Joining with TechnoServe – a leading NGO with which the ExxonMobil Foundation partners on women’s economic issues – we celebrated the graduation of 1,000 women from the Business Women Connect program we introduced in Mozambique in 2018.

That’s a notable achievement and one that follows on the heels of similar success in Tanzania and Nigeria. Such accomplishments strongly resonate during November, when we observe both Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 8-13) and Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on November 19.

The ExxonMobil Foundation started Business Women Connect with TechnoServe because we understand that women are an underappreciated catalyst for economic progress in developing countries. This initiative seeks to support women entrepreneurs and equip them with the tools and knowledge to flourish.

Improving business performance for women not only betters them and their communities financially, but it also helps drive social change. Linda Scott, professor emeritus for entrepreneurship and innovation at Oxford, has noted the multiplier effect that goes beyond increased economic activity, notably “improved health outputs [and] lower rates of domestic violence and infant mortality.”

With that in mind, we designed a program that connects women business owners with advanced financial services – such as mobile savings products offering women greater security, privacy and control over their incomes – and trainings to enhance business skills. Graduates come out with a much better handle on everything from recordkeeping and logistics to marketing and customer service.

The importance of these skills and services was never more apparent than when COVID-19 struck early last year. Research showed that women farmers and micro-business owners were hit especially hard by COVID-19’s economic wallop.

Business Women Connect helped program participants and graduates pivot and adopt new strategies to stay afloat when their businesses and livelihoods were threatened. As the global economy emerges from the pandemic, many of these women will come out stronger as a result.

We’re certainly proud to point to 1,000 women entrepreneurs who have gone through the Business Women Connect program in Mozambique.

But there’s a bigger point in that Mandela quote than to just celebrate a milestone. It’s to keep focused on our important work on the road that lies ahead, something that this week’s entrepreneurship-focused observances in more than 180 countries make abundantly clear.

For the graduates of the Business Women Connect program and their families and communities, as well as for the ExxonMobil Foundation as we help women everywhere realize their full potential, that road leads to a brighter future.

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