The conference table is high, too high for her to reach on her own, so the little girl crawls up her mother. She crawls on top of the table, looks around the room and applauds her bold accomplishment. This young explorer was not the only one to venture bravely into a new space. Downtown on a Friday, no less. Her mother, Zahra, and other refugee women from the childcare business incubator program were invited by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s childcare business incubator program to meet with Cotopaxi team members in February to learn more about brand techniques.

Woman sitting in a desk at the cotapaxi store.
Fatima, a childcare entrepreneur, raised pertinent questions about picture consent and privacy on social media.
Photo: Ali Myers/IRC

After receiving numerous calls from refugee women who wanted to start their own childcare business, the IRC in Salt Lake City responded by requesting funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to build a childcare business incubator program. In early 2019, ORR granted funding to support this effort. Soon, Mary Stuart, childcare business incubator program coordinator, was hired. Although the grant offered budding entrepreneurs the necessary funds to start their at-home childcare business, it was up to Mary to ensure they received the professional help and technical assistance they needed to utilize the funds. “I had a grant and a computer and that’s how I started,” Mary said.

Now in its second year, Mary's program works more efficiently with the current cohort of entrepreneurs, including fine-tuned classes focused on child development, business management and CPR certification. Mary is also introducing a healthy relationships class, an addition designed to help the entrepreneurs feel empowered in their home setting. Events with community partners, like Cotopaxi, broaden entrepreneurs' access to resources right here in Salt Lake County. “It’s an experimental thing,” Mary said. “It’s big for them.”

“Your brand is your business identity,” Annie Agle, the director of brand & impact at Cotopaxi, told the entrepreneurs. “You say the things that make you different. At the micro-level, it’s a matter of letting friends and community members know [about your business].” She was joined by Paisley, who runs social media. Together, they looked at the design elements of Facebook pages for various childcare businesses.

Not all of them have social media, due to access or beliefs. Here they discussed the importance of having a professional presence online. Annie encouraged the women to “tap into the resources and communities [they] may not be thinking about but have access to.”

“I talk to my coworkers,” Fatima shared her experience. “They have this problem sometimes; they call and say ‘my babysitter canceled.’” Now she’s finding ways that she can help take care of their kids. Fatima shared her first attempts at expanding her network which included talking to people she knows and printing her own business cards. Curious about specifics, she asked about the privacy of children on Facebook posts and about showing her schedule, since she’s not available every day. 

A woman looking at her pone, and another looking at the camera with hands in her pocket.
“It takes bravery to start a business," Mary Stuart understands the challenges Fatima, and others in her childcare business program, face.
Photo: Ali Myers/IRC

Mary recognizes the impact of this program on the lives of the women she works with. The incubator program underlines the already bold women who fight to define their futures. “At least they’ll have this dose of empowerment, so that they can say that ‘even if I’m only watching two kids, I'm a professional,’” Mary said. “It takes bravery to start a business. You watch them grow into themselves.” For her, the best part is the moment when the students “realize ‘I can do this.’ They are so proud of themselves.”

If you or somebody you know is interested in learning more about the program and would like to support the refugee women building their own businesses, message us at [email protected].