Female entrepreneurship around the world
16 de outubro de 2017
São Paulo – The lack of female role models in the business world prompted the documentary film project The Girls on The Road, to tell stories of successful women entrepreneurs in order to encourage others to follow on their footsteps. Brazil’s Fernanda Moura and Taciana Mello travelled the five continents in a little over a year’s time. They went to 24 countries, three of them Arab, and interviewed some 300 businesswomen, as well as 20-plus entrepreneurship-oriented organizations.
“Our focus was on companies in existence for four to five years, established by women of all ages, from different industries and revenue ranges,” they said. They also emphasized the relevance of showing women whose businesses are starting to grow, so other people see that this is achievable. Moreover, there was the language barrier – they could only interview people who spoke English, Spanish or Portuguese.
The filmmaking duo realized that businesswomen struggle with pretty much the same problems everywhere, to a greater or lesser degree. “There’s still a lot of sexism in these circles, but that doesn’t mean women can’t carve out a space for themselves,” they said. They also said more than 50% of the world’s population must be encouraged to become entrepreneurs in order to fuel the world economy.
What caught Moura’s and Mello’s eyes the most in Arab countries was witnessing the entrepreneurs’ drive to serve their communities and to focus on products and services tailored to the Arab world, in Arab language, and not just out of patriotism or a sense of community, but also because this is a growing market where demand is strong. They travelled to Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine and recounted some of the stories that struck them the most.
The project’s authors said talking to the women in Gaza was important in order to break down preconceptions and stereotypes, because “whenever you think of Gaza, what springs to mind is terrorism, war, poverty.” “There’s no question that they are aware of those things, this is a reality that they live with, but they don’t dwell on it or torment themselves over it.” What the duo did encounter were women who have great outlooks on life, who are well-trained engineers or business-owners with entrepreneurial focus, who are always thinking of ways to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of their communities.
Since there are restrictions on movement within the territory, it attracts major companies looking to help create opportunities for local entrepreneurs. Thus, businesswomen in Gaza say they end up having more opportunities than they would elsewhere. They have been invited to take courses, to go on exchange programs and to introduce their companies in the United States and Europe.
Due to schedule issues, Fernanda and Taciana were unable to get the permits for Gaza, so they made the sole exception in the project, and interviewed six Gaza entrepreneurs via Skype. “We thought it was important to listen to these women, and it made sense to interview them online because of this restriction.”
Nour El-Khoudary was just a first-time mother who moved to the United States with her husband and launched a blog to share her experiences. In seeing that her page had been successful, she realized there was a demand for Arabic content for women. So she launched MomyHelper, a consultancy and well-being portal that currently features 40 consultants.
For the founders, one of the biggest stories in the project was that of Amani Tair, a young Muslim Arab engineer they met in Jerusalem. Amani designed a piece of equipment to teach visually impaired children to learn Arabic in braille. She said the impediments to women on the labor market are not religious, they are cultural. Now, she manages her educational online platform, Wazza, among other projects.
In Jordan, they witnessed a business environment in expansion. The locals still dream of working for the government, but since there aren’t jobs for everyone, the government has begun to encourage small and medium businesses. They spoke with Eman Hylooz, the founder of Abjjad, a social network for women who love to read and for other entrepreneurs.
In Lebanon, Fernanda and Taciana met with women whose businesses focus on the Arab world, but do so from Western angle. Lebanese people are liberal and diverse, as well as entrepreneurship-oriented. Everyone wants to start their own business. Lebanon’s Priscilla Elora founded Myki, an information security website that’s branching out into several countries.
Fernanda Moura and Taciana Mello had been living in the United States for four years by July 2016 as they decided to embark on their The Girls on The Road project. The idea for it came from the realization that there weren’t many female business owners in Silicon Valley. “It all began with curiosity, which later turned to passion,” said Fernanda. As their research went on, a number of studies showed that one of the reasons for the disparity between men and women is the absence of entrepreneur role models to look up to. “Even today, there’s still this notion that entrepreneurship is a male trait,” Taciana explained.
Fernanda holds degrees in Law and Business Administration; Taciana, in Communication and Marketing. With their history in the business world, it was only natural that their project would relate to that. “Our goal is telling these stories in order to make an impact, so women will feel confident taking their first step,” said Taciana.
The duo was in Rwanda when they spoke to ANBA. This will be the last country they’ll go to. They will then go to Portugal to start editing the material, between Lisbon and São Paulo, Brazil, where they’re also planning to seek out sponsors to their self-funded project. The film is slated for release in April 2018.
For more on this, go to the project’s website: www.thegirlsontheroad.com
*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum