ViewChange Film of the Week: “The Entrepreneurs”

The following video is one in a series from ViewChange, a multimedia organization managed by LinkTV and founded with support by the Gates Foundation, that is producing and procuring educational and inspiring videos from across the developing world. NextBillion is partnering with ViewChange to share these stories of enterpreneurship against the odds with the NextBillion community. The following film, “The Entrepreneurs,” is now streaming on and and will be broadcast on Link TV on Friday, Aug. 19.

Florence, Esnart, Ng’andwe and Precious all come from backgrounds of extreme poverty in rural Zambia. They’ve embarked on five months of intensive training in leadership and enterprise through Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initative. Find out more about 10,000 Women here. With courage and determination, these young women defy the odds and establish their own successful businesses, proving that anything is possible. (Check out the Q&A with Director Helen Cotton below)

Director Helen Cotton spent seven weeks in rural Zambia filming The Entrepreneurs. Here, Cotton provides Kimberley Sevcik, information and media relations manager for Camfed (the Campaign for Female Education), a glimpse of the project from behind the scenes.

Kimberley Sevcik: What inspired you to capture the Leadership & Enterprise Program on film?

Cotton: When we began shooting, I had no idea how innovative the program would be, or how life-changing for the young women. I had planned to make a series of short films about some of the women, because I imagined the course would be quite classroom-based, and I couldn’t envision how that would translate into an interesting feature-length film.

But after the first week, I sat down with Catherine Boyce, who heads the Leadership & Enterprise Program, and said, “I can see that there is going to be extraordinary transformation in these young women, and I think we can make a film that is quite special.” Because in filmmaking, that’s what you want: you want to follow a journey where change happens along the way. And indeed, there was a huge change during the program in terms of the women’s outlook on life and their aspirations. At the end of their course, I think they had a completely different idea of what they could achieve in their lives than they did when they started. It was very exciting to watch, and to film.

Sevcik: There were 150 participants in the Leadership & Enterprise Program – how did you choose your main subjects?

Cotton: At the beginning of the course, we went from classroom to classroom, trying to find young women who were confident and expressive, who had something interesting to say. We were also looking for women who had different characters. Florence, for example, had a cheekiness about her, while Precious was very sweet and kind.

The women had been divided into groups, and knowing that each group would be coming up with an idea for their own enterprise, we also wanted to feature women from different groups in order to highlight a variety of businesses.

Sevcik: Were there any particularly poignant moments when you were filming?

Cotton: I found interviewing Esnart very poignant. Her mother had died, and although her father was alive, he wasn’t taking any interest in her life. It was evident as we filmed that it was still very raw for her. She was living with her aunt, who was taking good care of her, for her, but she didn’t understand why her father didn’t want to have a relationship with her. Esnart is very gifted, and listening to her story, I wanted very much for her to overcome what she was grappling with so she could concentrate on her future and what she wanted to achieve.

Sevcik: What do you think is effective about the Leadership & Enterprise Program?

Cotton: It married the personal with the practical. For example, the trainers start by delving into the struggles that these young women had experienced. It helped them realize that they were on common ground it helped them feel comfortable and confident with their peers. Also, the trainers came from similar backgrounds, and they were very open about sharing that with the students. They were great role models – living proof of how effective a program like this could be.

Also, the content was both practical and innovative. The women were learning by doing – they had to take what they were taught in the classroom, and immediately put it into action through starting their businesses. And the women were really encouraged to think outside the box – to think of themselves as entrepreneurs, and to go back to their communities and to make an impact by doing something innovative.

Sevcik: What did you most enjoy filming?

Cotton: We shot during the first phase of the course, during the business training, and then we returned three months later to shoot the women running their businesses and social enterprises, It was amazing to see how far they had managed to come in a relatively short period of time. I was particularly impressed with the pre-school that one group of women had started. You could sense that the young children were loving their interaction with the young women teachers. They were doing such good work with them. You knew that if the preschool didn’t exist – these children wouldn’t have an opportunity to be in school.

Also: the women had a chance to showcase what they had accomplished with their new businesses during the last phase of the training, at an Impact Fair, and that was wonderful. Their enthusiasm and excitement for sharing what they achieved was very palpable.

Sevcik: You collaborated with Ross Kauffman, who won an Academy Award for his film Born into Brothels. What was that like?

Cotton: It was great working with him. He’s such a sensitive person, and I had seen that in his filmmaking in Born into Brothels. I very much wanted to collaborate with him because of that film. We were filming 150 young women from backgrounds of hardship, but I had worked on a project with Ross previously, and I had confidence that he would be able to connect with the young women. Ross has a gift for building a rapport with the people he works with, and for putting them at ease. He jokes around in such a natural, friendly way, and he is sensitive, kind, and considerate.

Sevcik: What did you enjoy most about making the film?

Cotton: When you’re making a film you really get to know the women you’re filming – you develop a friendship. The women in the course came from very difficult backgrounds, and in order for them to feel comfortable disclosing their stories, I had to spend time with them to build trust.

I found the women in the program incredibly inspiring. They had experienced so much hardship as children, and yet, they had such a positive outlook on life. They were always thinking about how best to use the opportunities in front of them to give back to their families, friends, and communities.

Sevcik: You shot the film over a period of five months. What kinds of changes did you observe in the women?

Cotton: The women’s confidence improved vastly. At the beginning of the course, they were quite shy, and they seemed intimidated – very few women spoke up in class. By the end of the course, after the women had set up their businesses, it was a completely different scenario. They had incredible energy and enthusiasm, a can-do spirit, and they were able to articulate their achievements.

Sevcik: What are you working on now?

Cotton: I’m working on a film about a child marriage for Camfed, I’m working on a short film for another organization in Nepal that prepares young women from the lowest caste for employment, and I’m developing a couple of my own projects.

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