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Small business, big impact: the transformative power of women entrepreneurs

Image of a woman shot from above, sitting on the floor surrounded by bowls of greenery and vegetables

2018 Photo: Erika Piñeros/CARE

2018 Photo: Erika Piñeros/CARE

In the corner of a vegetarian restaurant in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, three Vietnamese women sit around bowls of steaming noodles and dumplings, engrossed in discussion.

Despite the noise and chaos of the traffic outside, it’s peaceful in this small and cozy restaurant filled with potted plants. Sounds of conversation and laughter grow as the restaurant fills up with the lunch crowd.

The handmade menu tells the owner’s story. She opened the restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic with a desire to provide healthy, nourishing meals made from local ingredients. Like any small business, this owner would face multiple challenges and fierce competition (as she later tells me), but now, the restaurant is clearly thriving, and I wonder, what is the recipe for her success? What draws all these customers and me, a foreigner in Vietnam, time and again to this restaurant instead of the more familiar big chain names?

Is it just the papaya salad – really, the best I’ve ever eaten – or is it something else that only a small business has?

Building stronger communities

Medium image of two seated, dark-haired women smiling.
2022 Photo: CARE

Around the world, small businesses are the hearts and souls of communities. Your local barber and corner stores offer more than just transactional interactions for essential products and services. They are places where people listen to your everyday problems and foster a sense of belonging. What’s more, there’s a one in three chance that these micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), like the one I’m lunching in today, will be led by women.

There are more women than ever in business today, yet most have only three-quarters of the legal rights that men have when it comes to career, finances, and work-life balance – this despite the fact that women-led businesses are vital not just for their reinvestment into household incomes and national economies, but also for their transformative power. The latest evidence on women-led businesses finds that they not only reduce poverty but that they also drive job creation, spark innovation, and contribute to safer, greener and more vibrant communities, ensuring that everyone thrives collectively. These women-led enterprises are regenerative forces – building business communities and hiring local workers. Local economies simply cannot succeed without them.

Dreaming inclusive growth into reality

Image of a group of eight people gathered in a room with two sewing machines, a woman in purple at the center.
Violeta Pacheco Mejía, owner of Tejidos Peruanos, Villa El Salvador, Peru. 2023 Photo: Carey Wagner/CARE

“Women on their own face many obstacles. However, if we build a community of people who inspire us and support us, we can achieve so much…. We can do things together that we could never accomplish alone,” says Violeta Pacheco Mejía an entrepreneur in Lima, Peru.

Her eco-friendly alpaca and cotton clothing company, Tejidos Peruanos, is based in Villa El Salvador, a historically disadvantaged neighborhood in Lima.  Her business has a reputation for being a place where women help women succeed and where community makes the impossible possible. Violeta set up her company in Villa El Salvador to make it more accessible to talented workers living in the area. In addition to having a largely female work staff, Tejidos Peruanos offers safe on-site childcare for employees, to give parents flexibility and peace of mind. Tejidos Peruanos and Violeta are prime examples of how women entrepreneurs reinvest in their communities, hire more women, and give hope to other marginalized populations.

It has taken Violeta over 18 years of hard work and passion to create the business of her dreams — impactful and profitable. Yet it was only in this last year that Violeta, through her participation in CARE’s Ignite and Strive Women programs – both supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth – was finally able to get a bank loan in her own name.

“Tejidos Peruanos is the dream of 14 women,” says Violeta, “We have gone through many difficulties, but we have been able to move forward despite them. We have realized at this point that if we want to keep moving forward, we must keep preparing and training – not just me, but the whole team. This is a dream that we dream together.”

Enabling healthy market systems, while battling systemic barriers

Outdoor group photo of 19 people dressed in aprons, kitchen whites and chef's hats.
Sazón y Sabor.Association, Peru. 2023 Photo: Carey Wagner/CARE

Despite the creativity, resilience, and leadership demonstrated by Violeta and millions like her, women entrepreneurs face outsized barriers and constraints – including access to credit – that impede their growth and deteriorate their confidence.

The women entrepreneurs we work with through CARE’s programs are not willing to wait. They want to grow their businesses and they have the skills and confidence to do it. Our recipe for building a supportive ecosystem – one that values the contributions of women – works with local partners to design policies, products, and programs. Together we design tailored financial services, alongside training and business networks, with outreach campaigns to challenge harmful gender norms.

Policymakers, businesses, banks, community leaders, and individuals have a role to play in unlocking women’s economic power, valued at $10 trillion annually. We need whole system change that includes comprehensive macroeconomic reforms including fairer tax systems and recognition of the care economy. We need localized women-centered financial products and entrepreneur support systems to create more equitable economies for all marginalized groups, including women.

As we commemorate MSME Day let us recognize, celebrate, and promote the women-led micro and small enterprises that are the lifeblood of our communities. Here’s how you can show your support and make an impact:

By supporting the growth and resilience of women-led small businesses, we strengthen the invisible bonds that connect us. This not only helps unique and vibrant places thrive, like the Vietnamese noodle café in Hanoi, but also moves us towards a feminist future where equality and inclusivity become a lived reality.


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