Elfi Koufogeorgou, Luxembourg
Fifth grade; I was the tall one in the class, with thick glasses and woolly hair.
Relatives and friends were bringing me gifts for school in holidays and birthdays: erasers, pencils, sharpeners, rulers. Some of them were used… as for the others, one day I thought to start selling them to my fellow students. One drachma, two drachmas, depending. Until, after a couple of times, my mother took notice and told me that it wasn’t right, how did you think of it, and don’t do that again. Not having much of an appearance back then (crazy hair and eyeglasses I’m telling you), I just had to do something… and I liked selling.
I remember showing the merchandise, persuading them of course it was brand new and never been used before, and also they would buy it from me much cheaper than they would find it in the shops. Today that I remember it and laugh, I wonder: was that the first sign of entrepreneurial activity? In fifth grade, I didn’t have a clue about the “black market” of course.
Years passed and the story was forgotten. Growing up, the word “entrepreneur” always had a negative ring to it. The “crook”, the “immoral”… Luckily, seeing, learning and living in an environment that supports businesses and innovative ideas, I learned that there is nothing wrong with setting up a small business. If your business also happens to have a social impact, in essence you help solving a problem that the government couldn’t solve, improving the living conditions of many people. This is called “social entrepreneurship” in English. Something else happened in Luxembourg though, that taught me that when women -and especially mothers- support one another, everything is possible. Even entrepreneurship.
I arrive late at the meeting. At the entrance of the building, some smiling girls offer to take my coat and lead me to the room where the talks would take place. Everywhere I look there are women of various ages and ethnicities, all sharing a common love for “female entrepreneurship”.
Today is the launching day of mumpreneurs. A group of women who are also mothers decided to create an organisation that will inspire, guide and support mums who already have or are willing to start their own business, their own small or big company.
What’s important is not formulas and theories, what’s important is to amplify the voice of women who for some reason decided to leave a secure and well-paid job and start their dream, setting their own course.
Most women I met that night had inspiring stories to tell. A divorced mother of three children used to work in some European Union institute. She had a steady job with a very good salary and several weeks of paid leave per year. One morning, she didn’t get up to go to work. She stayed motionless in bed. It was impossible for her to do otherwise. She was diagnosed with a burnout. And she was lucky it happened.
She is emotional when she tells me this was a wake up call that something isn’t right. I didn’t like my job, I didn’t like working 12-15 hours a day and not having time to see my children, I didn’t like living without having a life. I decided to resign and start what I always wanted to do. I was really scared, it was very difficult in the beginning, but I wouldn’t give up. Now she is successful in what she chose to do, she is happy, her life has a meaning and, doing what she likes, it’s as if she in not working.
You might say, in a world where everything changes so quickly, where everything is so fluid, who can think of creating her own business and how? That’s how mumpreneurs are trying to answer this question:
- They have a network of volunteers (lawyers, entrepreneurs, accountants, etc), giving advice to women who start their business activities and guiding them through their next steps.
- They organise seminars on subjects relating to entrepreneurship.
- They meet for coffee and networking.
- They support one another.
- They organise actions and other meeting in order to exchange experiences, opinions and advice.
- And of course they un-demonise female entrepreneurship. Even better if you are also a mum.
Their successful activity is enhanced by the fact that the government of Luxembourg has created a very supportive environment especially for female entrepreneurship, declaring plain and simple: Luxembourg wants more women entrepreneurs.
Procedures are much simpler, there is great guidance and support by institutions, easier funding and generally an environment which is supportive towards women. It was announced recently that there will be a co-working space for women, and especially mothers who want to start their own business. Right next to that there will be a child care centre, where they will be able to leave their kids while they work on their business plan.
There are also incubators in Luxembourg, organisations that will listen to your business idea, guide you and bring you in contact with people who can help you, as well as investors. Free of charge seminars and training, with the newly established House of Entrepreneurship being there to help you in your every step. And when we talk about entrepreneurs, don’t imagine multinational corporations; imagine mums who have a hobby, e.g. being fond of knitting.
They made a small company and helped older women to knit clothes and accessories for babies, or teaching knitting.
Some other women set up the first grocery shop without any plastic packaging (zero waste). Anything you buy is in reusable packaging, all materials are recyclable and no plastic can be found inside the store.
Most ideas started or took shape through meetings between women who talk about entrepreneurship. Mumpreneurs is a community of inspiration, solidarity and guidance, a space to exchange ideas, opinions and support.
Entrepreneurship is not easy and not for everybody. Anyone who wants to dare should get informed about action abroad. Surely there must be similar initiatives in Greece also; if not, there should be.
Mums in Greece, you all have a talent and at least one hobby. Now with the crisis it’s your opportunity to get organised and be creative. If mums in Luxembourg can do it, why not you?
P.S. As far as I know, there is HUB DOT ATHENS, a inspiring community for women through story telling. It’s worth discovering it!