In August, SACIV hosted nineteen visitors from eleven Latin American countries to examine women as entrepreneurs on a local level. The program was designed to illustrate the essential role on of non-governmental and grassroots organizations in supporting and empowering the development of women-owned businesses; explore the role of women-owned businesses in driving economic development, democratization, and stability around the world; and highlight the social, economic, and political factors that influence and encourage the development of private enterprise in the US.
Visitors participated in several appointments and activities over their five day program. One highlight for many of the visitors was an interactive meeting at VentureLab, where they were inspired by the program’s work with youth and hoped to carry this idea home with them. They also met with representatives of La Fuerza Unida, where they enjoyed a dialogue on efforts to empower women and build a community of support.
A roundtable discussion and “speed mentoring” session with representatives from various business associations was a resounding success. Representatives from the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio, the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners – San Antonio, and the San Antonio Women’s Chamber of Commerce provided an overview of their work and participated in practical discussions on strategies for building a membership, holding membership events & programs, and conducting educational series. Following this, the entire group broke out into smaller more personalized mentorship discussions that allowed for exchanging of experiences, brainstorming, and networking. Though the format was somewhat unconventional, the visitors were enthusiastic about the opportunity to have conversations with so many prominent women leaders. They also felt that the session highlighted the power of networks and connections.
A closing workshop provided an opportunity for synthesis and action planning. The visitors were enthusiastic participants led by an engaged local facilitator Mr. Jim Eskin, who guided them through the session that provided an opportunity to reflect on their three week program. Visitors were able to synthesize their thoughts & experiences, draw on resources & connections, and consider how to overcome obstacles & challenges that may arise, and were also guided on planning the next steps in their professional lives upon their return to their home countries. Together, they exchanged practical ideas and shared best thinking on how women entrepreneurs can seize their maximum potential. They commented afterwards that this session was well-prepared and gave them an opportunity to begin asking themselves questions, thinking through answers, analyzing their experience, and preparing for the evaluation process.
The visitors described a “metamorphosis” that occurred during their program as they gained role models, shared knowledge, exchanged ideas, and planned for the future. They also expressed the importance they saw of serving as multipliers to share their experiences with other women and entrepreneurs in their communities.
An important take-away described by several visitors, including those from Cuba and Bolivia, was the realization that entrepreneurs play an important role in their countries by contributing to economic development and community growth. They also expressed an appreciation for the concept that work gives women power. Where they had seen themselves as working for more narrow purposes before the program, they then realized they are in a position to effect real change.
The visitors expressed appreciation for their time spent in San Antonio for a variety of reasons, including the engaged meeting hosts, the interactive sessions planned by SACIV, the opportunity to meet a plethora of local women entrepreneurs, and the warm hospitality. A visitor from Mexico pointed out the importance of visiting a city with a large Latino population as a “bridge” to the United States, particularly for those wishing to work with US markets.