Why We Need More Coaches and Fewer ‘Experts’ in International Development

 By Kate Wilson, TDi Associate


An intuitive mindset coach and mentor, Kate’s insight and expertise is so valuable to our team – we hope it will be for you too. This post was originally published on Kate’s website, Resources Reimagined and explores the vital role of coaches in growing women business owners.


Why do we need more coaches in international development? Let me answer this by focusing on the example of women business owners and how they are often supported by donor agencies….


What do women business owners really need?

All across the world, women are creating. They’re creating businesses from scratch. And these businesses inject their lives with inspiration, creativity, and much-needed resources that support their families and communities.

At the same time, being a woman business owner is tough.

In the Pacific region for example, the challenges faced by women business owners are well documented by the IFC and others. Pacific women are less likely to have title to land and are often disadvantaged by prevailing family, marriage, and inheritance laws and practices.

They often have greater difficulty in accessing finance and other resources to grow their business, and the justice system for resolving commercial disputes.

They are disproportionately impacted by ongoing natural disasters and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional pressures on women business owners. Rates of violence against women are also high.

With women owners facing such an uphill climb, many international development organizations are looking to help. To provide the right training and right resources that will empower women to grow their businesses. Reshape their lives.

But what is the best way to support women business owners?


The Default Answer


When the question of supporting women business owners comes up, the immediate response is almost always the same.

Women need business skills.

They need to become experts in managing a business. They need to be able to navigate the complex landscape of the work they’re doing by knowing more about budgets and business plans, and marketing. Technical business knowledge.

So, development organisations bring in business experts.

These experts are, truly, world-class in their field. And they talk to women business owners about business performance. How to optimise their business. How to grow.

The goal of these training sessions is to empower women through technical business knowledge, equipping them to walk out smarter and more capable. It’s a lofty goal.

But what business experts fail to address (because they’re not trained to) is the reality of being a woman business owner. The world women walk into when they leave the training.

And that world is not about facts and figures.

 It’s about emotions and mindset.


The Reality


The reality of running a business for women is complex.

Of course, there’s the dollars and cents of the business. Operations, marketing, strategy, finances etc. These are all important. But too often, they’re overshadowed by social and cultural impacts.

Women are required to constantly have to shift between roles, being a wife, a mother, a business owner. They have to navigate a complex web of cultural and family relationships.

They bring lived experience of running a business, but still feel stuck, overwhelmed, scared and alone. They often have been taught not to trust their own judgment, and experience high levels of self-doubt and people pleasing which limits their freedom in business and life. COVID has put extreme stress on revenue streams and completely disrupted some industries. It has also exacerbated these underlying issues.

Not to mention, the world continues to get more complex and women are constantly juggling the new and the complicated. They are having to make a million tiny decisions every day and balance different roles and responsibilities. It’s easy to allow self-doubt, fear and people pleasing to lead the way.

The reality of women’s situation is exhausting. It drains them emotionally, making it nearly impossible for them to invest fully in their business.

Without  addressing the underlying issues holding women business owners back, genuine change is not achieved.

Emotions and mindset matter.


A Blended Approach


We need more coaches in international development.

What is a coach? A coach is someone who’s trained and equipped to work with women business owners on their internal systems. To understand the thoughts and emotions they’re thinking and feeling, and how those thoughts and feelings are impacting their actions.

To address the emotional and mindset side of the business.

When support for business owners focuses solely on the expert side of the equation, women business owners walk away only partially supported. They may know more about business, but their emotional frameworks and external pressures are unchanged.

The results will suffer.

Instead, international development organisations need to pair experts with coaches. Two training partners, each with a unique skill set. Each with a unique ability to help women business owners achieve their true potential.

This partnership ensures women are being trained in knowledge and application. And it equips women with tangible best practices and the mental frameworks to put those practices to work.

Here’s a quick example.


Papua New Guinea

In 2021, amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, I partnered with The Difference Incubator to provide training for women business owners in Papua New Guinea.

100 women business owners.

Each facing unique challenges and threats to their business due to the pandemic. They were doing everything they could to weather the storm. And many of them were worried that the pandemic might permanently shut down their business.

We stepped in to help with a hybrid approach.

Working with TDI, together we trained four local coaches on the power of mindset training as well as equipping them with technical business development skills. These coaches learned the foundational components of a strong mindset and steps to identify mental barriers to success.

Together, we delivered business training AND mindset coaching to the women business owners. And the results were staggering. 100% of the women we worked with agreed their business had a better likelihood of surviving after the coaching.

By pairing experts with coaches, and then training local coaches to combine both skill sets we were able to equip women business owners with the tools they need to sustain their business and the mindset needed to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

UPDATE: Read our full case study, including all the details of the theory of action behind our project design and delivery, and the follow-up data and results from the women business owners.

Kate, TDi Team, and local PNG business coaches.




What do women business owners need?

The answer is not as simple as many organisations believe. While business training from experts is critical, it’s not enough.

Women face tremendous cultural and social hurdles to growing their businesses. And there are some challenges no amount of operational training can overcome.

Emotions and mindset matters in international development. By addressing both business knowledge and mindset components, development teams can multiply the impact of their efforts . . . and more importantly, help women business owners thrive.

AND it’s not just women business owners who need this support, it’s all partners. It’s time we started building in coaching support into all our international development efforts.


Want to Build Your Coaching Skills?

I’ve developed an amazing training program designed specifically for international development and social change specialists to build your coaching skills. This draws on my more than 22 years working in international development and my 15 years working as a coach. At the end of this program you’ll walk away with:

  • Language, practical tools, and a coaching framework for having more connected and supportive conversations with partners and staff.

  • Practical and effective mindset tools that work across cultures for helping others to overcome self-doubt, fear, overthinking, people pleasing and hustle culture

  • Leadership practices grounded in mindset for extraordinary results.

  • A new paradigm for thinking about how you resource yourself, and others for impact.

  • Plus you will feel more connected to yourself and more energised. You’ll have all of these tools to support yourself as well as others

Reach out today and see how this training could help you and your team.

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