Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Breakfast Event

Thursday, March 31, 2016

“A $1,500 loan changes a life,” Andrea Jung said passionately during the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) breakfast event on March 24. As the honorary guest, she was speaking to a room filled with dreamers and doers at the CORE: Club, about how Grameen America works—an organization in which she holds the title as President and CEO, and is dedicated to helping women who live in poverty build small businesses to create better lives for their families.

Hosted by Wendy Diamond, founder of WED, social entrepreneur, publisher, and animal advocate, the event opened up a number of thought-provoking topics, from gender inequality in the workplace to how we can inspire to make a change.

Jung, the former chairman of the board and CEO of Avon (the company’s first female CEO in its 126-year history), spoke about the journey through her professional career—which was certainly impressive, being the longest serving female chief executive in the Fortune 500. Two weeks after Jung started working at Avon, originally for a consulting assignment, she fell in love with the company’s mission and stayed for over two decades: “People always asked, do you sell lipstick? And I always used to say, no, we sell women independent opportunities from the earliest days. It’s about empowering women to run their own businesses and to manage their own time.”

Now at Grameen America and also a member of the Board of Directors of Apple, the General Electric Company and Daimler AG, Jung takes her experience to another level, to steer the development of a non-profit organization that offers microloans to reach big dreams. Her current post marks a full circle for her personal as well as professional life. “My grandmother came from China to the U.S. speaking not one word of English, got an informal microloan, started a salon business, and the rest is history,” said Jung. “Within one generation, her son went to MIT. Within two generations, look at the chances I had. She worked herself out of poverty and out of an immigrant situation from an informal microloan because someone gave her a chance.”

The unique factor of Grameen America, is that it not only offers microloans, but also provides training and support for borrowers to successfully run a business. Through weekly meetings, borrowers learn about entrepreneurship from one another by peer mentorship.

And what can people do to support Grameen America? The organization is currently running a campaign called “1,500 for $1,500 Invest in Her”. “We want men to participate too, but there has certainly been a lot of resounding success since we launched this, of women wanting to fuel other entrepreneurs. If you invest $1,500 into one woman, she is going to pay it back in 6 months, and that is going to fund another woman, and she is going to pay that back in 6 months—so $1,500 fuels two women a year in perpetuity. Because we have a 99.7% repayment rate, you are essentially funding two women entrepreneurial businesses,” said Jung. “You are investing in it so I like to think of it as venture philanthropy as opposed to a charity check, because it really is going to have a sustainable impact. The campaign aims to get 1,500 people who want to help fuel 1,500 entrepreneurs and that will unleash a significant improvement in the economy here in this city.”

As the event wrapped up, the conversation expanded to members of the audience who shared personal stories and career highlights. All in all, the discussion sparked hope, inspiration and motivation for women to give back to society. And as for the greatest piece of advice Jung shared? A tip from Steve Jobs, no less: “Failing forward and getting back up, is the key to moving forward to success!”


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