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Filed under: Development Gender equality Poverty

I was recently going through the results of our programme for the economic empowerment of women in Montenegro when it hit me: a missing puzzle piece had finally found its place.

Let me tell you the whole story.

In my country, women and men may be legally equal, but the reality of everyday life is much different.

The numbers speak for themselves: Women here earn only 85 percent of a man’s salary, own 5 percent of the land, and own only 9.6 percent of businesses.

Quite a challenge for the country that wants to join the European Union!

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor points out that the social and patriarchal matrix, gender stereotypes, and an uneven distribution of housework and childcare are just some of the factors deterring women entrepreneurs.

Our research reveals (pdf) that women are interested in starting businesses; but, their main obstacles are usually lack of support from their families and environments.

Findings also show that in societies where women perceive they have the capabilities for entrepreneurship, there is a greater chance they will find opportunities, and go out and give it a shot.

So two years ago we decided to try and give them that shot: 120 women from four cities in Montenegro responded to our open call to join a new kind of programme which set out to improve the economic status of women.

I’ve been working in development for over 15 years. Good intentions and a well-designed programme are not, in and of themselves, enough for success.

We knew we had to work on confidence-building first, so we established a strong team of experts, NGOs, civil servants, and local leaders.

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Learning about these women’s hopes and fears helped us design meaningful programming

Each step had to be planned carefully.

Our team members entered every house, met every family, and as custom dictates, drank many a glass of rakia.

We learned not only the names of their husbands and children, but also their family histories, personal stories, hopes, and fears.

In the meantime, we organized a series of trainings, mentorship sessions, and networking activities. The women also participated in souvenir fairs, meetings, and conferences.

Experienced trainers and mentors were at their disposal throughout.

We learned and grew with each other. Our women became real experts in rural tourism, souvenirs, handcrafts, and organic food growth and started to produce their first products.

In the end, 54 women have created detailed plans for development of a family business. They are currently looking for investors, and we are organizing networking events and web-presentations for their business plans.

>> For more great pictures of these incredible women in action check our flickr album

When I look back, our greatest efforts went towards keeping the balance between the trainings and networking activities, and, more importantly, keeping up the level of positive energy and motivation.

This was the missing piece in the puzzle, a key for success. The end result went beyond what we could have anticipated.

These women did not just become new agents in the market; they also became the new face of Montenegrin eco-tourism and green economy.

It often happens now that tourists come to one of these rural households for a traditional lunch, and then, becoming enchanted with the atmosphere and hospitality of their hosts, end up staying quite a bit longer.

Developing entrepreneurship skills costs little and has a huge impact.

If you are interested to know more about our women and their business ideas, visit the business portal and our website.

We’d love to join with you and share our stories!