Empowering women through education and encouraging them to start their own small business is the way to alleviate poverty and make the world a better place.
That’s the philosophy behind Women’s Entrepreneur Day celebrated in 140 countries -- including Australia -- on Thursday.
This year is the second annual event of the initiative started by US entrepreneur Wendy Diamond who was inspired after seeing first hand the positive effect of startup loans to impoverished women in Honduras while working with the Adelante Foundation.
WED is running events and awareness campaigns globally to support and encourage existing entrepreneurs and inspire and assist others.
Ambassadors have been appointed in each participating nation and Australian tech entrepreneur Jo Burston is representing the Oceania region.
She said education is the key to helping create change in the world -- including Australia.
“When you empower women to create income, then poverty starts to disappear,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Women reinvest 90c of every dollar into their families so we see communities grow and prosper as a result. It amplifies growth, so we need to teach and educate women to start their own initiatives.
“We need to break the cycle of poverty and research shows that we can help to do that through education. It’s a global mission and every ambassador is helping to empower our own communities.”
Burston says her role in Australia is less focused on poverty that exists in other participating nations but to give existing businesswomen and aspiring entrepreneurs the help they need to grow. And they need help in the areas of technology, funding and general business advice.
“In Australia women are starting businesses in droves, but they get stuck when they need to grow the business -- when they need to hire someone for the first time, when they need to move beyond five employees, when they need to upscale their business and innovate their products,” she said.
“Technology is a major issue. The technology is there but has anyone shown them how to use it?”
Burston also says there is still a stigma around women-led businesses. Sadly, not every investor has faith that they can do the job, and not every businesswoman knows her worth, either.
“I think as much as we don’t like to admit it there is a lack of confidence in women who run their own business,” she said. “It’s also a lack of understanding on how to become investible. Women don’t know how much money to ask for or why. To me that’s steeped in education and understanding.”
Burston estimates that 50 percent of small business in Australia will be founded by women in the next five years, so the time to act is now. And she’s personally helping, too.
Burston has been an entrepreneur for 10 years, establishing several business, some of which she says “failed miserably”. Through her new venture, Rare Birds, Burston is helping to raise awareness of successful businesswomen and give younger people positive role models.
Rare Birds is an inspirational platform for women entrepreneurs to connect with and learn from each other. She started it after revisiting her primary and high schools in Sydney and interviewing young women about their career and life choices -- and realising young women still had a very old-fashioned view of the world.
“I talked to them about business and said “I’m an entrepreneur, do you know what an entrepreneur is?’ And what happened next was the astounding part -- they thought an entrepreneur was a man. They thought being in business was a man’s job,” she said.
Burston went home and cried, and then began to germinate the Rare Birds idea, which also included a book, Rare Birds: Australia’s 50 Most Influential Women Entrepreneurs. She’ll launch the second in the collection, #Ifshecanican, profiling 29 Aussie women entrepreneurs, at a WED event in Sydney.
Burston wants her book to be both inspirational and educational.
“People talk about startups and innovation and all that sort of stuff but I know there are women in this book that people have never met before and never heard of and they are running $10m companies and they are amazing,” she said.
“I want that book in every school in Australia, in the hands of every corporate and academic in Australia and all I want them to do is use it as a tool to show other people and opportunities will come. I had to it the hard way -- no one illuminated me when I was going through my career.”
As for WED, Burston hopes the day can generate inclusive and diverse conversations around Aussie women entrepreneurs, but also be a little more practical.
“One of my great visions would be that everyone who knows a female entrepreneur, just do one thing to help her”, she said.
“If she asks you for something, just say ‘yes’. Open a door, make an introduction, give her some advice, become a mentor, share experiences about what’s not going to work. Be an enabler.”