Compiled in partnership with the Grameen Foundation
Silicon Valley’s definition of “entrepreneur” can be very narrow. It often invokes images of young professionals scrambling to raise VC funding, but in reality the definition of an entrepreneur is anyone who starts and operates a business, often taking on great financial risk to do so. In an effort to expand the notion of what makes an entrepreneur, over the course of the past month Women of Silicon Valley has been featuring women entrepreneurs in developing economies of Kenya, India, and the Philippines. These women are all beneficiaries of the Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit that empowers the poor, especially women, to grow their livelihoods and community presence through digital micro-financial services.
Through these profiles, we hope that you’ll find a new perspective on what it means to start a business, see the far-reaching and transformative power of technology and financial empowerment, and feel inspired by the diversity and strength of female entrepreneurs around the world.
Alice Musau | Kenya
Alice is married and lives with her husband and three children.
“For several years, I ran a small shop in a town near my home in Machakos. But the hours were long and it was hard to turn a profit. I constantly had to ask my husband for money to invest in the business, and I hardly saw my three children. We had some land and a few livestock near the home so I turned to farming.
A neighbor told me about Musoni Kenya, a local microlender, and I was able to buy five chicks with my first loan, which over time built up to a flock of 200 birds that produced almost five trays of eggs. I slowly expanded my farm to goats, rabbits, guinea fowl and vegetables. I’m proud that I have been able to build up my farm on my own. And working closer to home has allowed me to spend more time with my children.”
Cristita Florentino | Philippines
Cristita is married with six children and lives in Western Visayas, Philippines. She runs a food stall and also manages a farm. Three of her children are married, while the others still live at home. Her husband has a sidewalk watch repair business.
“My hard work has all been for my six children. The money I earn from my food stall and farm has allowed me to educate them. The Philippines gets hit with at least 10 typhoons per year, and drought is also a problem. A few years ago, there was a particularly tough dry season. I wasn’t sure my coconut and cacao plants would survive. Text alerts from Grameen Foundation’s FarmerLink system guided me through preventative measures, like mulching and using dried leaves as organic fertilizer. I inherited my farm from my parents and I’m proud that I’ve been able to slowly build a thriving business.”
Jane Nyambura | Kenya
Jane Nyambura is a 43-year old mother, wife and farmer in rural Kenya. She lives with her husband, three sons and an adopted daughter whose mother has passed on. Though she was an eager student and wanted to become a lawyer, her parents could not afford to educate her beyond elementary school.
“One of my biggest struggles has been educating my children. I wanted to be a lawyer but did not get the opportunity to continue past elementary school. I was disappointed when I couldn’t continue my education, but I’m determined to give my children better opportunities.
My second son, Peter, is already in university, while the youngest, Nathan, is in high school. Isabel is in elementary school. It’s been difficult. I pay more than $3,000 annually in school fees, as well as for the boys’ boarding near their schools (more than 13 miles away). I found a solution through Musoni, a local microlender that partnered with Grameen Foundation to create a special digital loan for farmers.
I bought a cow with the loan and now earn $2,500 per year just from selling milk — enough to cover the bulk of my children’s school fees. I am proud that my three sons have already reached further in their education than I did. And I’m pleased that I was able to give Isabel a stable life after her mother died. I am educating my children to be what they want in life so that they have a better life than me.”
Rukma Chaudhary | India
Rukma Chaudhary is 34 years old, married and excitedly expecting her first child. Both she and her husband are differently-abled (she has dwarfism and he cannot walk upright because of polio) but refuse to let that stop them from pursuing their dreams. She studied fashion design (where she met her husband) and stitches blouses and dresses.
“My lifelong challenge has been getting people to see beyond my disability. Walking is difficult for me, and my overall mobility can be challenging. I just want to be treated with respect, not pity, and I’m determined to show others what I’m capable of. I’m incredibly proud to have graduated at the top of my fashion design program. I’ve already begun chipping away at people’s preconceptions by excelling in my education and my work. Now I’ve become a role model in my community.”
Venus Santos | Philippines
Venus Santos lives with her husband and two children in Paco, Manila, Philippines. She runs a sari-sari (variety) shop with her husband. Her son is grown and her daughter is in high school.
“My family depends on the income from our sari-sari and side businesses to survive. My family and I moved to Paco, Manila, just over a decade ago to give my children better opportunities. Restarting was tough, but I worked hard. So it was quite disappointing when my son had to drop out of university because we didn’t have enough money. I was determined to avoid the same for my daughter.
I joined Grameen Foundation’s Community Agent Network (CAN) to earn money to pay for her tuition at a private high school. I help my neighbors transfer money using a digital terminal in my shop, which saves them having to travel to payment centers much further away. My shop has now become a popular spot, and my husband and I take turns working to provide almost 24-hour service.”
Dileshwara Thakare | India
Dileshwara Thakare is a widowed mother of one daughter. Her husband died about two years ago leaving her with very little to care for her family.
“When my husband died, I had very few options. I had spent all of our money on medicines and treatment for him and was desperate to support my family and keep my daughter in school. I rented a small room for the two of us and set about rebuilding our lives.
I now have two jobs: cooking breakfast for four families and working as a Grameen Mitra in the afternoon, training others in the community on how to access and use digital financial services. I hate doing household work for other families as it brings me little respect or money. I think becoming a Mitra has helped elevate my standing in the community. And I’m extremely proud that I’ve been able to keep my daughter in school. I know girls are often forced to leave school when their fathers die.”
Madhuri Dhotarkar | India
Madhuri is married with one child. She began her career in tailoring at age 15 to help her widowed mother.
“When I was 15, I faced a dilemma. My father had died, and I wanted to help my mother support the family but multiple relatives objected to me working outside the house. Watching my mother toil to give our family two meals each day was my greatest motivation. I was determined to never leave my life to fate. With my mother’s blessing, I persevered. I learned to sew and soon began offering my services around the village. After I underwent formal training, it became a full-fledged business. I’m proud that my daughter now sees me as a role model.”
Edna Bacquiano | Philippines
Edna Bacquiano lives in Davao City, Philippines, with her husband and two young children. She manages a five-acre farm, growing mainly coconuts, cacao bananas . Her husband transports goods for a businessman and is often gone for long stretches.
“My biggest challenge has been juggling the daily needs of my family and my farm. My farm is five acres, and I usually tend it all on my own, with occasional help from my brother and temporary laborers. My husband works long hours transporting goods, which leaves me most of the childcare and household responsibilities. I have adopted a strict routine and segment my tasks on the farm so that I’m not overwhelmed. Most days I tackle pruning and fertilizing just the cacao trees in the morning, then turn my attention to the coconut trees in the afternoon.”
Varsha Dhurve | India
Varsha is a widowed mother of two school-age children. She earns more of her income selling vegetables.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to overcome my husband’s death. He was the main breadwinner, and I struggled to support my son and daughter. I got a microloan from a local lender to start a vegetable shop in my community. The income has kept my family afloat and my children in school for several years.
I want to equip all women with the knowledge to face life’s challenges without learning it the hard way like I had to. I recently became a Grameen Mitra to teach other women in my community how to make digital financial transactions and access government services. Now I’m experimenting with sales techniques, like using QR codes for my vegetable business and encouraging clients to pay me digitally instead of in cash.”
Samata | Ghana
Samata is married with four children and lives in southern Ghana. She and her husband are farmers and cultivate land they rent from a local landowner.
“My husband Idrissu and I labored for nine years to build our farm. We couldn’t afford to buy our own land, so we had to rent from a landowner — who then restricted what we could plant and harvest. The meager harvests made it difficult to feed our four children, much less invest in a one-acre farm.
Our turning point was meeting an agricultural advisor trained by Grameen Foundation. He helped us create a plan to develop the land, as well as taught us new planting methods like agrochemicals. Our harvest of maize tripled the following year, which let us rent two more acres of land. Before I switched to the new farming plan, I could scarcely afford to educate my children. Now I am proud because my three older children are heading to school. And I can even afford to pay for extra lessons for them!”
Vandana Thitare | India
Vandana is married with two children. She runs a stitching business in her village.
“I was never content with being a housewife. I wanted to earn my own money and be independent. So when I heard about Grameen Foundation’s Mitra program, I was determined to join. I had never used a smartphone before, but I knew it was important to learn because of the new digital services across India. But first, I needed a phone.
I earned my down payment by picking cotton in scorching 122 degrees Fahrenheit weather. I now pay my monthly installments using the money I earn as a Grameen Mitra and from my stitching business. I’m proud I ignored the naysayers who told me not to become a Mitra; people now see me as not just a mother and a wife, but an independent woman.”
Elizabeth Wainaina | Kenya
Elizabeth Wainaina, 62, is married with four children. Her main income over the last 40 years has come from selling clothes. She recently began farming to help increase her income and save for her later years.
“I have supported my family for 40 years by selling clothes; I was often the only breadwinner, but I was determined to ensure my children graduated from high school. Now at age 62, I want to make sure I have enough money to take care of my family when I can’t work anymore. I learned about Musoni, a local microfinance lender, through a local women’s group and turned to them for help. I received loans to support my clothing business and to purchase a cow and goat. Now I earn money selling milk and livestock. I’m proud that I no longer have to struggle to support my family. And now that my farming business is profitable, I plan to add a small shop to the front of my house.”
Anne | Kenya
Anne is married and lives with her husband.
“Political violence forced me and my family to leave our home in Kenya. After we resettled in a new community, I tried to restart farming to support the family. My husband also worked odd jobs around the new village to pay the bills. There was one good thing about my move: it gave me the chance to finally apply for a Kilimo Booster agricultural loan at my local Musoni Kenya branch. I finally had enough money to invest in quality seeds and other resources I needed. I’ve expanded my farm from one to four acres. I’m proud that I’ve inspired other women to apply for loans and grow their small farms into successful businesses.”