Journalist and author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon set out to write about entrepreneurs who were being overlooked, particularly in places that had seen conflict. What she found was women—in almost every situation imaginable—starting businesses, helping to raise up others and their communities, growing and thriving. Lemmon says it’s time we stopped thinking of women entrepreneurs as exceptions and instead look to them as examples–and time we started treating them like the serious business owners they are.
We must talk about women if we’re going to discuss jobs and entrepreneurs, particularly in areas with conflict, Lemmon says, because they often are the majority of the population. In the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, for example, the remaining population was 77 percent women.
Lemmon also shares stories from a few incredible women she met, from the Afghan woman who risked everything to start an entrepreneurship consultancy business (her third business) to the Bosnian businesswoman who opened a new factory on former war front lines in Sarajevo—supporting a large family of her own, employing mostly women and allowing families to send both sons and daughters to school.
Still, Lemmon continues to encounter people who are surprised to find successful women in business. While microfinance is often proposed as a tool to help women, we need to do more, Lemmon says.
“We aim low and we think small when it comes to women,” she says. “Microfinance is an incredibly powerful tool that leads to self sufficiency and self respect. But we must move beyond micro hopes and micro ambitions for women, because they have so much greater hopes for themselves.”
Fortunately, she points out, we already have many proven strategies: Cash-flow loans based on income rather than asset, loans that use secure contracts instead of collateral and crowdsourcing loans could all help support women in business. The trick, Lemmon says, is thinking about women as the serious players they already are.
“How wonderful would it be if we were willing to replace all our lofty words with our wallets?” she asked. “This is about global growth and global employment. It is about how we invest, and it’s about how we see women. And women can no longer be both half the population and a special-interest group.”
Lemmon was inspired young, and remains driven, by lessons passed down from the strong, resilient women in her own life; who taught her to aim high and take the leap. If women were celebrated worldwide as business owners and jobmakers, they would be similarly inspired—and the more money is invested to support them, the more women and their communities will thrive.
“(This will) make a difference not just for women, but for a global economy that desperately needs their contributions,” Lemmon says.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of New York Times best sellers “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” and “Ashley’s War.” Visit her website, follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook to learn more about her work and the issues she studies.