She’s Next Empowered by Visa – Global Mission to Drive Women Entrepreneurship in Armenia

02.04.2024 | 15:12 Home / News / Articles / talked to Diana Kiguradze, Visa Regional Manager for the Caucasus region.

- Dear Diana, you represent a global leader in digital payments – Visa, as Regional Manager for the Caucasus region. We recognize and appreciate the numerous innovative payment technologies you've implemented in Armenia through partnerships with various financial institutions. Your distinguished efforts have significantly advanced digital payments in our country. We recently learned that Visa launched the global campaign in Armenia to empower women entrepreneurs, and dedicated special event -  can you please tell us more about it?

Visa has been present in Armenia for  more than 20 years, catalyzing the process of payment innovation and digital transformation in the country. We partner with Armenian financial institutions, the government, and the Central Bank, paving the way for the country’s cashless future. But there is more to Visa’s activities than simply introducing payment technologies. In every market we operate in, including Armenia, we use our vast resources to advance our mission - to empower the underserved and drive financial inclusion.

One of our strategic goals is to support women funding, running, and growing small businesses. Through our global She’s Next initiative, which this year we launched in Armenia, we provide female entrepreneurs with skills, trainings, funding opportunities, and inspiration to start or expand their enterprises. I believe that the campaign’s kick-off will be a game-changer for Armenian female leaders. To mark the launch, we hosted the panel discussion on female entrepreneurship in Armenia together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Armenia, one of our strategic partners that shares Visa’s commitment to supporting SMEs and female entrepreneurs. In organizing this event, we strived to initiate a broad conversation on women's economic advancement, draw public attention to the topic, facilitate networking between female entrepreneurs, and share expertise, tools, and resources that help empower more women across the country.

- What opportunities are offered to female entrepreneurs, within She’s Next, specifically in the Caucasian region?

- At Visa, we direct our efforts toward empowering small businesses as the backbone of local economies around the world, the biggest employers, job creators, and contributors to the national GDP. At the same time, we believe in the importance of gender inclusion since women’s equal participation in society and the economy guarantees balanced and rational management of vital issues.

Combining our two imperatives - uplifting SMEs and advancing women’s participation in the economy - the She’s Next Empowered by Visa initiative was launched in the US in 2019. Subsequently, it was expanded to different countries, helping dozens of thousands of female small business owners gain knowledge and skills, attract investment, find inspiration, and overcome internal barriers and fears.

The She's Next campaign has already been rolled out in several countries in our CISSEE regional cluster: Georgia, Ukraine, Central Asia, Serbia, Moldova etc., and I am happy that this year Armenia joins this list.

I am confident that the campaign will help Armenian businesswomen reach new heights. In neighboring Georgia, where the initiative has been active since 2020, it has shown impressive results. As of now, we have introduced four initiative’s waves there. In the latest fourth wave, we conducted a business idea pitch contest that gathered over 1000 applications and offered the three winners a monetary prize, mentoring sessions for the successful launch of their businesses. Over these years, the She’s Next network for women entrepreneurs in Georgia has grown to more than 2000 members.

However, we constantly strive to improve what we are doing to give entrepreneurial women even more resources to succeed. Thus, in 2022, we partnered with the Emerging Europe think tank to conduct research into female leadership and entrepreneurship in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus to understand the struggles and challenges faced by women as they pursue their careers and better cater to their needs.

Based on the results of research, in 2023, we, together with Emerging Europe, developed a new digital product for female entrepreneurs of the CISSEE region—the She’s Next digital community platform that connects businesswomen from different countries and facilitates networking, exchanging experiences, and international business expansion. The platform offers various educational opportunities, including one-to-one mentorship sessions, which I personally conducted, giving female entrepreneurs professional advice and helping them uncover their potential and find new business perspectives.

- You’ve mentioned the research among female entrepreneurs in Armenia to better understand their needs and experiences. What are the main insights of that research? What are the key findings?

- The research in partnership with Emerging Europe highlighted that Armenian female entrepreneurs mostly operate independently and tend to gain knowledge in obtaining additional financing.

In starting a business, Armenian women are predominantly driven by aspiration for financial and professional independence, with 58% of respondents naming the desire to earn more as their main motivation source, however, women-owned businesses in Armenia struggle to raise funding and survive competition. Respondents said that the biggest challenge of setting up and running a business in their country was obtaining investments, high competition and building teams. Furthermore, digital marketing, managing social networks, e-commerce, online operation and strategic management are also seen as crucial skills for respondents.  

This study results will constitute the basis for planning future Visa's activities in support of women's entrepreneurship in Armenia, helping us to understand the needs and struggles of the local audience.

- The digital community platform – what is this and how it helps entrepreneurs to connect?

- In conducting our research on female entrepreneurship in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus in partnership with Emerging Europe, we noted an interesting detail: 85% of women entrepreneurs in the region are ready to be part of an international community where they can share their experiences with other women leaders. That is why, in 2023, we created the She’s Next digital community platform for women entrepreneurs in partnership with Emerging Europe to help them network, share experiences, and expand their businesses within the region. The platform is open to everyone who is interested in entrepreneurship, from those who have a business idea but no existing business to startup owners and women who run well-established businesses.

The She’s Next digital community platform consists of two parts. First, there is a She's Next Empowered by Visa website featuring helpful content for women entrepreneurs (mostly in English). Here, users can find entrepreneurial success stories, inspirational videos, educational webinars, analytical articles, interviews, business tips, etc.

The digital community platform itself is accessible only to registered users. It is a professional social network that has all the relevant features - a newsfeed, interest groups, and tools for posting and messaging - and will allow female leaders and entrepreneurs to communicate, search for business contacts, suppliers, or investors, develop their personal brand, or become a mentor or a mentee. All new members have an opportunity to communicate with a community manager who will help them navigate the platform, find interest groups, and make acquaintances, as well as share links to useful materials, making their presence on the platform as useful as possible. I believe the She’s Next digital community platform will be a real game-changer for female entrepreneurs from Armenia and help them connect with like-minded ambitious women from other countries.

- As female entrepreneurship is developing globally and Armenia is not an exception here - what are the next opportunities you would suggest Armenian market?

- As a global company deeply rooted in local efforts, Visa remains committed to our mission to uplift local communities and underserved individuals. In compliance with our strategic priorities, we will continue to drive financial inclusion in Armenia and digitally empower small businesses by introducing cutting-edge payment technologies to the Armenian market.

The kick-off of the She’s Next initiative in the country marks the acceleration of our efforts to champion women’s economic advancement. We are working to address the needs of Armenian female entrepreneurs revealed by our female entrepreneurship research and provide them with all the necessary tools and skills to start or expand their businesses.
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