Q&A Series #1: When Women Do Better, Countries Do Better

Women entrepreneurs have come up with extraordinary innovations that are transforming millions of lives around the world. In this series of blogs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) introduces you to some of the women whose ideas they have supported. These women are having an outsized impact in the developing world — and beyond — proving that when women do better, countries do better.

First in the series is Dara Dotz, co-founder of Field Ready, which provides made-in-the-field humanitarian supplies using 3D printing and other technologies.

How did you come up with your innovation and how did you turn it into a nonprofit organization?

On a trip to Haiti, I saw that medical disposables were virtually nonexistent and wound up deploying the first 3D printer to Haiti, and shortly after that initiated the first Maker Lab run by Haitians for Haitians. Then I wondered, “what if I could use Moore’s Law’s Table Scraps — emerging disruptive technologies like 3D printers — to reboot supply chains and, in the process, build resiliency at the edges?” Meanwhile my co-founder Eric James — who wrote the book “Managing Humanitarian Relief” — was dreaming up just such an idea as well. When we realized that we complimented each other, we co-founded Field Ready.

Before working with Eric and the team, I faced a variety of challenges over the years. From sexual harassment to blatant sexism at interviews. More recently, I worked at a few Silicon Valley startups typically as the only woman in the office (aside from the secretary). I had wondered continuously why whenever I would suggest an idea or push for new things in support of the team they would be shot down. It had an impact on my self-esteem thinking that I just never had any good ideas. Then I discovered a trend. When a man said the same thing, it was suddenly a ‘genius’ idea. My solution — start planting men and ideas — suddenly things started getting done. This was when I knew without a doubt that it was because I was a woman.

What struggles have you faced as a female entrepreneur?

Before working with Eric and the team, I faced a variety of challenges over the years. From sexual harassment to blatant sexism at interviews. More recently, I worked at a few Silicon Valley startups typically as the only woman in the office (aside from the secretary). I had wondered continuously why whenever I would suggest an idea or push for new things in support of the team they would be shot down. It had an impact on my self-esteem thinking that I just never had any good ideas. Then I discovered a trend. When a man said the same thing, it was suddenly a ‘genius’ idea. My solution — start planting men and ideas — suddenly things started getting done. This was when I knew without a doubt that it was because I was a woman.

What advice would you give to girls who dream of becoming entrepreneurs when they grow up?

First, ignore everyone, and your math is fine. I literally had people tell me “you are a girl — it’s no wonder you can’t do the math.” Well that’s just BS. If you are struggling with doing something ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength to know when to ask for help and when to do it yourself. It turns out — with enough practice — you can be decent at almost anything. The gamble is what do you want to be decent at? Everything else — that is what teams are for. You don’t have to be perfect — just a great teammate. Draw ideas for shared understanding, not to make perfect pictures. Make one new thing every month. Take a random class every year. Eventually, you will be able to find things you are really excited by and discover things others do not know. This will not only bring you the edge you need to compete, but joy. And most importantly, bring people along with you, especially other females. We need to shift the paradigm and we can only do it if we all work together.

What’s been the most gratifying part of this work to you personally?

Things that have brought me the most gratification? When people we work with have the “aha!” moment, the discovery that they can do something they never imagined. Seeing girls see themselves differently, building things with their own two hands and teaching the next how to do it. Watching girls “geeking out” about space or making an impact, actually doing things — instead of talking about them. Sometimes the simple pleasure of having something tangible in my hands at the end of the day brings me the greatest joy. I have also been incredibly blessed to meet and work side by side with some of the most remarkable people and fortunate enough to not only call them my friends but my team.

What advice would you give institutions like USAID that want to help entrepreneurs like you to succeed?

Put a priority or preference on grants for female-led initiatives. Create safe spaces within your organization for female entrepreneurship, particularly in cultures that don’t normally see women as entrepreneurial. Pair seed funding and/or female fellowships with mentors. It can be hard to find a mentor when you don’t know where to start. Make it obligatory for grantees to spend two hours a month doing one-on-one mentorship with young up-and-coming females in the program in order for them to receive their funding. To meet someone that has ‘made’ it or discovered a path forward can be more valuable than a simple financial investment. The two together — there is a winning formula.

Follow USAID on Twitter and Facebook as we head to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit Nov. 28–30 in Hyderabad, India, where women entrepreneurs and their role in fostering economic growth will take center stage.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty in this Generation publication on Medium.com.