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IBM - Trestle Group Foundation: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Partnership Programme

Added on 22-03-2013





Business challenge

It is very challenging for women entrepreneurs in emerging countries to secure the support they need to develop the strategies, practices and networks to fulfil the potential of their businesses.

In parallel, IBM wanted to find challenging opportunities for women professionals to support their own skills development including entrepreneurship and to address the IBM diversity agenda, this includes business interest in the SME market.


Launched on International Women's Day 2007, the pilot phase involved two women entrepreneurs from South Africa and Russia with two IBM professionals in the same countries. The women participated in 22 coaching preparation sessions and the Global Summit of Women in Germany in June 2007.

The Partnership Programme is based on a one-to-one relationship approach which connects women and provides coaching, mentoring, support and role models for the entrepreneurs. The model provides a unique blend of coaching and additional support methods.

Key components of the Programme include:

  • Implementing an initiative that directly supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries to overcome the challenges that limit opportunities.
  • Matching IBM women professionals (usually in developed countries) with selected women entrepreneurs from developing countries.
  • Through coaching and mentoring, identifying and addressing the challenges that limit the woman entrepreneur's ability to grow a business.
  • Defining success that extends beyond the individual entrepreneur by ensuring a positive impact in the local community and country as well as the companies, organisations and individuals who participate in the programme (participating women entrepreneurs commit to giving back to their local communities by serving as role models and mentors to other aspiring women entrepreneurs).
  • Using the wider IBM community to resolve challenges identified through coaching relationships, a core team of 12 professionals across Europe volunteered to provide expertise when needed by women entrepreneurs.


  • Time pressures for both sides make committing to the relationship tough.
  • Identifying the right entrepreneur and IBM professional and getting the right fit in the coaching pair is critical to success.
  • Gaining commitment of entrepreneurs needs to be based on a complete understanding of the programme requirement.

Challenges/Lessons learned:

  • Plans for global implementation are raising the profile of work.
  • Very positive learning experience for the two IBM employees that participated.
  • The women entrepreneurs have reported an excellent learning experience: focusing on the bigger picture and strategic development for their business, giving them the confidence to make next step.

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