The journey of women entrepreneurs in the business world is far from a bed of roses; they face numerous challenges and learn valuable lessons along the way. These experiences often lead them to question what they lack. However, their search for answers led them to the WE Inspire project—a joint initiative by The Mekong – U.S. Partnership (operated under The U.S. Department of State) and Kenan Foundation Asia. This project aims to empower women in the LMS region across Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The WE Inspire project provides comprehensive training in 21st-century knowledge and skills, reigniting the fire of hope within these women entrepreneurs.
We had the privilege of hearing inspiring stories from women who pursued their dreams in various fields. Despite their diverse backgrounds, one thing remained mutual —their eyes and hearts were filled with hope. One such entrepreneur is Khun Yim Whan, also known as Wilaiporn Saeya. At just 23 years old, she is a proud business owner specializing in modern designs of traditional Hmong textiles. Yim Whan represents the modern Hmong youth who strive to preserve their cultural heritage by creating contemporary products that blend local identity with modern design. After working as a seamstress in the capital, Yim Whan returned to Chiang Khong and embarked on her entrepreneurial journey. Recognizing the unique identity of her hometown, she saw an opportunity to start her own business. Yim Whan’s path led her to participate in the WE Inspire project, based on the recommendations from the Chiang Khong District Community Development Office. She shared with us the invaluable benefits and insights she gained from the speakers, particularly during the enlightening business analyst session, which she found extremely valuable for her own business. Yim Whan said, ‘I started to understand more about my consumers because I knew how to analyze the market session; I knew who my customer is and where can I find them.’
Another voice we heard, Khun Janpen Chatae, from Wiang Kaen District, shared how the online marketing session transformed her business. Janpen, a shoot seller who also sells lottery tickets, shared with us the difficulty she faced in marketing her products. However, her perspective changed when she joined the WE Inspire project. She shared, ‘I adapted the knowledge I gained from the training, particularly in product photography, and I noticed a significant increase in online sales.’ With her business in a better position, Janpen found new inspiration and ideas. She expressed, ‘I started reaching more of my target audience and gained many new inspirations. I even had the idea to expand my business by offering processed products.’ Janpen’s participation in the second year of the WE Inspire project is helping her turn this new dream into reality.”
Not only were there limitations in learning and accessing knowledge, but the COVID-19 pandemic also created significant challenges for women entrepreneurs. Khun Chadanot Wongsuwan and Khun Surang Taweeboon, participants from the Chiang Khong district, shared their stories of transformation and survival. Chadanot, a 67-year-old woman, used to sell parboiled rice, rice crackers (Khaotan), and chili paste while working at a massage shop. However, when the pandemic hit and the shop had to close, she worried about transforming her career path and acquiring the necessary skills, such as technology, at her age. Joining the WE Inspire project based on recommendations from women community leaders and the village headman brought her newfound hope. Chadanot expressed, ‘I’ve gained new knowledge and made friends through this project. The lecturers teach very well. I will apply the knowledge I learned to enhance my online sales. Additionally, I plan to pass on saving techniques to my children and grandchildren.’ She also revealed that she had never prioritized saving money before joining the project, but now she understands the importance of saving. Chadanot said, ‘I just started saving after joining the project. The lessons on saving money have been extremely helpful because, in the past, I struggled to save at all.’
Similarly, Surang, a 57-year-old woman and the owner of Taxi Café, faced significant challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Her café had to close, and she had to deplete her savings. However, the situation eventually improved, and her café started reopening, attracting tourists daily. Surang shared, ‘Originally, this restaurant belonged to my brother, but he moved to do business in Laos, so I took over.’ Surang joined the WE Inspire project through an invitation from Mae Luang, a community leader. She found the project to be both interesting and challenging. Surang admitted, ‘I had never saved money before. Sometimes, I would put money in a piggy bank but never set goals. After joining the project, I learned valuable savings techniques. I decided to give it a try and follow the lessons I’ve learned, and I realized that I, too, can save money.’ Surang plans to save money to visit her younger brother in Vientiane. It’s worth noting that setting a savings goal for the first time, Surang successfully achieved it last January.
The WE Inspire project brings inspiration, stories, and knowledge that provide immense benefits to women entrepreneurs. We are committed to supporting each project participant in their dream of a better tomorrow. We encourage all participants to stay resilient and never give up on their journey.