By Chiara Condi, President, HERA France
I often recount that when I started HERA France I incorrectly believed that I did not know a single woman around me who had been a victim of violence. Now I can firmly say I know many. And I am not speaking of the women who are enrolled in my program, but of the countless women who have told me what they have lived through, confided their past hardships, and many others who have just wanted to say “thank you” because the sad statistical reality is that too many women around us continue to be affected by the subject. I have reluctantly accepted those “thank yous,” often wondering what they are really thanking me for, after all I am not helping them directly and I am not saving women from violence or hardship. I am actually somewhat embarrassed to receive those “thank-yous” because I am not on the frontline of the battle against violence--far from it.
All the work my organization does to help women who have been victims of violence, trafficking and other forms of exploitation comes much later. Women are oriented towards us by those charities that carry out the front line work once they have sufficiently put their past behind them so that they can begin to look forward. And then what do I do? I give them lots of coaching, mentoring, and courses. I thought it was somewhat pretentious for me to receive their gratitude when, as I see it, I do not do anything other than give them the tools they will need to fight the long uphill battle of entrepreneurship, furthermore in a country (France) where the word has not yet shed its pejorative Anglosaxon connotations. It will be the women themselves after all who will have to haul this weight up the mountain walking along the thin edges that surround the precipice of failure. And throughout that process, I—along with the business school professors and coaches--will be merely a spectator.
Which brings me to my initial motive for leveraging business schools and professionals to render entrepreneurship accessible to this particular group of women given that it is not the first and foremost “need” that comes to mind when this particular public is evoked. While there are (thankfully I should add) plenty of resources allocated by the state for saving victims, what is available for reconstructing them? The answer sadly is that today very little (and realistically the state alone cannot afford to go that far).
Of course rescuing victims is and should be a priority. But once the victim is saved she also needs to somehow be reinserted. This is why we have asked the private sector to join us in taking the risk to transform survivors. Together we believe that these women need more than to survive and they need more than to be reintegrated; they need to be able to thrive. They deserve more than a chance to be assisted. They should be given a chance to be able to provide for themselves and why not even to become successful in doing so. Helping them take ownership of that right to pursue their own happiness through an ambitious life project is a way of restoring them with the basic human right to dream. Perhaps a few of them will become successful entrepreneurs while others will follow other paths, but at the very least for all of these women we will have opened the window of opportunity to a previously unimaginable future that is their own. We hope that equipped with new self-confidence and skills many will take the plunge of capitalizing on their own resilience to create and innovate. But at least we are sure that for every woman who goes through the program, even opening that little window to the world of possibilities is at the very least life-changing.
If you want to learn more about how HERA France is helping women victims of violence, trafficking and exploitation become entrepreneurs, check out our website. http://herafrance.org/website/about-us-the-hera-france-program.html
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