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La Vonn Schlegel
Institute for International Business

Christine Davis
Institute for International Business

Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011

IU Kelley School involved in program that helps Malaysian women to start their own businesses

May 5, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An institute at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business is helping women in developing countries become more self-sufficient and care for the financial needs of their families.

Global Women's Economic Empowerment

Beginning with Malaysia, the Kelley School's Institute for International Business (IIB) is partnering with the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA) on a philanthropic project that will teach women how to start and sustain their own micro ventures.

This new Global Women's Economic Empowerment initiative (GWEE) was formally endorsed by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Small and Medium Enterprise Ministerial at the October 2009 meeting in Singapore. The GWEE is a public-private partnership between APEC economies, WFDSA and IIB.

Within the next couple of years, the project will be expanded to other APEC Economies such as Peru, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and eventually to other parts of the world.

The pilot market is Malaysia where the project is implemented in partnership with the local Direct Selling Association (DSA) and the Small and Medium Enterprise Corporation Malaysia (SME Corp). WFDSA represents 60 national DSAs around the world.


"If you look at the microfinance statistics that have been developed in the last five to seven years, you'll see that women pay their loans back," explained LaVonn Schlegel, the IIB's managing director. "The money that they make is reinvested in the family and in the community. Men don't fare as well in the statistics. The money they make tends to support their vices.

"We know that by focusing on women, that we can make a difference at the most micro-level -- the family -- and that it will grow out exponentially," she added.

Andrea Jung, WFDSA chair and chief executive officer of Avon Products Inc., added, "When a woman improves her economic circumstances, not only does her own life improve, but she is also better able to feed her children and provide them with health care and education. When one woman's life is changed, the lives of families, communities and societies also are changed."

Schlegel already has traveled to Malaysia to train local volunteers who will provide instruction in rural and urban areas of the Southeast Asian country, which has a population of more than 27.5 million people.

While WFDSA is implementing and supporting this project, direct product selling is not a major feature of what is being taught, Schlegel said.

"This training is designed to help women understand the basic tenets of running your own business. We are starting at ground zero," she said. "We've kept it a very low, a very personal level of training so that they appreciate that they can do this."

LaVonn Schlegel

LaVonn Schlegel

Print-Quality Photo

Topics being covered during the seven-week training course include how to establish new businesses, how to decide what products to sell and how to locate financial backing. The women also will learn about managing personnel, basic bookkeeping, networking and dealing with government regulations and taxes. They will receive about 20 hours of personal instruction.

In some cases, a cell phone or a refrigerator can lead to starting a new business. For example, a woman might rent out space in her refrigerator so other families can store leftover food in this tropical country. People today sell access to their cell phones in many parts of the world.

Mark Long, a faculty member at Kelley and former president and chief executive officer at the IU Research and Technology Corp., worked with Brenda Bailey-Hughes, a business communications faculty member at Kelley, on the instructional materials.

This new project is another example of how the IIB has applied the core competencies and practical applications of the Kelley School's education and research activities in international entrepreneurship. Recently the institute received a $1.35 million grant to help the Caribbean nation of Barbados stimulate the creation of new companies there.

A primary mission for the IIB is to provide people at the lowest levels of society with the knowledge and framework to use business to make a difference in their lives, Schlegel said.

"There are a number of cultural challenges," she said. "Women in rural areas especially tend to be less educated, not as worldly and rarely have access to things beyond their village or neighborhood. Certainly language is a challenge.

"This is one of those opportunities where we have to be honest and realistic with ourselves about the differences in our cultures," she added. "I've run my own business, I've been in the corporate world, and now I'm in academia. It's very easy for me to espouse what it takes to be successful in business, but it's also a very real awakening for me when I'm in internationally developing markets, where I don't necessarily know what it takes to be successful.

"But I think it's something we're getting better at -- finding the right partners that want the same end result and then working to create the right means to accomplish that. Ultimately we're all going to get better because of that."