There are so many obvious answers to this question: they started a business, they want to make money, they live in developing markets, and of course they want to be successful. But what do we really mean by "to be successful"? Making a lot of money? Be famous? Own a huge house and be on holiday forever? Sometimes that's it, but not always... and not everywhere....
Last week, as I was preparing for my interview with the judges for the Women of the Future Awards in association with Shell (so humbled to have been shortlisted in the Mentor of the year category) I spent some time thinking about success and in particular my experience with entrepreneurs in developing countries. As an active member of the Mentoring Women in Business Programme of the Cherie Blair Foundation my "job" is to coach women entrepreneurs in emerging and developing markets. My Mentees are two wonderful women: one based in Honduras, the other in India.
Celia, my first Mentee, is an amazing woman from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She founded Inversiones Ecologicas and with her employees (all women) they produce hand-made eco goods using recycled paper and other eco materials. We started chatting over skype and I started learning more and more about her business and objectives: growing her business and exporting her eco products outside Honduras. Our bond was immediate and as well as talking about business we spoke about our lives and got to know each other. She told me about her family (she has a husband and 3 beautiful kids) and we spoke about our mothers (she lost hers recently and mine has been through a very tough time so we found time to support each other). Our Mentor-Mentee relationship soon developed into friendship. Learning more about her and her family allowed me to obtain a better understanding of the environment she was operating in, her background and the challenges she was facing. However there were a couple of things I still didn't quite understand: firstly it looked like some of her actions/decisions did not quite match with her goals, secondly she would refuse to leverage opportunities such as being mentioned by Hillary Clinton at a Conference on "Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion" in order to drive traffic to her website and enhance her visibility.
As our friendship became stronger, she invited me to go to Honduras...and I decided to go! I love traveling and I wanted to understand more about Celia and her business. What better way of spending a week with her and family to get that exposure. Not only did the week we spent together enable us to become close friends, I also got attached to her amazing family and I finally understood more about Celia's real drivers. Her drive is not a mere "let's make money and forget about all the rest". Her dream is to create a sustainable business where she can employ local women coming from poor backgrounds, with no skills and little chances for a job and a career. She wants to teach them skills and give them a job. She wants to give them a chance of doing something different. She basically wants to make people happy, this is what Celia means by success.
My other Mentee is Menaka, another amazing woman. She lives in Chennai, India, and funded RAPO (Read And Pass On), a book exchange. Just like Celia, Menaka is married and has 2 kids. She runs RAPO in her spare time and her life is as hectic as Celia's: running a family, running a business and all the rest that comes with being a woman in India. When I started mentoring Menaka it didn't take me long to see that their similarities didn't stop to being female and having founded a business, or having busy lives, living in emerging market and having great objectives. When we were talking about monetising in order to grow the business Menaka was very adamant about certain things such as not charging users as they would not be happy. This time I understood straight away: no matter what part of the world you are, for some women success is making people happy, it is more about the social aspect of it than the fame or the money.
Annalisa Sarasini has been shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.