Empowering women entrepreneurs during pandemic times


AWE is a business development programme that empowers women to become independent and confident entrepreneurs through capacity building, networking and mentoring. Photo: WENA

To help Malaysian women entrepreneurs survive and thrive through the pandemic and grow their businesses, the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)'s second cycle has recently been launched.

Launched by US Ambassador to Malaysia Brian D McFeeters together with Women Entrepreneur Network Association of Malaysia (WENA), the second cycle of AWE will involve 50 participants from the Klang Valley, Terengganu, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak.

AWE is a business development programme that empowers women to become independent and confident entrepreneurs through capacity building, networking and mentoring opportunities.

Established by the US State Department under the White House-led Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative, AWE supports the growth of women entrepreneurs around the world through a partnership with the Arizona State University (ASU)'s Thunderbird School of Global Management. Participants will complete ASU’s Dreambuilder, an online learning programme that equips them with the knowledge and tools to create and grow their own businesses, raise capital and network effectively with other business owners.

Although things may not go back to what they were before Covid-19, the one thing that remains intact is the human spirit to persevere and triumph, which is evident in these women entrepreneurs, says Nuraizah. Photo: WENAAlthough things may not go back to what they were before Covid-19, the one thing that remains intact is the human spirit to persevere and triumph, which is evident in these women entrepreneurs, says Nuraizah. Photo: WENAWENA President, Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin says: “The AWE programme has been a rewarding experience for WENA. It has given us the opportunity to work with so many amazing women. We're happy and proud to see how the first cohort from Sept 2020 has grown as entrepreneurs and survived the pandemic. We look forward to working with the next cohort.”

Throughout the programme, AWE participants will have mentors to guide them and the opportunity to interact with women business leaders. They will also pursue training in areas such as public speaking, civic responsibility, as well as receive tips on building and leveraging a women-supporting-women ecosystem. Upon completion, WENA will introduce a micro-financing scheme, where selected participants will be given a RM1,000 loan to help boost their business growth.

“Many women micro-entrepreneurs were badly impacted because they couldn’t operate their businesses during the movement control order,” says Nuraizah, adding that two main issues that the women entrepreneurs faced were cash flow and mental health.

“One of the things the programme does is to help the women have a better cash flow and capital for their business. We give out a loan of RM1.000 to help participants jumpstart their business.

“Some do need more capital, so we work with our partners such as Bank Islam to help them get bigger loans of RM10,000 - RM20,000,” she says.

“A lot of women also face mental health issues due to the combined stress of being at home, and having to be a mother, teacher, and businesswoman, all at the same time,” she adds.

Nuraizah, herself a technopreneur who runs a startup focusing on mobile technology and lifestyle apps, stresses the importance of a good support network to help the women in this area. They have a WhatsApp group for the women to discuss any issues they face and receive support and advice.

“When you’re on your own at home, things may seem like a huge burden. But when you’re with a group of like-minded women, this really does help,” she says.

AWE is part of the US Embassy’s Wanita Empowered Campaign, which seeks to further women’s economic empowerment through three pillars: improving access to education, advancing economic parity, and addressing barriers to equality.

Women’s meaningful economic participation is integral to achieving greater security and stability around the world, says McFeeters. Photo: US Embassy Kuala LumpurWomen’s meaningful economic participation is integral to achieving greater security and stability around the world, says McFeeters. Photo: US Embassy Kuala LumpurUS Ambassador to Malaysia Brian D McFeeters expresses the US Embassy’s commitment towards the AWE programme, which is supported and sponsored by the Embassy.

“AWE reflects the importance we place on promoting equality, opportunity and supporting women’s economic empowerment.”

“Women’s meaningful economic participation is integral to achieving greater security and stability around the world. When women are empowered economically, they invest in their families and communities, spurring economic growth and creating more stable societies,” says McFeeters.

“US president Joe Biden has also appointed a woman vice president and a diverse cabinet which includes a record number of women in senior roles, about 45% are women,” adds McFeeters, emphasising the important role that women play in society.

Nuraizah says that the AWE programme also analyses what each woman’s business needs in order to flourish.

For some, it’s technology.

“We look at whether technology can help these women entrepreneur's businesses, and also, whether automation can facilitate them getting things done on a larger scale,” she says.

For others, the barrier they face is telecommunications.

“Last year, we bought data lines for several women in Sabah so that they could connect to the Internet,” she says, adding that some of the participants had to go to a neighbour’s house or climb a tree just to connect to the Internet.

According to Nuraizah, in the future, they hope to engage with local authorities like the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and providers to look at improving telecommunications infrastructure to address these issues.

McFeeters and Nuraizah (top row, second and fourth) with the AWE 2.0 participants at the online launch of the programme's new cycle. Photo: US Embassy Kuala LumpurMcFeeters and Nuraizah (top row, second and fourth) with the AWE 2.0 participants at the online launch of the programme's new cycle. Photo: US Embassy Kuala Lumpur

The launch also celebrates the success of the 30 participants of the programme's first cycle who share how AWE has helped them develop greater self-confidence as entrepreneurs and pivot their businesses online during the pandemic.

AWE Cohort One participant Zainab Syed Hassan from Kelantan says: Through the programme, I’ve improved in my vision and people management skills. Now I know how to make the perfect business plan and maintain my company image. One useful aspect of the programme is when we gather online and everyone shares about the challenges they go through. We’re able to learn from one another and help each other grow.”

Nuraizah expresses her high regard for the women entrepreneurs who have successfully navigated their businesses through the pandemic.

“I’m so proud to see that all our women entrepreneurs have not just survived but thrived. They’ve done their best to maneuver their businesses through the difficult times when many businesses weren’t allowed to operate and flourish,” she says.

“Although things may not go back to what they were before Covid-19, the one thing that remains intact is the human spirit to persevere and triumph, which is evident in these women,” she concludes.

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