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Naaree Interviews Marsha Gabriel, CEO, Helping Hand Network

The recent Women In Leadership Forum India 2011 in Mumbai, saw a number of inspiring women delegates and speakers, including social entrepreneur, Marsha Gabriel, CSI Advisor and CEO of the Helping Hand Network – also known as the “Oprah of South Africa.” reporter, Shilpa Sachdev, spoke to her about her entrepreneurial adventures.

Marsha Gabriel, CEO, Helping Hand NetworkWhen do you know that a business is no longer an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

It starts with an idea which you have to nurture, research, get advice and build the momentum. One must listen to their gut feeling and act in time because I believe that procrastination is the thief of time.

What inspired you to start on your own? How has the experience been so far?

I had to undergo a few surgeries and was declared unfit for the labour market. That is when I realised that this is not the end of life. In the days of affliction you also see a twinkle of the star.

I founded the CSI Business Congress nine years ago and in just five years of its running, I brought it to an unmatched position. The aim was to create capacity for women to rule even in the midst of limitation.

We train students to become entrepreneurs by giving them the knowledge and practical skills to create business initiatives.

What are some hurdles you faced initially when you started out? Your advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them.

Funding was difficult to come by in the beginning but I did not resolve to defeat. Instead, I created the ability to create projects that will generate funds. We shifted the dependence from temporary resources to sustainability.

Most women are uneducated and they cannot do anything not because of lack of funding but because of lack of awareness. They are intimidated by the documentation part.

Before starting out, can you give us a checklist of all the things that you need to keep in mind i.e apart from the great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

Association. Do not associate with people who are dream killers. Research, research and research. Exhaust every channel of funding – it is not really the problem.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you are starting out on your own? What value does a mentor bring to the table?

A mentor motivates and inspires. Mentorship gives you an edge, a fearless ability to do the impossible.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

I have always had a soft spot for women. In the second year of running, I had 42 women working for me all housewives, with no knowledge of computers, administration or promotions.

My approach is that today I will give you fish, tomorrow I will teach you fishing and then I will train you to buy the pond. That is what skill building is all about, to break the walls because there is space beyond those walls.

One must be rejuvenated mentally to work physically.

What are the 3 key things you have learned in your time as an entrepreneur?

Treat people with utmost respect, nurture relationships and catch your funders.

Have you been using social media marketing? How has it helped?

One cannot run the business today without depending on social media. All the promotions and marketing happen on social media platforms today.

I came to this conference through an interaction over social media. It attracts clients outside of your walking distance.

Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?

The woman has a natural instinct to be a mother and a wife. She must not feel guilty of taking an hour to relax. Take time out to relax. Invest in yourself to re-invent yourself.






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