Mumbai: On 23rd and 24th February, BBC World News’ Changing Fortunes explores the rise of the female entrepreneur, profiling three individuals who have overcome extreme poverty to make their fortunes.
Over the past decade the number one driver for global growth has been women. The fall of gender barriers and the narrowing wealth gap between men and women have seen a rising tide of female business women.
Born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, supermodel Natalia Vodianova grew up in a destitute district of the city with her mother and two sisters. To survive, Natalia and her family sold fruit illegally on the street but her mother’s debts mounted.
At the age of 16, Natalia was spotted by an international modelling scout and six months later, found herself in the fashion capital of Paris. In conquering the European fashion scene, she was able to pay off her family’s debts and has since achieved worldwide success in the fashion industry. She has adorned the covers of American and British Vogue; completed advertising campaigns for fashion houses including Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton and Chanel; and graced the runways of Lanvin, Chloe and Marc Jacobs. In 2004 Natalia, prompted by the memories of her tough childhood, set up the Naked Heart Foundation with the goal of raising money to create playgrounds and support centres for families raising children with learning disabilities.
In China, almost 40% of all businesses are owned and run by women. As a result, almost a third of the country’s millionaires are female. Zhang Lan, CEO of restaurant chain the South Beauty Group, is one of them.
Like Natalia, she too was brought up in extreme poverty. As a toddler, she and her family were forced under Mao to move to the remote Hubei province, where food was scarce. Her break came in 1989 when she got the chance to move to Canada to work in her uncle’s Chinese restaurant. Two years later, she had saved enough money to return to Beijing where the economic reforms of the then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping were beginning to produce business opportunities. Zhang went into the restaurant trade and in 2000, established South Beauty, a high-end restaurant specialising in Szechuan cuisine. Today the South Beauty Group is amongst the most profitable restaurant chains in China, known for its fusion of art, fashion and oriental dining.
As a Dalit, or “untouchable”, Kalpana Saroj was born into the bottom of the economic pile in India. She was married off at 12, physically abused by her husband’s family, and almost took her own life. Today she is at the helm of a successful property and manufacturing empire worth millions.
With the help of her father, Kalpana managed to leave her husband and was taken back to her village. Determined to succeed, she moved to Mumbai and stayed with an uncle, launching a small furniture and sewing company, before moving into property development. .
Her most recent venture is Kamani Tubes Limited (KTL), a manufacturer of non-ferrous metal tubes and pipes, which is now worth more than £100m.
Changing Fortunes is a six part series by BBC World News, exploring the new patterns of wealth that have emerged over the last two decades. From the United States, to Brazil, Europe, Africa, India and China – the series meets some of the innovators, entrepreneurs and business success stories whose fortunes offer a window into our rapidly changing world.
Changing Fortunes, broadcast in association with Coutts, will TX weekly on BBC World News from 2 Feb on Saturdays at 07.00am; 09:00pm, and Sundays at 03:00pm.