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August 26, 08

NEWS / For Women, Starting a Business Is the Same Worldwide

For Women, Starting a Business Is the Same Worldwide

Entrepreneurs Robin Chase and Ilham Zhiri overcome challenges and succeed

By Kelly Bronk
Staff Writer

Washington -- When two entrepreneurs examined the limited transportation options available to people living in U.S. cities, they not only saw a business opportunity, but also imagined a way to help the environment. Together they founded Zipcar Inc., the world’s largest car-sharing business.

Halfway around the world in Morocco, another entrepreneur saw an opening in the marketplace and started a printing and publishing business. Using hard work, determination and business savvy, the entrepreneur turned the fledgling company into a successful enterprise.

Although their businesses are separated by thousands of kilometers, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase and Imprimerie El Maârif Al Jadida founder Ilham Zhiri share similar experiences -- both women faced challenges and emerged triumphant as they started their companies.

“Women are known in all cultures as organizers of families,” Chase said. “They frequently have to juggle young children, older parents, shopping, households, and manage the family business. Our skills at multitasking and organization make us great entrepreneurs.”

After U.S. businesswoman Chase founded and ran Zipcar for four years, she moved on to her current project, GoLoco, an online ride-sharing company. (See “Car-Sharing Business Grows Quickly in U.S. Cities.”)

Zhiri still runs Imprimerie El Maârif Al Jadida, a printing and publishing company located in Morocco. The two women, during a State Department webchat in May, tackled questions on female executives and the challenges of running a business.

“Being the [chief executive officer] of a company is both wonderful and hard,” Chase said. “I compare it to conducting an orchestra. You get to see your ideas come to life through the efforts of a group of skilled and talented people. It is also very hard and lonely, with some very difficult decisions to be made at times.”
Ilham Zhiri
Ilham Zhiri, founder of the Moroccan printing company Imprimerie El Maârif Al Jadida (photo courtesy of Ilham Zhiri)

To deal with the unique challenges of being a female entrepreneur, Zhiri said, she concentrates on staying focused and managing her time well. “Delegation and teamwork are the key issues,” she said.

However, despite their success in running businesses, Chase and Zhiri said there is still a long way to go toward achieving gender equality in business in both the United States and Morocco.

In the United States, while women are likely to start a small business in order to work for themselves, as of 2002, they owned only 16 percent of the more than 5.5 million businesses with paid employees. In addition to the gender gap in employing workers, on average, women in the U.S. work force earn only 77 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts make.

Inequality is especially prevalent for female entrepreneurs. According to the 2007 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, while nearly a half million new businesses are created each month in the United States, men are twice as likely as women to be starting them.

Even with these disparities, Chase said the keys to success in business for women are the same as they are for men: “Listening to your customers, always seeking to improve your business, treating your employees and customers well and with respect, watching money very closely and being persistent and focused.”

Zhiri agreed: “There is no magical answer -- it is the same as men. The keys to success are based on hard work, hard work, hard work, integrity, honesty and using emotional intelligence to solve issues and go beyond hurdles.”

For Chase, business success is measured by more than just the bottom line. When she was a young woman, an Egyptian business owner taught her that it was possible to do well in business by doing good in the world. “The first time that I sat down with a real businessman I was impressed by his care for his employees and that he was trying to make the world a better place by providing employment and income, in addition to his service,” she said. “I had never thought that a businessman cared about that.”

The best way to do well in business while doing good for the world? According to Zhiri: “Believe in yourself, in your dream, in your project, in your business.”

See the transcript of a webchat featuring Robin Chase and Ilham Zhiri.

Source: http://www.america.gov/st/econ-english/2008/August/20080822171825xkknorb0.509071.html?CP.rss=true



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