Friday, April 9, 2010

Are female inmates entrepreneurial?




















There's been a bit of research done on male inmates and their capacity for entrepreneurship.  As I wrote in a recent post, many of these guys got incarcerated bc they were entrepreneurs. They just happened to be entrepreneurs in illegal businesses like selling drugs or stolen goods.

This morning I attended a meeting at UofR with reps from a Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP)  in Texas, the Cornell Prisoner Education Program, and the social services sector in Rochester. First, let me say that I am so inspired by the work of everyone involved here. Especially the ex-cons-turned-entrepreneurs who shared some incredible stories ("Thank you for convicting me - it saved my life.").

Second, let me say that I'm disappointed that no one there knew of work being done with female inmates and entrepreneurship. Perhaps we assume that women don't have the same capacity for entrepreneurship as men. Or maybe the problem is not that the inmates are female. Maybe we assume that women born into poverty aren't entrepreneurial. But these assumptions are tragic. They're tragic because more and more start-ups are being founded by women, aren't they? And more and more women are gaining more powerful positions in business. And more and more funding is becoming available for women-owned businesses.

In fact, women who are born into poverty ARE entrepreneurial. When we look at micro-loans that are granted by Grameen bank, about 97% of the money goes to women. Sure, initially these women were insecure about starting a business ("I can't start a business, my husband always handles the money"), but with a little encouragement the women got over their fears. Interesting fact: it used to be that Grameen gave loans to more men, but when the money went to the men, it disappeared. When the money went to the women, the kids gained weight. Go figure.

Not only are women entrepreneurial but, I'd argue, they are more inclined to think about the long term impacts of a successful business (such as the health of their children and community). And we've one of the largest correctional facilities for women just an hour west of RIT.

Where do we begin?

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