Reflections on DWEN Girls Track & Its Impact on Young Entrepreneurs

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“I want to take the skills I have learned and open my new business.”

These are the words of 14-year-old Zahrah Alias from South Africa, said with a big smile. Zahrah was one of 19 girls from South Africa, the U.S. and Australia who attended Girls Track, part of the 2016 Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) Summit that took place June 27-28 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Participants in the Girls Track at Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN)

For seven years, the DWEN annual summit has brought together a vibrant community of like-minded women business owners and mentors in one room at one time—for the opportunity to learn, do business and share experiences. The DWEN Girls Track, which takes place at the summit, is designed to give young girls from around the world the skills they need to put their entrepreneurial ideas into action.

While the adult professionals at DWEN gathered together to talk about their businesses and to network, budding entrepreneurs ages 11 to 17 did the same—but in ways tailored to these young ladies with big ideas. I was fortunate to experience the power of this collaboration first hand this year, as part of my role on Dell’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team. 

The CSR team, and all of Dell, is focused on putting Dell’s technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet. As someone who cares passionately about the state of women and girls today, and a mom of a tween girl, when I was asked to run the Girls Track this year, I jumped at the opportunity. I believe that what we teach girls at Girls Track—and how—is pretty special.

As DWEN aims to connect female entrepreneurs with networks, sources of capital, knowledge and technology, the Girls Track is investing in girls so that their path to entrepreneurship can be a guided one. Dell also incorporates technology skills, like web design, into the Girls Track programming.

 Photo and quote from Cynthia Hass, a DWEN Girls Track facilitator

Girls Track participants joined the adult attendees during keynote speeches at DWEN, but also had their own exclusive breakout sessions where they focused on key business topics such as how to go from an idea to a business plan, goal setting, budgeting and more.

Nihita Sarma, one of our youngest participants, came to Girls Track with the idea to build a watch that helps Alzheimer’s patients and caretakers track and keep record of the patient’s location and needs. She was already working on her own website but was excited to learn more about web design at Girls Track.  Now that she has attended, Nihita is excited to continue working on her product and she can stay connected to the Dell DWEN/Girls Track network for continued support.

In a pre-event survey, most girls had expressed a fear of public speaking. By working with a partner on their business plans, completing group exercises and speaking in front of the group multiple times—these girls definitely honed their business skills and faced their fears.

A few parents came up to me at the end of the first day to say they could already see an increased level of confidence in their daughters. It was a remarkable thing to witness.

Cynthia Hass, a Girls Track facilitator, captured our goals for this Summit well in this featured video about the summit. Hass is a former UN Girl Up Youth Champion and founder of H IMPACT. She travels frequently talking to girls across the globe about finding their voice and purpose.

“I want them to always remember that part of them that understands that they can own their own voice, they can own their own company and in turn—when they do that—they can own their future, their destiny or whatever they want,” Hass says in the video.

What excites me the most about Girls Track this year is how we designed it to bring long-term, positive impact. In the inspiring setting of South Africa—where entrepreneurship and innovation are leading the way to change—we asked our participants to work on business plans for eight local Cape Town entrepreneurs, and one U.S.-based business.

This meant the girls were able to work on a diverse set of business strategies—from a paper recycling company aiming to expand operations to a small travel agency in search of international customers. The marketing challenges, different customer segments and operational challenges of each Cape Town business gave the girls plenty to think about.

The girls’ strategies and recommendations are now being shared with these local entrepreneurs. At the end of the conference, two teams of girls were selected to pitch their business recommendations in front of the entire DWEN delegation. Each team won a Dell Inspiron laptop for themselves and the owners of the Cape Town businesses. These teams were also awarded a working website for each business, developed by a Dell Youth Learning partner based in Johannesburg, Sci Bono

Thanks to their hard work at Girls Track, these girls left knowing they made a positive impact on the local Cape Town community—and with training they can now use to start their own business, non-profit, school club or whatever comes of their newly inspired enthusiasm. 

I love what Girls Track participant Nihita said in the featured video:

“If all girls were inventing things and doing things, this world would be in a much better place.”

We couldn’t agree more. I am excited to follow along and see how the DWEN Girls Track participants embrace what they have learned and build their futures.

Learn more about the seventh annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Summit in Cape Town, Africa where we announced the findings of a new study on women’s entrepreneurship.

Dell is committed to using technology to improve the lives of young people. Learn more at dell.com/youthlearning

To learn about other ways Dell’s Legacy of Good goals are paying off for our communities, customers and the planet, visit www.dell.com/legacyofgoodupdate.

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