Peru GLADYSDAUGHTER TALIA
Gladys Yupanqui with her daughter, Talia
Features

Escaping Poverty Through Entrepreneurship: A Look into “She Rises Up”

One in every 10 women lives in extreme poverty. They’re missing access to basic human rights: food, water, shelter, health care – everything needed to survive. In many countries, gender discrimination prevents them from accessing education, securing employment and owning property or bank accounts. These systemic barriers perpetuate cycles of poverty.

And despite the circumstances, there are still stories of resilience. “She Rises Up” documents the journeys of three women fighting against the odds to build businesses and uplift their local communities. Directed by Maureen Castle Tusty and produced by Jim Tusty, founders of Sky Films, this documentary tells the stories of three women entrepreneurs: Gladys Yupanqui, Magatte Wade and Selyna Peiris.

We spoke to Maureen about “She Rises Up” to learn more about this compelling project and how readers can support female founders worldwide.

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What inspired She Rises Up?

Today, headlines are dominated by intense war, politics and climate change, while persistent, extreme poverty has lost the priority it should have. The barriers for women in these situations are getting even worse. We wanted to reignite some dialogue around this, as well as share what is working in these regions. The World Bank reports that a billion people came out of extreme poverty in just 25 years. That’s a very underreported ‘good-news’ story. 

How did this documentary happen? There are many reasons, but the one that we focus on in our film is the economic power of female entrepreneurs and how creating healthy environments for entrepreneurs allows them to transform their own communities as they see fit. McKinsey & Company has calculated that if women were to participate in the world economy to the same extent as men, they would add the equivalent of the combined economies of China and the U.S. to the world’s prosperity. 

So, we focus our film on three woman-owned and led businesses in Sri Lanka, Senegal and Peru. We get to know them and their families, following them over the course of two years as they navigate all of the challenges they face – and share in their triumphs.

The biggest challenge was that we started the film before COVID hit. That delayed us a year, and then serious civil unrest in Peru and Sri Lanka delayed us another six months after that. Because of those delays, She Rises Up took four years to produce.

How was the initial premiere in New York?

Last weekend’s opening night was sold out. Audiences reacted with 45 minutes of questions after the screening, and the discussion could have gone on much longer. We were inspired by the audience’s engagement. Magatte Wade from Senegal, one of the women we followed in the film, was even able to join us. It made for a very dynamic discussion – we had one of the people who is living this every day, on the front lines, so to speak.

Where can audiences watch the film?

We’re releasing the film in stages. She Rises Up is currently in its theatrical run, which will continue through the summer. We update the hosting cities on our website – you can check that out here. After that, we’ll be holding numerous event screenings across the country, at colleges, schools and other non-profit locations. We have 115 such screenings in line right now, and we expect to have 200-400 such screenings before we’re done. 

By the fall, we’ll also launch streaming events, where an organization can license the film for viewing by its members, employees or donors. We won’t release it on public platforms like Apple and Amazon for quite a while yet – we want to focus on screenings that generate discussion and thought about this topic. It’s not only about getting eyeballs to see this; it’s about the conversations.

If you want to book an event screening, you can go here.

Senegal Magatte with staff

Who are the three women featured in the film? How did you connect with them?

We researched stories in about 12 countries, talking with over 50 people from various think tanks and organizations working on the ground in their own countries. It’s very important to us to talk to those living and working directly in these communities: they know better than anyone what the issues are and the challenges they are working to solve. We wanted stories on different continents, and we wanted stories outside the big cities. We feel that people living in rural areas of developing countries are rarely seen or heard, so we wanted to give them a megaphone.

It was hard to select our three main entrepreneurs. In fact, we talked with many women and men in multiple countries. But it soon became clear that Gladys, Magatte and Selyna were the real frontline entrepreneurs living this every day, and they became the narrators. We filmed each of them on multiple trips over the course of two years.

What specific barriers do women face when starting a business in a developing country?

Nearly one-third of all countries have laws that stifle a woman’s access to work. They limit access to bank accounts, property inheritance and many types of jobs. Some of the restrictions are intended to “protect” women, though misguided, such as not being allowed to work after 7 p.m., the thought being safety. Sometimes, women are prohibited from working in specific industries, like heavy manufacturing… the thought being that women will get hurt. In other countries, women cannot take out a bank loan without their husband’s approval. We think it’s not coincidental that these countries have some of the highest poverty rates in the world.

How can women entrepreneurs “break their chains” and rise up against seemingly impossible circumstances?

Entrepreneurship and job creation are the catalyst for gaining your rights. Magatte, Gladys and Selyna, the women we follow in the film, show the real impact of entrepreneurs and the financial independence that job creation means for women. This branches out into the whole community and ultimately impacts regional poverty. They show us that there are talented entrepreneurs in every country – including developing areas. They are fully capable of getting themselves out of poverty… but there are often significant barriers in the way, especially for women. Our world could be much more prosperous if there was widespread respect for the economic rights of women.

What didn’t make the final cut that you’d want to mention?

We found a great story in Burundi, where non-profit think tank The Center for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes is carrying out a project called “FUNGUA NJIA,” which aims to reduce barriers to cross-border trade in Burundi. The target audience is made up of women traders who are forced to resort to cross-border trade on a daily basis – crossing borders – to feed their families. The excessive fees and checkpoints force many to cross illegally, often being abused when caught.

By improving the process for crossing the border to be affordable and only take an hour instead of all-day, the lives and safety of women traders have improved dramatically. Even a few seemingly simple policy changes can have a profound impact

We debated profiling a fourth woman. It was a very hard decision, but in the end, we decided it would be one story too many for our film.

What do you want our audience to take away from She Rises Up?

It’s local entrepreneurs, and not foreign aid, that are the key to women gaining financial rights and reducing poverty around the world.

Sri Lanka WOMENS MEETING

What’s one action item that readers can take right now to support the project?

We have several suggestions on our website here:

Is there anything else that you want to mention?

We are inspired by the women featured in our film: not just the entrepreneurs, but their employees as well. We believe anyone who watches She Rises Up will be inspired by them as well. I think you’ll fall in love with them as much as we have, and leave the theater rooting for them. You can find out more about them and where to see the film at SheRisesUpFilm.com.

About the author

Laura Grant

As Managing Editor of Lioness, Laura Grant works with the editorial team and a slew of freelancers and regular contributors to produce a publication that offers equal parts inspiration and information. Laura is a graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master's degree in Communications. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day. Before joining Lioness full-time, Laura was a freelancer herself and wrote many stories for the magazine.

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