This year, we celebrated International Women’s Day differently. To accommodate government regulations concerning COVID-19, Artistri Sud held our annual event, Challenging Business as Usual: Women Entrepreneurs Leading Change, on a digital platform. For the first time ever, our supporters could engage directly with some of our top graduates from the ASSET, Leadership and TTT programs– Oliva from Ecuador and Phan Ta May from Vietnam– and learn how they overcome challenges and prejudices in a male dominated world. Participants also had the opportunity to interact with our lead trainers, Fred and Kristina, as well get updated on the latest Artistri Sud impact report presented by our Executive Director and CEO, Dr. Jennifer Lonergan.

Ecuador: Fred and Oliva

The conversation on Oliva was led and translated by our master trainer Fred Schick. Fred spearheaded Artistri Sud’s 2019 ASSET and Leadership workshop in Ecuador, personally overseeing the success of his graduates, including Oliva. 


As a man working for women’s empowerment, Fred is an anomaly of sorts. He commented, “My place as a man affords me many privileges. I am here to give the best of myself, to facilitate the exchange of ideas to guide participants towards proper solutions. Women’s empowerment is a struggle that is very important to me, equality in society is a goal we all should strive towards.” Indeed the fight for women’s equality depends on the joint cooperation and awareness of men and women. Fred recognises that women’s economic prosperity is not just a women’s issue, but a societal one; women’s economic emancipation benefits not only women, but society as a whole.


Fred’s top graduate, Oliva, then took the floor to answer some questions about her business and personal challenges. Oliva comes from a rural community in a southern province which specialises in hat-making. She has incredible talent that has been passed down through her family for generations, combining traditional elements with current trends to create unique and innovative designs for her hats. But despite her talent, Oliva’s business success was limited by her lack of commercial security; she was selling her hats not to the market, but to a middle man who would only accept minimal prices for her high quality goods.


After completing the ASSET training in 2019, Oliva changed her approach to her business. She learnt how to appreciate her work and not undervalue her business by selling at low prices. Now, Oliva does not answer to any middle man, but sells her hats directly to the market at a better prices. She has taken control of her own business and cut all ties of dependency. 

When asked what empowerment means to her, Oliva responded, “It means persevering, knowing what you want to do and fighting for what you want. It means going all the way and not giving up.” The struggle for women’s equality is not easy, and takes determination and courage to see it all the way through. Oliva’s business journey will not end here, but marks only the beginning, and we hope to see more great things from her!

Vietnamese woman learning colour theory

Vietnam: Kristina and Phan Ta May

Next, our master trainer in charge of our operations in Vietnam, Kristina Babic, interviewed her graduate Phan Ta May. When Kristina moved to Vietnam five years ago, she discovered that despite the strength of Vietnamese women and their lead role in the family business, the household and income decision-making was dominated by men. For women from ethnic minorities, this financial oppression is coupled with other challenges, making it hard for marginalised women to realise their full potential. So, despite the disruptions during the onset of COVID, Kristina designed the 2020 Vietnam program that would target financial empowerment for women from ethnic minorities, including the Red Dao minority where our top graduate Phan Ta May comes from, as well as raise awareness about women’s rights.

Phan Ta May

May is our first ever Vietnamese graduate from Artistri Sud’s Train-the-Trainer program, and excelled with flying colours. She described the challenges of being a woman in her community: the inaccessibility of education to women, illiteracy and an expectation to take care of all the household chores. These barriers make it extremely difficult for women to build businesses and obtain financial independence. Consequently, the TTT’s lessons on communication and understanding the customer’s needs were especially helpful to May and her textile business. She applied the skills she learnt to expand her business enormously, reporting an 67% increase in income. 

After her training, May ran her very own workshop to share her newly found knowledge with other women in the community, spreading the empowerment message and equipping more women with business tactics. The importance of sharing knowledge, building solitary and awareness around women’s rights cannot be understated; it accelerates empowerment and the likelihood of women exercising leadership roles in their households, businesses and communities.

When asked what empowerment meant to her, May replied,”it means the right to do everything we want, without being controlled by someone else.” A precondition for female business empowerment is the ability to take control of one’s own life, as May has done.

Impact Report

Dr Jennifer Lonergan, our Executive Director, then presented both our economic and empowerment impact results from 2013-9.

Economic Impact

  • Artistri Sud trained over 500 women in 8 countries and 3 continents
  • ¾  of our graduates reported an increase in incomes by 94%
  • 63% of graduates improved their housing conditions, with 30% becoming homeowners in their own right
  • 61% created or increased their savings by an average of 12% annually
  • 41% provided employment for an average of 2-3 other individuals in the community

Empowerment Impact

Our empowerment impact is calculated by active mentorship, involvement in the community, and the participant’s belief that they can bring about meaningful change in their lives.


  • 74% of graduates became active in their communities– activity is measured by a graduates’ leadership roles in local groups and organisations
  • 65% increased influence over household spending and decision making
  • 93% mentor other women in their communities
  • 95% are more confidence

COVID-19 Report


Ecuador 2019-2020

Vietnam 2019-2020

45 women trained, reporting 48% increased income

80 women trained, reporting 183% increase in incomes

86% mentored others and shared knowledge learned

85% mentored others and shared knowledge learned

96% believe they can make changes in areas that are important to them 

74% believe they can make changes in areas that are important to them

62% saved money during the year

81% saved money during the year

Because of your support, women like Oliva and May are still earning sustainable income from their businesses during the pandemic, enabling them to support themselves and their families during this unprecedented crisis. Artistri Sud has continued to survive if not flourish during COVID-19 crisis, and with your generous support we can ensure that even more women receive the business education they deserve.

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