At the 2019 Wharton MENA Summit, Strategy and Senior Executive Advisor, Joe Saddi, underscored the importance of scale-ups to social and economic development in the MENA region and around the world. As an early-stage business founder, I took note. While venture capital firms and investment firms may aspire to find the next unicorn, governments, Saddi suggested, would be well-served to encourage the development of scale-ups.
Described by the OECD as high-growth firms, scale-ups are marked by:
– 20% annual growth in employment or revenues
– Minimum of 2m USD in annual revenue
– More than 10 employees
– More than 3 years in operation
Moreover, according to Scaling up MENA SMEs: How a handful of firms can fuel economic growth, scale-ups spark the creation of other businesses and also generate new jobs. In Lebanon, for example, five companies gave rise to 80 additional companies through mentorship, founding by a current or former employee, or investment. Likewise, in Jordan (as in the US), scale-ups account for around 50% of job creation.
Of course, successful scale-ups were once early-stage SMEs and, as such, faced a high risk of failure. Female founders face even greater risks with lower returns. While 36% of businesses in the US are women-owned, they account for only 12% of sales. This disparity results in lower cash flow, increasing the likelihood of failure. Yet, supporting women in entrepreneurship makes economic and social sense — from the employment and GDP benefits of increasing scale-ups to the fact that women invest significantly more of their income than men do on their family’s education and well-being.
Lilian Ajayi Ore established GC4W (Global Connections for Women) in 2014 to equip women to create opportunities for themselves and their communities through both entrepreneurship and education. Inspired by the statistics on scale-ups, I interviewed Lilian to learn more about her organization’s vision to grow and scale women-led businesses while impacting the lives of 500,000 women by 2020.
It’s important to note that there is little that Lilian doesn’t do. She’s a Harvard grad and a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to being a data scientist, Lilian also teachers at NYU and has written for Diplomatic Courier, the Huffington Post, and others. She’s a mother, a wife, and a global citizen — a proud New Yorker with roots in Africa.
Perhaps most importantly, Lilian is deeply committed to making the world a better place, in every way that she can, and bringing as many people as possible along on this journey. Upon graduating from Harvard, Lilian worked as a representative of the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations. While at the UN, she developed a strong interest in studying the impact of social interventions. Lilian’s understanding that the intersection of social network building, educational improvements, and female empowerment through entrepreneurship produced results.
Driven by a calling to serve others through high-impact programs, Lilian founded GC4W.
GC4W is an awarding-winning non-profit committed to gender equity through empowering women, girls, and their communities. The program includes:
– Face-to-face and online entrepreneurship education programs focused on women enable them to build and scale their early-stage businesses
– Developing and delivering Microsoft Certification for gender equity in the classroom
– Providing mentorship and coaching to support women in meeting their potential
– Providing education resources to schools
– Raising gender equity awareness
– Supporting other charities committed to gender equity
GC4W’s entrepreneurship programs are practical, hands-on, and inspirational. They’re also deeply focused on increasing a female founder’s likelihood of success whether she aspires to launch the next unicorn, a fashion brand, or a reinsurance brokerage. The recent GC4W 5-day entrepreneurship program drew participants from New York to Portugal to Kenya who learned some of the foundations of scaling, from structuring cash flow to design thinking. The advanced program, which will begin later this year includes topics such as investor relations, business analytics, and forecasting.
Maintaining her groove
Mother of the adorable (almost) 3-year-old Alexander (who joined us periodically on our call), Lilian credits loving learning with her non-stop quest to improve the world. Engaging in the PENN CLO multi-disciplinary doctoral program, for example, reinforced the role of research and scholarship in GC4W’s work. Improvement, Lilian stresses, also starts with the self. She’s an avid goal- setter and certainly isn’t afraid to ask for help or coaching.
The importance of connections
Connections are at the heart of GC4W’s work. As Lilian explains, connections create opportunities and accountabilities between people who want to help and people who need help. Connection can also be measured, a factor that appeals to her inner data scientist.
Connection, of course, is both analog and digital. GC4W uses a range of channels and works with global partners from the UN to Social Good Lagos. On the back of the EurAfrican Economic Forum in Portugal, Lilian and her team established GC4W Europe. Next year, GC4W will launch Tribe Communities to create a more localized impact around the world.
Ultimately, Lilian aspires to have GC4W grow into a multi-channel lifestyle platform that transforms lives. Benefiting the lives of a half-million by 2020 may sound like an ambitious goal. At Mirai, however, we think GC4W will achieve even more. And we know they’ll have the data to prove it.