3 Female Entrepreneurs on Persevering Through Change
When we started The Power of Good Fund in 2019, we focused on three key philanthropic pillars that impact women’s wellbeing: education, mentorship and entrepreneurialism. We chose entrepreneurialism because we knew that small business owners need financial and practical support. And that’s even more accurate now than it was just one year ago. Since we launched the fund, with the help of your purchases, we’ve raised more than $1,000,000 to ensure that women and girls around the world are educated, uplifted and empowered. And when it comes to entrepreneurialism, we’ve directly supported hundreds of female entrepreneurs through our philanthropic partner, Grameen America.
Grameen America provides microloans, financial education and peer support to thousands of hard-working female small business owners, and in April they created the Grameen America Economic Relief & Recovery Fund to provide essential capital and services to their members right now. The low-income entrepreneurs they serve have endured some of the hardest financial consequences of the economy coming to a standstill. For this reason, we donated an additional $40,000 to The Power of Good Fund to support Grameen America’s Economic Relief & Recovery Fund, and female entrepreneurs affected by the current pandemic. As of July, over 24,000 new loans totaling over $93M have been disbursed.
In spite of the challenges they each face, Grameen America’s members have shown extraordinary resilience this year; it’s the same resilience that enabled them to become business owners in the first place. We checked in with three New York-based members to learn how Covid-19 has affected their businesses and how they’re pressing on.
Lanise, Harlem, NY
In December of 2019, we visited the clothing boutique and after school program founded by Lanise and her sister Janine. At the time, both small businesses were growing steadily with the help of loans from Grameen America.
In March, non-essential businesses were ordered closed in New York City, so the sisters pivoted their efforts. For the boutique, they focused on fulfilling online orders, and planning an eventual curbside sale. For their youth development program, summer is always an important season; last year, they ran a thriving day camp, taking children to see and learn from the 5 boroughs around them. This year, they were able to successfully apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and they’ve used some of this new funding to invest in PPE, including shield barriers, so they’re ready when they can serve the community again.
When we met Lanise and Janine last winter, their tenacity, passion and dedication were immediately evident. So we weren’t surprised to learn of the work they’ve put into weathering this storm. In addition to taking the necessary steps to preserve their existing businesses, the two sisters are now translating their passion for vegan eating into a new business selling vegan food via Grubhub delivery. The business may be brand new, but they are already working to expand their offerings.
Gigi, Queens, NY
It was a bad car accident that pushed Gigi to pursue her dream of owning a driving school. She’d already been an instructor for over four years when she opened Hybrid Driving School in 2017, and in February of this year, she was navigating the streets of Jackson Heights with students, preparing for the driving school “busy season,” which traditionally lasts through September.
By March, her business was brought to a halt, leaving her with $9,000 per month in overhead costs. With three adult children all living abroad, she has no family in the United States and was afraid. She didn’t have the banking relationships needed to secure federal relief, but has been able to negotiate extensions on business rent and credit card payments, and has the support of Grameen America, which she values for the funding, the help in increasing her credit score, and the camaraderie; she actively recruits other women entrepreneurs to join the program.
New York’s stay-at-home orders shuttered Gigi’s business, but it was hardly downtime; she established online courses, trained to become a notary and studied Spanish to broaden her future clientele — all to support her family in the Philippines and pay for their education. “I was scared about my business,” Gigi admits of the difficult spring. “But then I see everyone else is suffering. I thought to myself: ‘You’re not alone, so relax.’”
Vanessa, Queens, NY
In February, Vanessa was thinking about opening a second restaurant. She already runs Aqui en Bella Puebla, a Mexican restaurant in Jackson Heights, with her family, so she imagined the second location would be smaller, perhaps in Connecticut where her cousin lived and was unable to find good, authentic Mexican food.
Aqui en Bella Puebla has been able to stay open throughout the spring and summer, but business fell 40% in the first two weeks of New York’s lockdown, forcing her to lay off 10 employees. Vanessa handles the restaurant’s administration, and quickly applied for federal small business relief in the first round. Soon, her parents fell ill with presumed Covid-19, and she was left to manage the restaurant alone, returning home quietly each night so her children wouldn’t run to hug her before she had the opportunity to change clothes.
In the midst of the 12-hour shifts, Vanessa admitted, “I thought we may have to close altogether.” Vanessa has yet to hear back about her loan application, but there is hope. Prior to the pandemic, Vanessa used Grameen America loans to establish online ordering and advertising. Now, she is benefiting from that infrastructure, fulfilling takeout orders and delivering platters of food to a nearby hospital. Most importantly, her parents recovered. They are now even well enough to join Vanessa in carrying the family business into the future.