The frontwoman

FACTBOX

Meet Caterina Meloni, founder of Connecting Founders (connectingfounders.com, fb.com/ConnectingFounders), a Bangkok-based organisation focused on promoting women-led businesses in Southeast Asia. With experience in development finance for SMEs, she interviews businesswomen and organises events driven by the women-supporting-women movement that aim to inspire female entrepreneurs.

Tell us about your projects.

We run a photojournalism initiative and the “Women in Business” series. Through our photojournalism series with Colouringpaper, a Bangkok-based film photographer, we tell the stories of how female founders have launched and built their businesses so that their experiences can inspire others and nurture the next generation of women entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia. We have featured over 20 so far. Once we reach 100 stories, we plan to turn it into a book to pack all this wisdom and lessons learned into one source. With the “Women in Business” series, we’ve joined hands with the US Embassy and Moxy to create a space where women entrepreneurs can share experiences, learn from each other and build valuable connections. We have structured it in such a way to have events of a manageable size, where people feel comfortable sharing their personal stories and asking questions.

What are some of the common struggles women face as entrepreneurs in Thailand?

Thailand has a very dynamic women-led business sector, with the number of men and women entrepreneurs being roughly equal, according to data provided by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Although men and women entrepreneurs face similar issues in launching and managing their businesses, women have an extra set of “soft barriers” to deal with, that are grounded in society’s conscious or unconscious gender biases. In my interviews with female founders, I often hear about the challenges of being taken seriously, particularly in traditionally male sectors including banks, and the challenge of enforcing authority on male staff, suppliers and contractors. [And] those that have families tend to shoulder primary responsibility when it comes to the household and children. Inevitably, this means they have less time to dedicate to their businesses and as a result might grow more slowly.

Are you a feminist?

Absolutely. Feminism is about reaching political, economic and social equality between men and women, so I think it’s just common sense and everyone should be a feminist. Somehow it got a bad rep and it became associated with man-hating, but that’s just a misrepresentation. Real feminism is none of that. It just means real equality, not only on paper but also in everyday life. For example, our events are focused on women entrepreneurs and we only have female speakers. This is not because we promote an “us versus them” approach; it is simply because we believe that women entrepreneurs bring a specific perspective and might experience certain things differently than men entrepreneurs or face gender-specific challenges.

Are there any business sectors in which you’d like to see more women participate?

I am a big supporter of diversity across the board in any sector and industry. I think it’s really important to have more women in Stem (science, technology, economics and maths), where they are way underrepresented. It’s important that these fields are diverse and incorporate women’s perspectives so they can come up with solutions that work better for everyone.

Who inspires you?

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook and the author of Lean In. She is by far my number one role model and source of inspiration. When she started speaking up on gender inequalities and pushing for women to support each other more [in her 2010 Ted talk], she had already “made it”. She was number two at Facebook, had achieved financial and professional success, was well respected and admired. She decided to put everything on the line to speak up for other women and in doing so created a movement that resonated with millions of women and spelled out what so many felt, but were afraid to articulate.

Can you recommend a good book for entrepreneurs?

I found Louder Than Words by Henry Todd enlightening and extremely useful. It’s about finding your own voice, what makes you different and having the courage to offend. If you want to do something unique, you can’t expect to please everybody, and you need to be able to accept that and let go of your fear of rejection.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

I love what I do and I believe in it. Every week I interview at least one female founder and that’s incredibly inspiring and energising, not to mention educational. These are incredible stories of passion, determination, resilience, creativity and great courage. Each and every time I learn something new, whether it’s about running a factory, raising bees or making novelty cakes. And their passion is contagious.

When is your next event?

Our third “Women in Business” event is on Dec 17, and it will discuss business failure with three female founders, why it happened and what they have learned from it. We are going to have monthly events through March, and each will cover a different topic. Visit http://tinyurl.com/qxpbur2.

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