$40-million project for women business owners

All Woman

THEIR mission is to help women business owners reach their fullest potential and this is exactly what the Women's Business Owners Jamaica Limited hopes to achieve through the launching of a $40-million project at the Wyndham Hotel in Kingston last Friday.

The initiative which is dubbed the "Strengthening and Promoting Women Entrepreneurs" project, is just another one in a line of projects undertaken by the group and its partners since coming into existence seven years ago.

It is expected to change the lives of more than 300 women islandwide, by providing free training to help them improve their businesses.

"We are not only just going to train them but mentor them. [We are] going in and actually helping them to make sure they have the right practices on how to do their accounting," explained president of the WBO Dorothea Gordon-Smith.

The project was funded through a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and is expected to last three years.

The WBO was formed in 2003 to provide a forum where women business owners could network and encourage each other. The group currently has about 25 active members who are involved in varying business ventures.

"Initially it was a small group of women business owners," said Gordon-Smith. "There were other women's groups for charity and such, but there were no business women's groups to help women to manage their businesses. There are a lot of women in business, but they were a bit hesitant in taking that next step."

Initially, the criteria for membership was that a business owner should be turning over at least $100 million annually. But after a study undertaken by the group during their first two years showed that not many women fell into that category, the group had to go back to the drawing board. They have since allowed others with even less earning power to become associates of the group.

"This was done to encourage younger women or smaller businesses to join," explained Luciana Gordon-Smith who is the secretariat for the group.

"We are expecting more with this launch because we are seeing the interest," she said.

Following last week's launch, the group hopes to go to other parishes to recruit more women business owners for training. The criteria to access these specialised training sessions is the same regardless of the business and the location.

"Right now the minimum criteria is that they already have to be in businesses which are established and registered with the Companies Office and they have to have a minimum turnover of US$100,000 per year, but that is to get them to move on to the next level," said Luciana.

While not everyone will access the free training session, the WBO will be offering group or one-on-one mentorship sessions for those interested. In addition to utilising their pool of established business owners, the group will also be partnering with business students from the University of the West Indies and the University of Technology to provide mentorship to women business owners.

Although the entire project is expected to last three years, the group hopes to finish the training and mentorship aspect of the programme by June of next year. The other year will be used to evaluate the success of the initiative.

Through the programme, business women across the island are expected to improve on their business skills as well as in areas such as record keeping, information technology, marketing, business planning and strategic planning.

"[The] bottom line is to make women grow. Whatever level they are, they must increase," said Gordon-Smith.





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