A list of 500 female entrepreneurs in 11 emerging markets in a world where women are often refused the same access to education, financial services and bank loans as men, have made the Foundation 500 List, launched by The H&M Foundation and humanitarian agency CARE.
Styled like Fortune Magazine‘s Fortune 500 List where Fortune rank the world’s top companies and executives, the Foundation 500 List redefines what a business leader looks like by presenting portraits and stories of women born with zero privilege who have made their businesses thrive in the harshest of start-up environments. Not Silicon Valley no, the women featured range from a Peruvian trout farm manager to an owner of a bus company, and are all from Indonesia, the Philippines Nepal, Sri Lanka, Peru, Guatemala, Jordan, Zambia, Burundi, the Ivory Coast and Yemen.
“The entrepreneur is the hero of our time, and it is estimated that over the coming years over 1 billion women will enter the workforce – a majority through entrepreneurship. But, you can’t be what you can’t see. Women rarely make the covers of business magazines, in fact the last time a woman was on the cover of Fortune Magazine was October 2014. With the Foundation 500 list we want to re-define what a business leader looks like,” says Diana Amini, Global Manager at H&M Foundation.
There’s no ranking in this list. The 500 women on the list are a representation of 100,000 women participating in the Global Program on Empowering Women through Enterprise Development initiated by H&M Foundation and CARE in 2014. The H&M Foundation and CARE made a goal that they reached in 2016 – to reach 100,000 women in poor communities and contribute to their economic empowerment. The Foundation 500 List is their next step.
Why? In the name of female empowerment and gender equality, to change perceptions of what women business leaders from developing countries can achieve, to give a visbility to female role models usually reserved for the traditional male business leaders and to create economic growth.
According to McKinsey Global Institute, by advancing gender equality, $12 trillion would be added to the global economy by 2025, and women’s economic empowerment is seen as the core contributing factor to overcome poverty.
“The Foundation 500 list was created because we want to highlight the successes of women entrepreneurs from low-income communities. These women are paving the way and changing mindsets of what a business leader can look like, which inspires other women to develop their own business. This is an important step towards gender equality, while it lifts people and communities out of poverty,” says Reintje van Haeringen, Programme Manager Women Empowerment & Business Development.
There are 500 stories to be read online now at out foundation500.com about life-changing bravery, independence, role models and gender equality.
Read the story of Philomène Tia, CEO and serial-entrepreneur, Ivory Coast Owner of West Ivory Coast’s first bus company, a chain of beverage stores, a hotel complex, and a cattle breeding operation below.
Philomène Tia, CEO and serial-entrepreneur
You own a transportation company with 90 buses, a hotel complex, a chain of 24 beverage stores and you’re involved in a cattle breeding operation with over 1200 oxen. How did you manage to create such a diverse business portfolio?
I’d say activity and creativity. I know it’s not the most concrete tip, but trying to think ahead is what has made me succeed. Be in it for the long run, not for short gains.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
A: I lost all my properties due to the civil war that started in 2002. I fled to Guinea and only returned home in 2007. Back home, I had to start over with nothing but my previous experience, but I was determined to make it work. After a while, I got a loan that made it possible to re-start my businesses in selling fish and breeding cattle. By saving my money, I was able to invest in two minibusses to start a taxi service which grew into the first bus transportation company in West Ivory Coast. Today, we operate about 90 buses.
There’s a lot happening in the transportation sector across the world and it keeps redefining itself. How do you keep up with new challenges?
Recently, I started bringing people together in associations and cooperatives. I enjoy sharing my experiences with others, especially women, and to hear their ideas. I often tell other women that it is the force inside you and your brains that will bring you wherever you want to go. I mean, I started with nothing and I don’t even speak proper French, but look at me now.
So what’s next for your business group?
I really like to explore new types of business and combining them, otherwise it would have been impossible to keep the energy and to keep growing. Regarding exactly what’s next, your guess is as good as mine.