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Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship Training

Dr Breda Kenny and Ciara Lavelle, Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence, CIT presented a research paper entitled “Female Entrepreneurship Programmes: A change agent or a stepping stone?” at the 3E conference (ECSB Entrepreneurship Education conference) in Turku , Finland in April this year.

The research focused on participants on a specific female entrepreneurship programme (The PINC Programme) delivered by The Rubicon centre at Cork Institute of Technology. The programme has been in operation since 2011 and demand outstrips supply each time the course is offered. The programme is delivered on a part-time basis over a ten week period with groups of twelve female entrepreneurs who are either seeking to establish a new enterprise or to grow an existing business. The researchers collected data from a survey of all participants from the first programme in 2011 up to mid-2013, a focus group of participants at the end of the November 2013 programme and an analysis of the training evaluation material from 2011 to 2013.

The research evaluated the economic impact of the programme and there was evidence of start-up activity, business improvement and job creation as a direct result of the training intervention. However, this research also provides evidence of a wider range of outcomes of one such programme. Even though the majority of programmes are designed and measured with a wealth and job creation agenda, what of the less tangible, less measurable outcomes of empowerment that is derived from such training interventions? Viewing the outcomes of entrepreneurship training in this light is the focus of this article.

In analyzing the empowerment outcomes, the researchers drew on the work of Al Dajani and Marlow (2013) who stressed the importance of non-economic dimensions of women’s empowerment and proposed seven empowerment outcomes as listed below and the description provides evidence of how the Pinc programme maps to these outcomes.

Empowerment outcomes

Increased awareness and knowledge
Participants felt they have an increased awareness and knowledge of the world of business as a result of the programme. For some, this knowledge has led to improvements in existing projects and ideas and setting up new ventures. For others, the increased knowledge led to an awareness of the shortcomings of a business idea and as a result, some decided against a particular route to entrepreneurship and either started another idea or put the initial idea on hold.

Accountability and responsibility
As the participants progressed their business ventures, they began to employ others – both on a part time and a full time basis. 70 people are employed by a cohort of 21 businesses run by the participants. A number of the participants have employed their partner/spouse in the business.

Making decisions and having choices
The ability to make a decision assumes the existence of choice. Through the programme, participants gained confidence to make decisions and, therefore, shape their entrepreneurial or non-entrepreneurial journey. The provision of the programme on a part-time basis allowed some participants to combine this training with family commitments and other work commitments.

From the recognition and publicity that was generated around some of the success stories from the PINC programme, women’s leadership roles within their families and communities are strengthened and improved. However, as leaders within their communities, they also bear the responsibilities of being role models. One participant won ‘Mumtrepreneur of the year 2013’. The leadership roles in business is also juggled with leadership roles in the house , where one participant talks of swapping roles from the ‘bread maker’ to ‘bread-winner’ with her partner.

There is also a strong sense of wanting to ‘give back’ and to mentor other females going through the early stages of business startup.

For empowered women, acting as role models for other women has positive effects on self-identity. One business woman talks of staying ahead of the game (i.e. competitors) by being very creative and clear in the messages and communication through social media outlets as well as building a relationship on the ground with suppliers and retailers. This is done through a very clear identity of herself as an entrepreneur, her story, her passion and her vision for her products and brand and reaffirming this through all media outlets.

Reduced poverty
For eight of the participants, the business they started is now the main source of household income. For others, either the current business or the planned business venture is to supplement household income and/or to create employment for themselves and others.

Economic establishment
This refers to establishing formalized and legally recognized enterprises. Nine respondents from the survey started a business since the programme and of those that had an existing business; a majority have indicated that their business has improved since completing the programme. The type of businesses in operation ranges from services, craft, food, and technology, manufacturing and healthcare businesses.

The underlying benefit of understanding these outcomes is that, while increased awareness and knowledge are a critical outcome of the empowerment cycle, independently or collectively, the empowerment outcomes influence each other’s development (Al-Dajani and Marlow, 2013). Furthermore, independently or collectively, these empowerment outcomes will, in turn, influence the individual woman’s entrepreneuring motivations which may constitute a either a stepping stone on their journey to starting a business or a change agent that leads to other outcomes, such as returning to full time education or full time employment.

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The next PINC Programme in the Rubicon Centre will commence in September. Click here for application details.