I'm looking at photos from the recent opening ceremony of our brand new IT training center for girls and women from the tribal zones in Pakistan: shyly smiling girls and women nervously caress the keyboards of brand new computers. Living in a region with a female illiteracy rate of approximately 90%, not one of them has ever touched a computer before. Our local team in Pakistan works hard, under unthinkably harsh circumstances, to protect girls' and women's human rights, particularly the right to education. In 2012, a 24-year-old member of the team was assassinated on her way to work, a few months before Malala Yousafzai was shot. In 2013 our team's offices were bombed. And last year we had to relocate all of our colleagues from their home villages because of militant death threats, which are ongoing.
This IT center has been a long time coming. But here it is. I look at these photos and think, "Never say never".
Whenever I hit a setback in my work or am feeling perilously out of my comfort zone, I think of these women and girls and my colleagues in Pakistan. Or: the women survivors of sexual violence in our programs in DR Congo. Or the girls who live in cemetery-slums in the Philippines and are participating in our IT vocational training program. Every day, countless astonishingly brave girls and women, from Afghanistan to India, Cambodia to Cameroon, are overcoming obstacle after obstacle, even risking their lives, to get an education.
The courage and resourcefulness of these girls and women help me put things in perspective. They remind me why I set out on my own entrepreneurial (ad)venture. They humble yet embolden me: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it".
If you're an aspiring entrepreneur:
1) Embrace your fear; push beyond your comfort zone
I sometimes think my experience bears out the definition of an entrepreneur as "someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down"! A vertiginous rush of emotions, pressure and constraints (on time, resources, finances) is par for the entrepreneurial course. Fear of starting, fear of failure, fear of risk: fear is a corollary of entrepreneurship. The way forward is to accept fear, befriend it. Learn to fail forward, always stretching your capacities.
2) Let passion be your compass
The high you get from doing work that you're passionate about is your reward for taking the entrepreneurial risk and jumping off that cliff! Our team has unabashedly adorned the W4 office with feel-good posters. Next to the espresso machine: "Do what you love and love who you do it for, and the rest will come naturally." Make passion your baseline. There's a vast amount of grind in creating a start-up. Inevitably, there are phases crammed with intimidating challenges and choices, doubts, exhaustion and feeling frankly fed up. Trust your intuition: gauge the passion factor every step of the way and it will guide you through the bleakest moments.
3) Create a strong, supportive network
There's no such thing as individual success. Surround yourself with a supportive network -- of friends, family, team members, investors, mentors, advisors, role models -- people on whom you can rely for advice, resources, constructive criticism and support. As you take the first steps towards your vision, you'll meet powerful naysayers -- and there are plenty more along the way. What makes your entrepreneurial adventure meaningful, gratifying and ultimately successful is the people you share it with. They can coach you and help you to be your own best ally. They can inspire in you the strength to remain Chief Believer when the ride gets rough.
4) Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint
When I set out on my entrepreneurial journey three years ago, my work was dramatically all-consuming. I was soon struck by the imperative to pace myself. As in running a marathon or mountain-climbing, the importance of pacing oneself cannot be overstated. Burn-out lurks around the corner. There's great truth to the saying, "Patience is the supreme art." Or, as I've come to redefine it: there are different shades of impatience, so embrace constructive, creative impatience. Don't dwell on the distance ahead, but instead acknowledge your accomplishments, persevere, keep moving steadily forward.
5) Mentor and be mentored!
At a recent conference about female social entrepreneurship in Europe, one of the female participants exclaimed, "I need to know that there's another generation of women coming up behind me -- mentoring is important!" There's a dearth of women in tech and a pile of obstacles facing female entrepreneurs. Women are underrepresented in corporate leadership. And yet, meanwhile, the correlation between women's empowerment and sustainable socioeconomic progress across the world has been proven. Everyone should be passionate about helping other women up the economic, corporate and entrepreneurial ladder!
Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke is Founder & Managing Director of W4 (Women's WorldWide Web), a crowdfunding platform dedicated to girls' and women's empowerment around the world.
Lindsey was recently named as one of the fifty most inspiring women in the European technology sector by Inspiring Fifty. Inspiring Fifty is a pan-European programme that identifies, encourages, develops and showcases women in leadership positions within the technology community. The aim is to inspire a new generation of female leaders and entrepreneurs across Europe and indeed worldwide, leading the charge to affect meaningful and durable change.
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