Starting a new venture requires so much hard work and dedication; it’s enough to scare off even the most adventurous entrepreneur. Now, imagine undertaking a start-up as a woman in an embattled region in the face of entrenched gender bias?
Under the principle that investing in women profits all of society, Okanagan College Business Professor Dr. Kyleen Myrah has been working with Invest for the Future (IFTF) in Croatia, a non-profit organization created under the leadership of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. Geared to improving the economic situation of women in southern and eastern Europe and Eurasia, the group hosts a series of events and initiatives that brings together women entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers.
“The situation in eastern Europe has required many people to start over and be really creative doing it,” says Myrah, who is also the IFTF’s Canadian coordinator.
“I have been so impressed with the commitment from the entrepreneurs I’ve been working with. It’s so gratifying to see them make so much progress with such limited resources in a short amount of time.”
Take, for example, the story of one of the IFTF’s entrepreneurs from Georgia, Nino Zambakhidze, who moved back to the village she grew up in to start a farm, something previously never done by a woman in her region.
“She faced incredible obstacles to launch her new venture,” says Myrah. “But with the IFTF’s support, she built a successful enterprise, garnered national attention across eastern Europe, and inspired 250 other women to take up farming.”
Myrah’s work with the IFTF involves mentoring entrepreneurs and helping to facilitate the annual conference with the Croatian coordinator Tina Lee Odinksy-Zec, which took place earlier this month in Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb. She delivered part of the conference’s keynote address, participated in the international press conference, and organized mentorship workshops for attending entrepreneurs on several topics, including public speaking, business financing, and marketing.
After the conference, she took advantage of the opportunity to meet with representatives at the Canadian Embassy to Croatia to discuss support of the IFTF initiative in the region, taught a class at the Zagreb School of Economics and Management and interviewed local business owners for her ongoing research into social entrepreneurship.
While the conference is over, Myrah’s work with the IFTF is far from finished. She is now focusing on creating online resources, creating a mentoring network structure, and helping country coordinators develop the infrastructure to host events in their own areas.
“Without the support of Okanagan College, it would be impossible for me to make these kinds of contributions,” she says. “This year has been amazing experience and will help shape my work going work forward.”