Microenterprise Programs and Women: Entrepreneurship as Individual Empowerment
Vol. Volume 1, Number 1 June/1996
Lisa J. Servon
Lisa J. Servon is Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning at the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin. The author would like to thank the Aspen Institute Non-Profit Sector Research Fund, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Soroptimist International Founder Region Fellowship for funding portions of this study. Thanks also to Timothy Bates, Manuel Castells, Troy Duster, AnnaLee Saxenian, Michael Teitz, and the anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments and critical insights along the way; the usual caveat applies. Special gratitude goes to the women at WISE„participants, staff, and board„for their time and interest in my work.
This paper presents case study research from Women's Initiative for Self Employment (WISE) to argue that WISE, like many microenterprise programs, uses credit as a springboard to achieve something that goes beyond simple access to business funding. As a result of its mission to increase the economic options of women, WISE uses credit to achieve individual empowerment. The majority of low income women are not equipped to start businesses without first gaining access to other resources and skills. Programs like WISE have therefore had to accommodate this recognition by shifting the focus of their missions to include a broader range of acceptable outcomes. While these programs may not be meeting traditional economic development goals such as creating many new businesses with multiple employees, programs are performing important functions that are often more closely aligned with the social welfare field. Specifically, these programs are functioning as social training programs, empowering women to manage their lives within the constraints of the new economy.
Microenterprise; economic development; poverty; gender.