Qi meets Dr. Sarah Mavrinac, President of aidha, the world's micro business school that nurtures the entrepreneurial talent of Asia’s migrant women.
Written by Sarah Mavrinac, Packaged by Wang Lin
You see them everywhere. Or perhaps you don’t. They mop the floors of our luxury homes. They assemble toys on our factory floors. They trundle laundry carts down our hotel hallways. They come from India and Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Thailand, China, Nepal, and the Philippines. They are factory workers, retail clerks, maids, and waitresses.
They are Asia’s migrant women, and we believe they are a dawning force in the world’s war on poverty.
At aidha, we believe in women. We believe especially in the strength and capability of migrant women. I see daily the promise of Asia’s migrants and I know firsthand the positive change that they can create. I am the founder of aidha, a Singapore-based social enterprise that aspires to be the world’s micro-business school. Through our innovative, scalable programmes, aidha grows entrepreneurs.
"We foster life skills in budgeting, planning, and business management. Because of our courses, our students transform their world. They save, they invest-in cows, education, new homes, and businesses. They build lives, and the small businesses that will spark economic change and development. They are power."
aidha is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘inspiration’. Truly, our students are. With support, they, and the millions of other hopeful, working poor, will change the world.
There is no question that those most committed to ending poverty are those who live with it. In leaving their children and homes behind, the world’s migrant women illustrate just how much they are willing to sacrifice, just how much they will give. With their work and remittances, they illustrate still more. Migrant remittances to the developing world now top over US$300 billion. That is a staggering sum, outweighing by far any foreign direct investment or charitable aid. With these remittances, they combat their poverty. But with more skills, and with savings and the productive investments that ensure business growth, they can and will be triumphant.
aidha is all about nurturing champions. And, we believe that aidha’s students are among the most daring, capable women that the migrant community has to offer. They are the ones who step up eagerly to the learning, the saving, and the growth. They are exceptional talent drawn from an already notable pool. Migration exerts a profound selection force. It is not typically the village idiot who is sent out to champion the family. It is the individual with courage, who dares to explore, who dares to adapt, who can quickly learn-new languages, new skills, new cultures and ways of being. There are now some 200 million migrants in the world. Half are women and they are undeniably a force for change.
WE ARE COMMITTED
Part of their power is rooted in their tenacity. aidha students are hopeful and hardworking. That tenacity is honed in part from their experiences with poverty - from surviving on $2 a day. But the tenacity also results from their hope for more: to love, to marry, and to grow a family which prospers. These are simple aspirations, but a challenge nonetheless for those who live in poverty. If they love, they must leave. There are no jobs for them at home. If they have hopes for their family, if they have dreams for their children, they will board a plane. To work, earn, remit. Work, earn, remit. Work, earn, remit.
They will need every bit of that tenacity, and every bit of their courage, while abroad. The risks migrant women take are terrifying. Migrant women, especially domestic workers and entertainers, are often isolated from community support, subjected to the behind-closed-door rules of their employers. Cut off from information networks and social support systems that male migrants, who often work collectively, can tap for help, these women must fend for themselves. Their ‘individualized’ work environments leave women perilously vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse. I hear constantly of too little food, too little rest, eighteen hour work days. More than 50% of the domestic workers employed in Singapore have no day off at all. Still more have their passports taken from. They experience ridicule. There is verbal and emotional abuse. They sleep on the floor because no bed is provided or on the floor of the bathroom. For nine years. Locked in. There is slapping, burning, beating. Enough.
A rock or a hard place: poverty or migration? Really, could there be anyone who has a greater stake in eradicating poverty than these women who come from generations of desperation? If not for themselves, I know they are working for their children.
Continue. Please see Part 2.
About Sarah Mavrinac
Sarah is a Harvard-trained academic, social entrepreneur, and committed advocate of financial education. She first became involved in the financial education community in Asia while a professor at INSEAD where she served as academic sponsor of both the INSEAD Women’s Forum and the Citigroup/INSEAD Financial Education Summits in 2004 and 2005. She also served as founder and Executive Director of the Citigroup/INSEAD Financial Education Exchange, an on-line learning platform for financial educators. In December 2006, Dr. Mavrinac left her academic career to launch and assume the presidency of aidha, a Singapore-based, social enterprise dedicated to 'enriching life choice through financial education'. Find out more at http://www.aidha.org
About Qi GLOBAL
Qi is a global network of innovators. We provide members a platform for cross-industry networking and collaboration. Innovation happens with the cross-pollination of knowledge from a range of industries. Based on this principle, Qi works to bring together corporate, community and creative sectors to generate new ideas for sustainable development in the following areas: Architecture & Urban Planning; Conservation & Wildlife; Energy & Technology; Fashion, Art & Design; Food, Health & Leisure; Leadership & Innovation; Impact Investment; Policy & Nation Development; Women’s Empowerment; and Youth Ambition & Education.
Every October, Qi hosts an annual meeting in Singapore, gathering business and community leaders from around the world. Contributors demonstrate how social innovation can impact and change lives and communities in Asia. Qi Global Pte. Ltd. is a Singapore-based social enterprise founded in 2009 whose vision is to create human progress in harmony with nature. Find out more at www.qi-global.com/conference