Women Empowering Women
International Museum of Women: Can you describe the work of Suma Veritas and how it relates to women? What are some of the objectives of your project?
Graciela De Oto: Suma Veritas is a social and business network dedicated to granting all women the possibility of growth and development in an integrative way. We like to generate an innovative culture that promotes equity and empowers women towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We offer training programs to women interested in learning leadership skills, challenging them to excel both at a personal and professional level. At Suma, we build contact networks, fostering businesses integration and we create a motivating environment that will invite women who are still searching for personal, spiritual and economic growth to increase their own vision and recognition from the community, especially from other women.
Our project seeks to stimulate the development of labor productivity in small and micro enterprises through the training of all those women who want to realize their business projects.
IMOW: Why do you feel it is important to empower micro and small business women? What are the benefits of this?
Graciela De Oto: Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a key role in the economic and social development of the region. Most of the growth in manufacturing comes from small and medium sized enterprises that produce an elevated percentage of industrial output and provide employment for the rural and urban labor force.
Promoting women's entrepreneurship through the improvement of existing micro-enterprises managed by women, and the encouragement of new ventures with a potential to grow into SMEs, encourages productive employment and gender equality.
IMOW: What types of training do you provide for women in the micro-business section?
Graciela De Oto: Training is closely connected to the acquisition of necessary tools to face the existing crisis, give some support to motivate them into action, as well as coordinate those tools that will help them lead small businesses. Our methodological approach is to learn while doing, focusing on real market demands.
Training sessions also offer a chance for participants to raise their questions and challenges, share their creations in front of the group and explain how difficult it is to have access to credit, tax gain knowledge or develop business plans.
In addition to that we have a mentoring program which has a personalized scheme, and it aims to help women develop skills suitable to their potential and to stay motivated.
IMOW: What is the importance of a personalized process versus one that is less personalized?
Graciela De Oto: The personalized process can create a customized shared vision and encourage cooperation. It also allows focusing on interesting and topical issues that serve as a source of inspiration and gives them the tactical and theoretical methodology to explore links and scenarios based on real world. Additionally, a less personalized process take away the wonderful opportunity to learn in a friendly and supportive environment necessary for success in business, life and wellness balance.
IMOW: You mention that women entrepreneurs face restrictions that prevent them from growing. Can you give examples of some of the restrictions that these businesswomen face?
Graciela De Oto: In times of economic crisis, women compensate for men's unemployment by working more, even though working conditions in the region remain poor and pay for men and women is unequal. Women entrepreneurs still face a number of new constraints which will need to be addressed to allow them to grow and expand. Women are held back from potential growth in production and sales by weak business, managerial and marketing skills, lack of access to technology, lack of access to technical support, and the low availability and high cost of essential technical inputs and credit.
IMOW: Has the economic crisis bred opportunity for women in the small and micro-business section in Argentina?
Graciela De Oto: Yes, the entrepreneurial spirit of Argentinean women showed that they can play a predominant role in the microenterprise sector. There have been huge increases in businesses managed by women, especially in the service sector, followed by the manufacturing industry.
IMOW: Have you seen women small business owners "stepping up" and coming up with any innovative ideas in the face of the economic crisis?
Graciela De Oto: This crisis forced every entrepreneur to reshape their business to be more competitive, creative and innovative. With an uncertain and fluctuating market, this is a time to rethink, reinvent, improve communication, support collaboration and no one more prepared than women to do that. The entrepreneurial spirit of Argentine women is also clear; they have been proactive in seeking new business opportunities in a regenerative way in order to build a superior life and meet the needs of their community, while at the same time opening the road to equal rights and opportunities.
Graciela De Oto has an M.A. in Business from Catholic University in Buenos Aires and a Ph.D. in Management from Pacific Western University in California. She is the president of the Suma Veritas Foundation. She is also a member of Business and Professional Women International (BPW) and is part of their Leadership & Lifelong Learning Taskforce and member of the Development, Training & Employment Committee, which does research, training and other projects for women from 90 countries around the world.
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