4 Inspiring Stories of Women Entrepreneurs From Around the World

From the Philippines to Malaysia, four women share what being an entrepreneur means to them -- and it has nothing to do with becoming the next billion-dollar unicorn.

learn more about Rebekah Iliff

By Rebekah Iliff


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneurship is a hot topic these days. Countless articles and books have been written about it, entire university curricula have been built upon its precepts and success stories touting billionaires who went from "zero to hero" infiltrate our newsfeeds and status updates.

Furthermore, entrepreneurship is no longer reserved for those with primary inventions and enough courage to risk their entire savings on an innovative idea. Rather, it has become the "right" -- to a degree -- for those of us fortunate enough to have been plopped into an environment that can sustain our entrepreneurial ideas. Living in a developed country means we have supportive government policies, access to capital and technological infrastructure. So, starting a business, for the most part, is just as viable as pursuing a more traditional profession. This isn't the case across the globe.

In less developed countries or "emerging economies," the idea of entrepreneurship takes on an entirely different meaning. It's not about building a huge company with the goal being an IPO or an acquisition; and it's not necessarily even about innovation, as we think of it from a technological standpoint. Rather, one's entrepreneurial spirit emerges in spite of dire circumstances to solve different problems: supporting a family's basic needs, sending a child to a better school and often times creating a safer environment for themselves in which to work.

Several months ago, the team at Qualcomm Wireless Reach asked me to join them in and the Philippines and Malaysia to visit some of their current projects in conjunction with Hapinoy and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, where they are utilizing mobile technology to train, launch and sustain entrepreneurs. Having just attended the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference in Berlin the timing didn't work from my end, but I was fascinated by this concept of "what entrepreneurship means to me" -- having just spent time with over 200 entrepreneurs from across the globe.

I asked the Qualcomm Wireless Reach crew if they'd be willing to share the heartwarming (and often heart wrenching) stories of the entrepreneurs they were visiting, with the intention to inspire my fellow entrepreneurs toward greatness.

From a woman who survived the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan after losing her brother and 17 grandchildren to a single mother who is supporting two children on less than $100 a month, these stories are a gentle reminder that at the heart of entrepreneurship -- no matter where you come from -- is the idea that financial pursuit is not the only goal. Rather, it's how we choose to pursue our goals despite what we do or don't have, the lessons we learn in the process and the people we positively influence along the way.

Related: 'Having Impact Has to Come From an Authentic Place'

Here are four stories that are sure to inspire....

1. Entrepreneurship creates second chances.

When Alicia Dumdum's husband retired 15 years ago, she began to rely on her sari sari, or convenience, store for income. Two years ago, Typhoon Haiyan destroyed her home and store taking more than 20 family members as well. Dumdum rebuilt and through the use of mobile technology, she now generates revenue by offering mobile money transactions to her community.

"To me, being an entrepreneur means earning a living to support my family, while helping to rebuild my community."

2. Entrepreneurship brings communities together.

Bella Sadongdong's sari sari store is located across the street from the hospital in Tacloban City. Through her business, she is able to offer mobile-banking services, often providing much-needed cash to customers for emergency procedures. Customers are very grateful for Sadongdong's services and appreciate the benefit to the community.

"To me, being an entrepreneur means having dedication and heart, knowing how to deal with people and loving and treasuring what you have."

Related: 5 Unstoppable Female Entrepreneurs Making Their Dents on the World

3. Entrepreneurship empowers women to challenge traditional roles.

Haziqah has always had a love for baking. As a Malaysian homemaker and mother of two, she wanted more and expanded her role to include entrepreneur. As the owner of Scrummy Cake Design, Haziqah is proving that in the Asian culture, women can be just as successful in business as men.

"Being a female entrepreneur means getting to make decisions and face challenges, and it gives me a feeling of confidence."

4. Entrepreneurship provides a source of income that can lift a family out of poverty.

Putri Hamzah is a single mother of two in Kuala Lumpur. Her low-income housing costs approximately $40 a month, and at times, she struggles to make that. Hamzah launched a bespoke tailoring service from her home so she could provide for her children and demonstrate the importance of perseverance. It hasn't been easy, but she is determined to be her own boss.

"Being an entrepreneur means a lot to me, and I've been dreaming about it as long as I can remember. It means I can depend on myself and survive on my own."

Related: 10 Single Mom Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Business Advice

Rebekah Iliff

Chief Strategy Officer for AirPR

Rebekah Iliff is the chief strategy officer for AirPR, a technology platform to increase public-relations performance that serves Fortune 500 and fast growing technology companies. Previously, she was the CEO of talkTECH Communications, where she created an industry-first methodology for emerging technology companies which positioned talkTECH as one of the fastest growing, launch-only PR firms in the U.S. Iliff holds a B.A. in philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, and an M.A. in organizational management and applied community psychology from Antioch University at Los Angeles (AULA).

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