Professor Emerita’s Nonprofit Organization Offers Business Opportunities for Filipinas
Although Christine Nielsen has 30 years of experience in international business, a nonprofit organization she founded in the Philippines continues to take her in new directions.
“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t imagine I’d be enabling women’s livelihood in the Philippines—from artists to sow breeders!” she says with a laugh.
Nielsen, professor emerita of international business and Yale Gordon Chair of Distinguished Teaching Emerita, is empowering women through NEW Pathways to Enterprise, which she launched in 2012 with her husband, Keith Raney. The nonprofit’s Learning to Livelihood program assists hundreds of women across the Philippines’ Negros and Samar islands to create sustainable livelihoods through businesses that include weaving, processing meat and fish and producing original artwork.
Nielsen, who recently retired from the Merrick School of Business, first heard the stories of Filipinas living in poverty during a 2006 trip she led for her church. “For many, it was the first time they had a chance to express their desire to do whatever they could to give their families a better life,” she says. “The women’s voices stayed with me.”
Nielsen came home determined to help. As she conceived NEW Pathways to Enterprise, she wanted it to emphasize a vital first step in entrepreneurship. “Idea generation is key because women in impoverished settings lack access to information about profitable livelihood choices,” she explains. “People cannot visualize businesses they have never seen or heard of.” The organization’s IdeaShop series not only exposes women to a wealth of innovative ideas but supports skills training and mentors them as they create and implement viable business plans.
“NEW Pathways is unique because it enables participants to expand knowledge horizons beyond low-return livelihoods; experience opportunities for creativity, self-expression and out-of-the-box thinking about business choices; and make decisions about profitable alternatives,” Nielsen says.
The women involved in one project to craft woven doormats have begun using similar techniques to create handbags and iPad cases. A team of UB/Towson MBA students in Nielsen’s spring 2014 Import and Export Management class elected to research how best to import the bags and market them. Team leader Jennifer Small chose the NEW Pathways project because, she says, “It does so much good—we’re applying what we’re learning to help worthy people bring their vision to the marketplace.”
Nielsen returned to the Philippines in May to initiate IdeaShop programs in several new communities and to attend graduations of women who had completed their training, including one close to the area most severely damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in November. Nielsen visited the country in the wake of the natural disaster—a trip planned well before the typhoon occurred—to continue working with the women her nonprofit serves.
“We’re taking women from subsistence to success, and that is a wonderful thing to see,” she says.