TED Talk #2: Gayle Lemmon -Women Entrepreneurs Example Not Exception

This video has a lot in common with the first, however, it does a great job of asking the question of: what’s next after microfinance? This question is vital in the continuing battle for women to have the economic, political, and social place in the world that they deserve. Like Gayle says in the video: “Women can no longer be half the population and a special interest group.”

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Lost in the details

While I don’t believe that the world is ever completely divided into two separate categories, there are definite opposing sides to any issue. That being said, in the working world there are two main groups of people: big picture and detail-oriented. Again, people are usually on some sort of scale with regard to the two as their gifts and talents are a bit more nuanced than black and white, but to make matters simple, people usually define themselves as one or the other.

I would consider myself to be one of those big picture people. The details usually overwhelm me if I don’t overlook them completely. The problem with starting a business is that if one is doing it alone, one must do both the big picture and detail-oriented stuff. Today I am working on the details. Needless to say, it is rough. I’m reading a book entitled “The Perfect Business Plan Made Simple.” It’s thrilling. I think I’ve spent more time staring out the window than actually reading it. It does have some valuable information, but the language and details get to me. I felt the same way when I took a grant writing class in my final semester in college. Grant writing is a highly detail-oriented aspect of non-profits and after not being in the class for long, I began to feel like I really didn’t belong there. At one point the professor made a joke about how the big picture people in a non-profit have their heads in the clouds while everyone else is getting stuff done. Everyone in the class laughed, including me for a bit until I realized that she was essentially talking about me. (She later professed that big-picture people are important to the organization too, but it was obvious that she didn’t quite understand them.) One of the most frustrating things about being big-picture is that there are no entry-level jobs other than self-starting.

The thing about self-starting is that while it is touted as a primarily big-picture person activity, it requires a lot of work in the details. It feels like I can’t win. I can only find two solutions to this problem: really push myself out of my comfort-zone, or get a business partner.

The Details of a Business Plan:

Outline
A. Contents
B. Executive Summary
C. Mission and Strategy Statement
D. Market
1. Background
2. The Customer Need
3. Who the Customers Are
4. Product/Service Description
5. Strategy/Approach
6. Competitive Analysis
7. Pricing/Profitability
E. Operations (of the Business)
1. Sources of Input and Costs
2. Processes
3. Equipment
F. Management/Staffing
1. Backgrounds and Qualifications of Key Players
2. Staffing Plan
G. Financial Projections
1. Current Financials (if an Existing Business)
2. Projected Financial Statement
3. Application of Funding Requested
4. Capital Structure
H. Contingency Planning
1. Appendices
-supporting documents
-additional detail as required

Generation E: Part 1

I found this book in my basement and thought it would be a perfect starting point for my business venture. It is engaging and entertaining and seems to offer some good advice so far.

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In fact, it is already starting to challenge me. One of my biggest issues to overcome is that I have a fear of being seen as a burden or people supporting me because they are “doing me a favor” or taking some pity on me. I felt that way when I was in elementary/middle school and fund raiser time rolled around. They always gave prizes to the kids that sold the most: the highest prize being something like a gaming console, an electric scooter, or the chance get wrapped in tape and to roll around on the floor which was covered in money (I’m not joking). I was that kid that got a chintzy whistle, or even worse, nothing at all because of my fear of asking people to purchase things they probably don’t want or need. I didn’t want people to feel guilty for not buying anything so I didn’t ask them.

I got that same feeling a lot during the job I had between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college where I had to call people I knew, schedule a meeting with them, try to sell them some stuff they probably did not want, and then ask them to inconvenience their friends in the same manor. It was hell. I hated the voices in my head telling me that I was burdening these people by asking for their time and money. Every time I got a “no” I felt frustrated, but also strangely relieved that they wouldn’t resent me quite as much.

So when I came to the part of the book that says: “Next, we’ll talk about resources… Your resources include friends you can impose upon, your ’82 Chevy Impala that barely runs, all the people you know from your AA meetings…” Friends you can impose on? Ugh. That is the last resource I want to use. To me the ultimate measure of success is having complete strangers find me/my work valuable. Friends and family are supposed to be supportive which is maybe why I don’t like starting there first. I value honesty, and although I’m sure these people feel as though they are being honest, to me they are biased.

As with any new venture, there will be challenges and difficulties, but getting through them is what creates personal growth and will eventually lead to prosperity. It is just a matter of convincing myself to get out of my comfort zone and “be a burden” on people and that will take some time as well as quite a bit of effort. I also must constantly remind myself that I am only perceiving these sentiments in them, and they may not feel that way at all. I would like to say that am up for the challenge, but only time will tell for sure. The key to that is remaining passionate about what I am doing and allowing that to propel me through any obstacles I may come to.

I Made a Loan!

So last Christmas my brother and sister-in-law gave me a Kiva card and that enabled me to lend $25 to a young woman in Guatemala. A few weeks ago I got an email telling me that my loan had been repaid! Since then I have been looking for someone to whom I could re-lend that money. I wanted it to be someone who shared a similar story to mine. Sure enough, today I found someone who resonated with me. I made a loan to a woman age 40 who, alongside her husband, has started her own business making hand-made bags, hammocks, and backpacks. She is from Colombia and she is one of the few borrowers who is smiling in her picture. (I’m aware that smiling in a picture like this may not be a cultural norm for many of the borrowers, but it is one norm of my culture that I couldn’t shake.) I think it was that smile that spoke to me the most. It was infectious and gave me hope that my own business will succeed. I am excited and happy to be a part of her success and rise from poverty to prosperity. Even though I don’t know the woman I made a loan to, it reassures me to be connected to someone who may be struggling with the same issues. It makes me feel less alone in this venture.

The Face Of Poverty

It’s funny how I am writing in this blog about the poor, as if they are abstract and distant. In fact the opposite is quite true. I am, by purely economic standards, one of them. My employment consists of working at a frozen yogurt shop part time; that’s it. My income will most likely not exceed $10,000 this year, and I can assure you my weekly pay is rarely, if ever $210. Heck, I’m lucky if my bi-weekly paycheck is that much. It’s a struggle to even pay for necessities such as gas, food, and rent. My dad gives me money every month too, which helps immensely, but I’m not a fan of that system. I, like many in my situation I suspect, prefer to be independent.

I write this not for pity, and I’m fully aware that by the world’s standards I am rich. I am especially rich in social capital which is more like the promise of monetary wealth and resources, and it can -in some ways- be better than actual capital. However, I feel the ache that all poor get when they don’t know how they will pay their bills. This feeling is transcendent despite how much is in a pay check.  It is simply having a net income that is smaller than the expenses of the basic necessities.

With a twist of irony, however, I can say that I am proud to start off at such a humbling position in life. If I’m really passionate about ending poverty, then I feel it is necessary to walk in those shoes.   It has given me the chance to reflect on what poverty is, who it can affect, and how to provide solutions for it.

I also recognize that my social capital does (or at least will) make a difference. It gives hope. As I said before, this type of capital is more important in the long run, and this is also something that the poor internationally need. That is what I hope to provide for them eventually, because I believe that is how poverty is beaten. Throwing money at an issue, but not connecting with the people, rarely (if ever) solves the issue of poverty, and even if it did, it is true that wealth alone does not create happiness. Meaningful relationships as well as the ability to provide for one’s self is what produces balance and happiness and that can be gained with social capital.

So while I’m dealing with some challenges now, I am confident that these challenges will lead me to a better future and give me a sense of empathy and understanding for others in my (or worse) position. I believe that this path will also lead me to realizing how important social capital is in my own life and how I can create that climate for others.

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Me before my first job interview this summer… that I did not get.