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Female Entrepreneurs as a Global Priority

Women Who Make Things Happen Panel Women Entrepreneur Panel

Executive in Residence Jill Klein, Liora Katzenstein, and Shelly Porges.

"Talent is universal, opportunity is not." 

The famous phrase, uttered recently by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, provided the starting point for Kogod's "Women Who Make Things Happen" event.

Co-sponsored by the American University Center for Israel Studies, the Kogod Entrepreneurship Club, and the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, the Oct. 27 panel highlighted the work of two female entrepreneurs doing their best to help others follow.

Liora Katzenstein, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Management of Innovation (ISEMI), and Shelly Porges, Senior Advisor of the Obama administration’s Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. Department of State, attended. 

Executive-in-Residence Jill Klein moderated the discussion, which was organized by Assistant Professor Richard Linowes along with Laura Cutler, acting director of the Center for Israel Studies.

“Entrepreneurship…is now a must. But you don’t need the old boys club to be successful. It's a gender neutral incarnation of the American dream,” Katzenstein said, arguing the nature of entrepreneurship provides an outlet for women globally to advance their status.

What Makes an Entrepreneur?

"An entrepreneur is someone who is a risk taker and is ready to face challenges," Katzenstein asserted. "There are different forms of entrepreneurs…Necessity-driven defines most women entrepreneurs, because they do not have the [same] resources or opportunity."

The obstacles facing women entrepreneurs are particularly daunting, and all affect the ease with which women can assume such a role:

  • Socio-economic barriers
  • Financial hurdles
  • Oppressive family ties
  • A lack of education in a male-dominated society
  • A low risk-bearing ability

These obstacles certainly affect the number of women taking on traditional leadership business roles. But women's assets as entrepreneurs have finally drawn international attention as well. 

The Microcredit Summit Campaign, which is comprised of practitioners, NGOs, and researchers in the field, released its 2011 annual report, which highlighted a positive trend for women entrepreneurs. The report states that approximately 104.7 million of the world's poorest women now have access to microloans for entrepreneurial enterprises.

Why Develop Women Entrepreneurs?

Female entrepreneurs in particular are willing to mentor their cohorts, and are ready to help their community. "Women make better investments. It's a multiplier effect; they invest in their families and their community," Porges stated.

"No country can be successful if it neglects half of its population," she added. "It is the largest untapped market in the world. There is a lot of power here that we just aren't using."

Speaking to her work on the Global Entrepreneurship Program, she highlighted some of the necessary steps to provide opportunities for women around the globe, including public-private partnerships, freeing up capital for financing, capacity building, and increasing access to education and mentorships. 

Though the task of fostering entrepreneurs can be tough, both Porges and Katzenstein are up to the challenge. 

"These two are nurturing women; they really bring up others, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Today we're seeing how women, as entrepreneurs, help build their countries," said Klein.

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Iraqi Entrepreneur Talks Drive and Success in Conflict Zones

Executive-in-Residence Bob Sicina with Dr. Hatem Mukhlis.

“If you prepare for all the worst, no matter what really comes, you’re going to be happy,” announced Iraqi doctor and entrepreneur Hatem Mukhlis to a classroom filled with Kogod and AU students.

These words not only serve as Mukhlis’ mantra, but as a key lesson for those considering how to establish long-term peace through commerce and economic development. In Executive-in-Residence Bob Sicina’s class, students are given the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs in conflict zones to develop business plans, examine the challenges that these entrepreneurs face, and propose concrete solutions.

Mukhlis is an example of one of these dedicated business leaders abroad. Mukhlis spends a majority of his time traveling to and from his home of Iraq to work on and promote projects dear to his heart. In addition to re-establishing some of Iraq’s critical labor unions, he co-founded the Medical Organization for Development and Empowerment (MODE), which trains doctors and emergency service providers, and promotes the growth of the Tikrit Teaching Hopsital.

But these accomplishments are just the start for Mukhlis, who wants to create a women’s clinic for breast cancer diagnoses, a non-profit urgent care center, and a for-profit lab facility. His goal is to ultimately create a full hospital and medical university in Iraq.

The real lesson he shared with Sicina’s students exemplified the importance for business leaders to study peace through commerce: “Security leads to economic stability, which leads to political stability... eventually, peace will come. I’m hoping Iraq will have the peace and serenity it wants in this world,” Mukhlis told the class.

Sicina, who encouraged his students to ask questions of Mukhlis’ attempts and progress, had nothing but positive things to say of the lecture. "Dr Mukhlis gave us all the opportunity to view Iraq's recent history through his personal ‘lens’ with myriad photos and a dialogue that brought the grueling story to life."

 Mukhlis also stressed that though the risks can be high for investors and entrepreneurs in conflict regions, the reward is even higher: “the sky’s the limit” for success. This is not the first time Sicina’s students have worked with Mukhlis. Last year’s Peace Through Commerce practicum helped him develop a business plan to share with potential funders of a medical lab in Tikrit. The current class is working on several projects in Tunisia.

From Tunisia to Iraq, students and business leaders can all learn from Mukhlis’ wise words: “When you drive, you don’t look at the hood. You look ahead.”