Three French women entrepreneurs, Carole Gaillard, Lauranie Nonotte and Sylvie Combe, have made a commitment to promote an entrepreneurship program developed by Aide et Action for girls and women from ethnic minorities in Laos. They told Aide et Action, “We are proud to be part of the Education for Women Now Campaign Committee and to support this project for women entrepreneurs in Laos”. 

We are three women with entrepreneurial experience in France in the event management, wine and consulting sectors. Laos is far away, our cultures may be different, but we nonetheless feel close to these women who one day chose to change the path that was set for them. For these women who are marginalised in their countries and poorly educated (only 63% of girls go to secondary school in Laos), the bar is set high and they deserve all our support and admiration“, said Carole Gaillard, Lauranie Nonotte and Sylvie Combe. These three French women entrepreneurs wanted to join the “Education for Women Now” Campaign Committee and support the “Women’s Entrepreneurship” programme developed by Aide et Action in Laos and supported by the L’Oréal Fund for Women. This programme aims to provide support to nearly a thousand women from ethnic minorities in Laos on their path to entrepreneurship. For these vulnerable women, entrepreneurship is not just a way of increasing their income, but also and above all an opportunity to acquire social status within communities where the role of women is still limited to household tasks and child-rearing. 

Concrete support and results 

According to Carole Gaillard, Lauranie Nonotte and Sylvie Combe, “Aide et Action proceeds step by step to give these women every chance of success and relies on its personalized business development model which has benefited 240,000 people including 100,000 women worldwide. The digitisation of training tools makes it possible to provide high quality training at controlled costs. 

The association starts by identifying young women who want to increase their income. This is an important first step because having a productive job that brings in money is not common for women from these minorities – it is a real change of social status for them, all the more so if they manage to earn more than their husbands, and they must therefore be able to cope with the new way in which they are viewed by their families and husbands. At the same time, Aide et Action and its partners are conducting a market study to identify local market needs and to respond to them in the best possible way. In one of the villages in Laos where there was no garage, one of the women supported by Aide et Action in the framework of this project became a garage owner, while another opened a petrol station.

Practical and quick training

Once the participants have been selected, the training to understand the basics of setting up a business begins – it is practical and fast. The training covers both hard skills such as accounting and soft skills such as public speaking.

The trainers help prepare the business development plan according to the abilities and ambitions of their students. Risks are assessed (e.g. mortgaging one’s land), as are opportunities. Everything is done to give the maximum chance for the project to succeed. 

Finally, Aide et Action provides a grant of $200 to $500 (the average monthly income in Laos is $214) and helps the new entrepreneur to open an account and access bank financing. 

Support continues even after the business is established: women continue to receive the support and training they need through coaching. The women who have been trained through this programme then become mentors for new recruits.

Half of the girls and women involved in this training manage to start their own business, which is a high success rate. The remaining participants usually become employees of their colleagues and thus improve their income. 

A network of inspiring women 

These women, who have had the courage to change their lives, are inspiring young girls to continue their education and become active and informed citizens.  An extra year of schooling can increase a woman’s income by 10-20%(World Bank, Returns to Investment in Education (2002). Hence, Aide et Action’s project with the women of Laos initiates a virtuous loop that will enable the creation of local women’s networks and support these minorities so that they are able to escape extreme poverty.

Carole Gaillard – Lauranie Nonotte – Sylvie Combe