Small business enterprise project for HIV-positive women

Monday, July 26 2010

August 20, 2007

Colombo - To help women living with HIV lead a life of dignity and economic independence, the UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme and Thailand’s Population and Community Development Association (PDA) have launched a “Women and Wealth Project (WWP)” in Cambodia, China and India.

Under this project, groups of women living with HIV run small, market-savvy social enterprises, with technical and marketing support from PDA, UNDP, international agencies, and the private sector. PDA provided the HIV positive women with business management training to assist them in developing business plans before establishing their specific enterprises.

“Access to credit is a human right, as is the right for women living with HIV to be economically secure and independent. The beauty of this project is the economic empowerment it provides for the women, individually and collectively, and using a new and fresh approach through the strategy of business to provide them with business skills that they can use in overcoming the barriers associated with living with HIV.” said Mr. Mechai Viravaidya, Founder and Chairman of PDA. “As I have often said, to combat the issue of HIV we all must think out of the box.”

As part of WWP, the Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (CCW) of the Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS Network (CPN+) has set up a garment manufacturing business called “Modern Dress Sewing Factory” (MDSF) employing 30 HIV positive women. In India, the Positive Women Network (PWN+) has established a conceptual design and printing business called “Social Light Communications” (SLC) employing 2 HIV positive women and 2 men. In China, Colorful Clouds Yunnan, a female wing of AIDS Care China - a network of people living with HIV - has set up “Positive Candle Works,” (PCW) a 100% beeswax candle manufacturing factory employing 4 women.

Each business will be marketed under the common “WE” brand (Women Empowered), with the aim to gain market access for their products and services both locally and internationally.

“This project is a demonstration that we can be economically independent if given a level playing field and a little support. We would request private sector companies to extend preferential trade offers with us,” said Ms. Srim Phan of MDSF. “Our main appeal is to garment exporters and importers, and apparel industries,” she adds.

“We are not looking for charity, but partnerships for empowerment. If we can access even a miniscule fraction of the market, it can make a big difference to our lives,” said Ms. P. Kousalya, Client Services Manager for SLC and President of PWN+.

“The process of learning news skills and working together with groups of HIV positive women in other countries is very powerful and empowering. WWP has helped us regain self-confidence and dignity, which were shattered after the diagnosis of HIV infection,” said Ms. Li of Colorful Clouds Yunnan.

Besides providing regular income and greater economic security for women living with HIV, this project is also focused on establishing a sustainable socially focused business. The WWP also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, improving self-esteem and camaraderie among the women, and ensuring ARV adherence. For example, in Cambodia, all the employees of MDSF are on ARV and the new safe working environment allows them to support each other and take their ARV together.

When each business is generating sufficient revenue, the net profits will be pooled into initiating a micro-credit program specifically designed for people living with HIV and based on PDA’s “Positive Partnership Project (PPP).” The PPP was devised by PDA and has been highly successful in Thailand in providing economic opportunities for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS. It is economic empowerment as a means to reducing stigma and discrimination. The PPP has been selected for the 2007 UNAIDS Best Practice publication series.

“In a rapidly feminizing epidemic, the socio-economic independence of women is essential – it enables women to cope with the devastating impact of the epidemic on their family life and sources of livelihood. Smart skills and regular incomes can reduce situations of HIV-vulnerability and helps positive women live with dignity and security,” said Ms. Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/AIDS Team Leader and Programme Coordinator, UNDP Regional HIV and Development Programme.

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