November 6, 2009
I am a recent Arizona State University graduate who started Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and Indian NGO with the mission to promote social change by providing vocational training, micro-loans for business assets, voter registration and community meetings to impoverished women in the aftermath of social epidemics. Over the past ten years, Indian farmers have tragically felt so burdened by exorbitant interest rates, that they have felt no other option but to turn to suicide. This disturbing phenomenon leaves a growing population of widows, who heroically balance supporting their families with a social status considered to be one of the lowest in India. WEI is helping economically disadvantaged women to become decision-makers and leaders in their families, communities, India, and throughout the world by helping them to build sustainable entrepreneurial ventures. Entrepreneurs have a personal stake in the success of their surrounding communities because they have invested something in them and they rely on their workers and community resources to pull off their business… if the community fails they fail.
Helping a widow support herself is not something unfamiliar to me. As a freshman in college a close friend of mine lost his father, and his mother was left to support herself and her three sons. I was there as she was denied loans for the capital to start her own company. She eventually relied on family, credit, and the small amount of life insurance he did have to begin this company. We worked long hours but nothing was more rewarding than knowing that her children would be provided for even without both parents. My focus on helping the widows of Southern India comes from long hours spent helping my friend’s mom with her business, working with the poor in the United States since high school, and the contacts in India who have expressed great need for such a program. The story of WEI is a story of women’s empowerment through social change. Moved by stories of tragic suicides and the oppression of widows in the societies of India, I traveled there, committed to the idea that a small, lean group of people can make a difference, and do so without the overhead and bureaucracy of larger enterprises. I listened to the heartbreaking stories and dreams of over 500 women, so that I could create a business model that would ensure these women’s success. This business model works because the widows themselves created it. While many organizations work to prevent suicide, a gap exists in its aftermath; WEI fills that gap by helping widows support themselves through entrepreneurial ventures.