|Nguyễn Thị Hiền (first from right) and Lê Thị Đức (second from right) at the launching ceremony of Ignite initiative in Hà Nội last week. They will be among 50,000 female entrepreneurs in Việt Nam to access to specific knowledge and skills on business management and financing tools to develop their companies. — Photo courtersy of Care International
HÀ NỘI — It has been tough for micro and small-sized businesses to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic and Trường Foods, a fermented pork company owned by a young female entrepreneur in Hà Nội, is no exception.
The company has been hit hard by the pandemic right after starting to recover from a three-year-long pig's blue ear disease crisis.
The prolonged closure of bars and restaurants hit wholesale consumption which was the company’s biggest market.
Nguyễn Thị Hiền, the 26-year old executive director of Trường Foods, had to switch her marketing strategy from wholesale to retailers through online channels on Facebook and e-commerce platforms.
She took an online marketing course run by experts of the Women’s Initiative for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship (WISE) to learn how to advertise online.
"The course taught me how to run advertisements on Facebook to reach my desired groups of customers. Online marketing tools help me target the right customers and cut down on marketing staff,” Hiền said.
Hiền is among 50,000 women entrepreneurs in Việt Nam benefiting from the 'Ignite' initiative between 2020 and 2022 which offers professional and financial support to women to realise their growth potential and build financial resilience.
|Nguyễn Thị Hiền is a young female entrepreneur who wants to learn more about online marketing to be able to sell her fermented pork products online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Hiền
The initiative which was launched in late October targets woman entrepreneurs with two to 10 employees in major urban and peri-urban centres of Việt Nam who are looking to grow their businesses and hire more staff but lack the right type of financing and need access to knowledge and skills.
Care International, a non-profit international development organisation, and its partners including financial service providers and business accelerators will work to make sure female leaders get access to more opportunities, which will promote their economic empowerment.
Lê Thị Đức, who owns an organic mushroom company in central Thanh Hóa Province, will get assistance from Ignite to expand her model in the post-pandemic recovery period.
In 2000, thanks to loans offered by the provincial microfinance fund, she started the business and created jobs for local labourers.
|Lê Thị Đức and her organic mushrooms grown at her house in Thanh Hóa Province. Photo courtesy of Đức
From the experience of a farmer, she understands planting techniques but realises she needs to learn more about employee and financial management if she wants to expand her business.
Từ Thu Hiền, CEO of WISE, said women faced a number of challenges when they start businesses because most of them lack business management skills and knowledge. When women want to expand their businesses from micro and small size to medium size, the knowledge holes become more obvious.
Another challenge is getting access to capital. A report conducted by International Finance Corporation, a member of World Bank Group, indicates the gap between the capital demand of small and medium-sized enterprises owned by women and what banks offer has been estimated at VNĐ27 trillion (more than US$1 billion).
Stakeholders of the Ignite multilateral partnership believe direct support and training are helping women-owned businesses stay afloat amid the pandemic, but financial tools customised for women can help them thrive. Those small woman-owned companies will be on the frontlines of economic recovery as Việt Nam emerges from the pandemic.
Hiền from WISE said female entrepreneurs also face difficulties in maintaining a network of business partners. It is clear to see that women entrepreneurs face bigger difficulties than men in social interaction and networking with partners. Women have to take over dual roles of a mother in the family and a leader in the business, making them sometimes struggle to balance time between family and work.
Lê Thị Đức said owning a business and at the same time having to take care of four grandchildren, she has to wake up at 4am every morning to water mushrooms and then take the children to school.
“I have to save time and tightly control my daily schedule to juggle family and work life,” she said.
At a younger age, Nguyễn Thị Hiền faces the same pressure of balancing work and taking care of her husband and family.
“My company is in Hà Nội but I live in Hưng Yên, about 40km from the capital city. I leave the office at 10pm and drive home for one hour. It’s not until 11pm that I reach home every day.
“I try to balance work and life and only hope my husband is sympathetic with me,” she said.
Female entrepreneurs in Việt Nam also have a high rate of “fear of failure”, according to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2019.
The fear demonstrates the existence of potential underlying vulnerabilities that may be preventing progress. Those vulnerabilities are likely to have been amplified by the impacts of the pandemic.
Within the framework of Ignite, WISE not only offers training for knowledge, skills and access to financing tools but also creates a network of mentors who help women with psychological problems in their lives and overcome fear of failure.
Lê Kim Dung, country director of Care International, said the project is aimed at women living in disadvantaged conditions and looks to empower women who lead micro and small-sized businesses.
“We believe that unleashing the power of female entrepreneurs will promote their economic potential as well as their independence, thus they can make more contributions to families, communities and society,” she said. — VNS