AWE inspires Brazilian women entrepreneurs

How do women successfully launch their own businesses? Networking, financial education and a whole lot of confidence.

The Brazilian nonprofit Mais Unidos partnered with the U.S. government to help women in Brazil learn to finance, market, sell, plan and grow a business through a State Department program, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).

Launched in 2019, AWE provides women entrepreneurs knowledge, networks and access to launch or build their businesses. AWE has helped more than 15,000 women in 80 countries around the world start or grow businesses and adapt to new economic realities under COVID-19.

“All the content is aimed at the female audience, and the lectures and facilitations are also carried out by women,” said Sacha Senger, manager of the project at Mais Unidos. “We realized that the network created between them was something that also helped a lot in their development as entrepreneurs.”

Mais Unidos trained 90 women to succeed as entrepreneurs in 2021 and plans to launch a new course in 2022.

Below, five alumni of the 2021 program tell how AWE helped them.

Smiling woman sitting (Courtesy of Mangue Tecnologia)
Maria Josilene de Santana is the founder of Mangue Tecnologia and a specialist in innovation and technology. (Courtesy of Mangue Tecnologia)

Maria Josilene de Santana is no stranger to the difficulties of succeeding in the information technology (IT) sector. “I felt firsthand all the difficulties of being a Black, peripheral and northeastern woman in Brazil running a company in the field of information technology,” she said. During the AWE program, she learned how to face these challenges and grow her IT software company, Mangue Tecnologia. Her advice to other women entrepreneurs? “Don’t give up,” Santana says. “Don’t let yourself down. The challenges are exactly what make me a stronger entrepreneur for the battles that will arise.”

Woman standing with crossed arms (Courtesy of VirtuALL HRpartner)
Cleuza Souza founded VirtuALL HRpartner in 2018 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Courtesy of VirtuALL HRpartner)

Cleuza Souza started her own human resources and corporate management business, VirtuALL HRpartner, three years ago. She hoped AWE would help grow her business — and the experience paid off. “During the program, I gained more confidence,” Souza said. “As a collaborative network of amazing women was formed, we were learning together and supporting each other, and this strengthened us all.”

Woman sitting by computer monitor (Courtesy of Social Visão do Bem)
Ana Lucia B Santos started Social Visão do Bem to sell eyeglasses within the communities of Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy of Social Visão do Bem)

A former lawyer, Ana Lucia B Santos started her business, Social Visão do Bem, in Rio de Janeiro in 2017 to bring quality eye exams and vision care to underprivileged communities. Even though she saw the need for fast vision treatment — in a region where waiting for an ophthalmology exam can take up to nine months — she struggled with business management and Brazil’s business tax regulations. AWE gave her a path forward. Santos said in order to grow it is also necessary to prioritize networks of relationships. “Today, I see that sustainable and impactful growth for my business is feasible.”

Left photo: Display of products Right photo: Woman wearing chef's top and headdress (Courtesy of Free Soul Foods)
Maira da Costa, right, founded Free Soul Foods in São Paulo. (Courtesy of Free Soul Foods)

AWE showed Maira da Costa how to support her restaurant, Free Soul Foods, by building capital and working with other women entrepreneurs. “I noticed many strengths that I didn’t even recognize in myself,” she says. “I was able to deal better with the imposter syndrome and build such a powerful sales pitch that I was able to use it to negotiate with potential investors.”

Woman smiling by shelves of products (Courtesy of Viela Kids Decor)
Elaine V. Fossarti at her business, Viela Kids Decor. (Courtesy of Viela Kids Decor)

Elaine V. Fossarti redirected her beauty-product business to children’s clothing and women’s fashion with Viela Kids Decor but needed AWE’s help. “Entrepreneurship in Brazil is not easy,” she says. “There are many challenges, one of them being high taxes, in addition to prejudice and discrimination for being a Black woman.” AWE showed Fossarti how to understand her customers and be more attuned to the larger business market as a whole, an experience she describes as a “watershed experience.”