International Women’s Day (IWD) – A New Social Enterprise Perspective

Since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day has been celebrated on the 8th March and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

And with 49% of women being identified as founding and leading an early stage social enterprise (Trading for Good, Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales and Social Enterprise UK https://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/trading-for-good), we took the opportunity to ask our female SEEK participants in Brighton and Croydon to share their thoughts on what it means to them.

What does IWD mean to you as a female entrepreneur?

Our participants did not solely consider it in terms of just being an entrepreneur but their experience as being a woman as a whole and were mindful of the history behind IWD.

“The International Women’s Day is an acknowledgement of the fact that for centuries, women had had to fight for their rights, equal pay, equal treatment and equal opportunities. IWD has its roots in political activism – countless women as well as men bravely challenged the status quo over the course of the last century, many women around the world today enjoy the rights that would have been unthinkable only a few generations ago.”

What female role models do you have and how have they inspired you to be where you are today?

Inspiration and support from family and friends is a key source of energy and motivation, especially from female members of the family.

“One of my main role models is my mum. She has worked in many industries where gender bias has been an obstacle for her, and she always had her integrity, and humour to get through dark times. I look up to my mum because she has never been afraid to make mistakes, she’s never cared what people have thought of her and uses negative opinions and situations to motivate positive and progressive outcomes.”

“…most of all people who have pushed and supported me in all that I do and top of that list is my sister Viv and also my friends the two Glenices…”

While supportive family and friends have been essential to help them through the very early stages, having others in the field or industry that they are operating in to emulate is also key:

Caroline Casey is a legally blind entrepreneur and founder of the Ability Awards and Binc, engaging business leadership to create an inclusive world for the 1 billion people affected by disability… Moreover, she’s an Ashoka Fellow and Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.  In 2013, Caroline supported me as a mentor – I have just launched my not-for-profit disability inclusion organisation and Caroline’s encouragement meant so much to me.”

Why is it important to celebrate days such as IWD in our communities?

Celebrating IWD is of benefit to women as it allows more opportunities of support to be provided and to showcase role models for others to be inspired by

“I see this as a tradition that serves both men and women, it reminds us where we have come from and to appreciate what we have. It gives us as women a chance to reflect on the year we have just had and make pledges for the coming year. It’s a symbol of solidarity, a day when women can connect, be taken notice of and appreciate other women, be inspired and motivated to keep going. Because men still dominate in lots of workplaces and industries, it’s important to me to celebrate the work of women in an attempt to reach people who need that support, like i have done and will continue to need going forward.”

“I think it is important to celebrate IWD particularly as a parent as it reminds you that there are other mums out there who are running their own enterprises showing me that it can be done”

“There are many communities of women that still have limited access to education, healthcare, legal representation and economic empowerment. Many women are not encouraged to think, speak or act for themselves. It is important to celebrate IWD as a community of both women and men to take stock of where we are and where we want to be in terms of the gender gap to drive positive and sustainable change.”

What is your experience of being a female entrepreneur in the social enterprise sector?

The social enterprise sector is seen by some as a supportive, warm and accepting environment; however, there is still an edge of competitiveness

“My experience has been mixed. In some ways I haven’t felt any different presenting an idea to a mixed gender group, in other respects I have felt that some women struggle to be heard themselves so they tend to compete with you for limelight. I think once women start to support one another in making positive change happen, that’s when men can get behind it. The resistance is often primal, and so that means sometimes, making the first step for peace.”

 “…  I feel that it is a community that will fit me very well particularly as there are opportunities to help others in need at the same time.”

 “My experience as a female entrepreneur in the social enterprise sector has been very positive – I’m amazed how much support is available for anyone who wants to set up a social enterprise, especially in the UK.

 In my opinion, social enterprise sector provides a specific warm, supportive and accepting climate that can help start and test things, however it can be challenging to grow – some women may feel less confident or more anxious about the risk element, uncertainty or competitiveness…Also, some social enterprises are solving complex issues and that can take some time. Perseverance is the answer, but it is also important to take a deep breath, step back, or rethink the strategy, figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

What networks and support offerings have helped you get to where you are today? What support will you continue to make use of and why?

The benefit and power of a network is another key essential tool to be able to use, however, it is an ongoing process of researching, learning and acting on results and feedback.

“Well Start-Up Croydon were the first to introduce me to the social enterprise world through the Social Enterprise Academy and they have taught me a lot.  I still have a lot to learn and to implement and intend to keep in touch with them.  Vee is also a godsend when it comes to social media and marketing.”

“There are so many networks and support available to social entrepreneurs and female entrepreneurs. To me it has been Makesense.org – an open community of young professionals with a stronghold in London who volunteer to mobilise global crowd to help social entrepreneurs come up with innovative solutions to their business and community challenges. Also, UnLtd – providing funding and learning resources and opportunities. Hatch Enterprise, National Lottery, SEEK, NatWest, Innovate UK, Nesta, Ashoka and specific networks, events, educational institutions, and grant providers – it’s a constant research and learning process.”

If you have an idea about a social enterprise and are interested in finding out more about the SEEK project and how it may help you please contact us on 0203 747 4747 or email us on seek@startupcroydon.co.uk

Authors:

Magda Slowinska, Includeon http://includeon.com/

Magda is creating a web-based platform suitable for Deaf people and people who are living with disabilities, and mental health conditions, helping them to fulfil their potential by enabling remote working.

Felicia Higgins, sCrumbtious Kakes https://www.facebook.com/sCrumbtiousKakes/

Award winning cake artist and mother of two young adults on the autistic spectrum, Felicia Higgins from sCrumbtious Kakes came up with the concept of using her skills for producing baked goods and novelty cakes to set up a social enterprise which aims to provide opportunities for work experience and employment for young people on the autistic spectrum whilst also promoting autism awareness.

     

Justine Hall, Just Pop Up https://www.facebook.com/justpopup.co.uk/

Just Pop Up is a pop-up kitchen that hosts pop-up food events in a range of venues across Brighton & Hove. As well as the food events we are hosting a series of talks, both educational and fun! Talks will range from topics such as organics and sustainability to biodynamics and biodiversity. Profits raised from the events go towards supporting people with mental health problems by teaching fun, engaging and educational cookery workshops that encourage people to be more engaged in the community and more connected with food and it’s natural origins.