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Why Entrepreneurship?

Sunday, November 17, 2013 7:29 PM

At first blush, the idea of entrepreneurship as a solution to financial barriers faced by women – and in particular women in violent situations – may seem counter-intuitive. When the idea of One Spark was first percolating - and we were seeking feedback on the concept - we were often asked, “Is it realistic to be discussing a start-up business with a woman who may already be overwhelmed with other challenges”?  In asking the question, there may be certain assumptions being made about entrepreneurship: that business start-up is labour/resource-intensive; that you need to be starting from a place of financial security; that there is inherent risk; and/or that the best and most sound financial alternative is to work for someone else.

It’s important to bear in mind that starting a business does not automatically equate to a significant outlay of capital costs.  Our goal is to work with women to discuss their skills and talents and to identify ways that those skills can be brought to market quickly, easily, and within realistic financial parameters to meet a woman's individual needs. Where basic materials are required, One Spark offers $2,000 in materials subsidies that can be accessed for up to 2 years after a woman registers a business.  It is also our goal to break down every possible barrier that may prevent a woman from recognizing self-employment income: this is why our programming involves working with women to navigate the business registration process; covers registration costs; provides information and resources related to accounting, legal compliance, and government remittances; and provides the basic technology a woman will need to carry out business activities.

One of my favourite local businesses is a sunflower stand on a rural road not far from where I live.  It is an un-staffed stand where several bouquets are arranged by the road-side with a lock box and a sign that says, “$5.00/bunch.  Please deposit money in box”.  I stop at least once a week to pick up flowers.  It always reminds me that entrepreneurship and generating incremental income can be that simple.  It just takes some creative thinking about how skills/resources can be converted into income.

My favourite flower stand also debunks the myth that entrepreneurship is by definition an all-consuming, stand-alone undertaking.  One Spark believes that when a woman has a registered business, her options increase exponentially.  Some women may translate their self-employment into full-time work that has the capacity to fully meet their financial needs.  For others, self-employment may be a way to supplement part-time income.  For others still, self-employment income may supplement social benefits.  If any combination of the above can provide a woman with the financial security to ensure that she will be able to access safe housing and other basic life necessities when leaving a violent situation, then self-employment has proven its viability as one possible solution to financial barriers faced by women.

Finally, when we consider that, in Canada, 51.6% of lone parent families headed by women live in poverty, the issue of childcare becomes critical.  Without access to affordable childcare, many women have extremely limited options for balancing their care-giving responsibilities with opportunities to generate income.  This is a fundamental bond that unites women with entrepreneurship:  the flexibility of self-employment is a concrete response to the childcare gap.  In fact, it is a response with so much potential, that we believe the relationship between women and entrepreneurship will continue to evolve in ways unknown and that this relationship has the potential to re-shape women’s incomes in the years ahead.

All things considered, then, the question is not, “Is it realistic to discuss a start-up business with a woman escaping violence”?  It is, “Can we afford not to consider and discuss the income possibilities of self-employment and how they can reduce the risk of poverty”?  This discussion is imperative not just from a financial perspective, but also from the perspective of empowering women with options and opportunities and stimulating systemic change.  That is why One Spark believes so strongly in entrepreneurship: because we believe so strongly in the power of possibilities, and we have no doubt that possibilities are the birthplace of change.

Executive Director

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