Small Enterprise for Big Dreams: A Pilot Initiative to Turn Passion into Economic Progress for Young Women in Laos

A group of young women from Thasommor Village

By Muksin Straker Cook | July 2019

In Laos, women face disadvantages in accessing economic opportunities, as poverty and wellbeing are highly gendered and associated with ethnicity, cultural norms and geography. Women generally occupy the lower rungs of the labour market and are more often excluded from formal sectors and the social protection that this entails. This reality pushes women towards the informal sector for livelihood generation. The majority of small-scale informal businesses in Laos are operated by women. However, growth potential is often hindered by factors such as increases in rent for vendors and limited knowledge of business management, marketing, and financial planning.

Through a new pilot project, Small Enterprises for Big Dreams (SEBD), Oxfam in Laos and STELLA (Lao partner) will combine three proven methodologies; Gender Action Learning System (GALS), Saving for Change (SFC) and Enterprise Facilitation (EF), to establish innovative participatory training workshops on the various facets of building and operating a small-scale enterprise for young women in Laos. GALS to generate ideas; EF to manage businesses; SFC to fund them.

Passion to Progress

‘I would like to see stable income coming in’ says Ms. Maiphone, a 25-year-old farmer living in Thasommor, a village located in the outskirts of Vientiane Capital. Maiphone currently makes Lao Sinh (a traditional garment worn by Lao women) for clients to compliment what she earns through farming. She used to sell her garments at the local market, however with the rains affecting travel, she relies on customers coming to her.

‘I like to make Lao Sinhs’ Maiphone continues. ‘One of my ambitions is to create a modern style of the Lao traditional dress. However, I do not have the capital, and banks deny my request to loan money because of my current income.’

Promoting enterprise development amongst young women like Maiphone, is essential to improve their businesses and mitigate the struggles they face when striving to attain sufficient livelihoods to support themselves and their families.

In the initial phase of the project, the teams will identify through an open-participatory process, 30 young women who are passionate about creating products, marketing, financial management, and other business-related areas. These young women will then, over the course of one year actively build, with the knowledge gained from the capacity building workshops, a clear roadmap of how to develop their dream businesses. Ms. Palina Thongouthoum, Oxfam in Laos’ Programme Officer, is leading the project with support from STELLA.

'If I can participate in this workshop, I would be able to learn how to create a plan for my business, how to make connections and how to sell my products online' says Maiphone.

Kicking off in July 2019, Small Enterprise for Big Dreams aims to see 30 young women, armed with new skills and tools shift from marginal income generation to profitable businesses by June 2020. Stay tuned to see this transformation in progress!