mexico, a leasing business in Tanzania, a biotech firm in India, an apparel firm in Turkey, and a coffee grower in Brazil illustrate this crucial phase of entrepreneurship. The next chapters deal with growing the venture, focusing on an airline in South Africa, a restaurant in Brazil, a travel agency in Argentina, and a media entrepreneur in Mexico. Organizing and leading the venture is the third topic covered in the book, with examples from a jewelry maker and marketer in Egypt, a pottery workshop in Mexico, an investment bank in Kuwait, and a catering business in Mexico. Social entrepreneurship is illustrated by the cases of an entrepreneur engaged in cultural preservation on the island of Rapa Nui, organic clothing manufacturers in China and Peru, and an environmental organization in Thailand. Finally, the book analyzes the opportunities embedded in leveraging resources across borders with the cases of a hotel chain in Brazil, a beauty parlor in Algeria and France, and a maker of traditional clothing in China and North Korea.
Women Entrepreneurs demonstrates the promise and power of entrepreneurship when it comes to expanding the array of opportunities available to women, their families, and their communities. It shows, above all, that obstacles can be overcome and goals met, even under the most inauspicious of circumstances.
Women Entrepreneurs: Inspiring Stories from Emerging Economies and Developing Countries, edited by Mauro F. Guillén. Published by Routledge, 2013. Available digitally and in print.
Bio: Mauro F. Guillén is the Director of the Joseph H. Lauder Institute at Penn. He holds the Dr. Felix Zandman Endowed Professorship in International Management at the Wharton School and a secondary appointment as Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology of the University of Pennsylvania.