“Wouldn’t you be haunted,” asks Magatte Wade, “if from the time you were a little girl, you heard stories of people, my people, dying out on the ocean? They are leaving because they have no jobs.”

Magatte is one of the three women entrepreneurs in developing countries introduced in a new documentary, “She Rises Up,” by veteran filmmakers Maureen Castle Tusty (Director) and Jim Tusty (Executive Producer). The backdrop for Magatte’s quote is a perilously crowded boat full of desperate people seeking chances to work far from home. 

“She Rises Up” is hailed by film industry site, Hollywood in Toto, as “a testament to capitalism that doesn’t ignore its imperfections.”

The three “stars” of “She Rises Up” are Gladys Yupanqui, who founded a flourishing mini-market in Peru; Selyna Peiris of Sri Lanka, who is expanding a textile company her mother founded; and Magatte Wade of Senegal. Magatte, who is building a cosmetics company that provides jobs in Senegal, is also the subject of a previous IWF profile

“She Rises Up” is hailed by film industry site, Hollywood in Toto, as “a testament to capitalism that doesn’t ignore its imperfections.” “How subversive. How necessary,” HiT concluded. “She Rises Up” received an impressive review from Reason magazine, whose editor wrote, “Documentaries intended to be inspirational—as this one clearly is—too often sloppily romanticize the lives of entrepreneurs in impoverished places or force their subjects into cookie-cutter storytelling templates. She Rises Up does neither…the result yanks the heartstrings without being sappy.”

Maureen explains that the power of “She Rises Up” derives from the emotional impact and inspirational value of the struggles of the three remarkable women entrepreneurs at the center of the movie. “We are storytellers,” Maureen explains. “I’m not an economist, I’m not an academic, but we work closely with these women, we do the research, and we go into these countries and talk to the people on the ground who are there living it and trying to work on change in their own community because they know best what they need. And that ties into the idea of aid coming in not being the solution. Once we met these three women, it was clear they are so much better than any talking-head expert at explaining the message. They exemplify what is needed to combat poverty, and they articulate this so well in the film as we follow along. They share what they are trying to do and what motivates them. You see the obstacles they are struggling with in their business and yet they keep soldiering on. It’s amazing. These are the people who are really going to change things for their communities.”

According to a McKinsey & Company study, full participation by women in the world economy would not only benefit women but would enhance the international economy, adding the equivalent of the economies of China and the U.S. to the world’s economy. 

Unfortunately, the heavily-regulated business environments in developing nations are typically not conducive to entrepreneurship, especially for women. “There are still many laws that limit a woman’s access to bank accounts,” Maureen explains, “or for her to get a loan on her own. There are also limits on the hours that women can work. These added obstacles are often meant as a means of protecting women, or the attitude that women can’t quite do it on their own. These laws still exist in many countries, unsurprisingly, those are often countries with some of the highest poverty rates in the world. 

Unfortunately, the heavily-regulated business environments in developing nations are typically not conducive to entrepreneurship, especially for women.

“Another obstacle is that often the political class wants to control the citizens, it wants to control the economy. There are excessive regulations that entrepreneurs have to struggle with when hiring and firing of people and it’s very complicated. Therefore starting a business or expanding is very complicated. We follow Magatte in Senegal for days, as she travels three hours into Dakar, the capital, to meet with her CPA and talk about all these regulations on the pay rate. People have agreed to work for her, but she can’t hire them because of these regulations, which don’t even apply to the type of people she’s hiring. So then to get a bank account she has to get other certifications, go back to the town, and have documents verified. She faces excessive hurdles. And then there are the tariffs on the cardboard boxes she needs for her products. These tariffs can be up to 77 percent of the value of the boxes.” 

What would it take to make entrepreneurship easier in these countries? “The powers-that-be in these regions would have to understand what a healthy local business environment could do to lift people out of poverty. They would also have to understand that trying to dictate and overly-regulate what small businesses can do is counterproductive. A really good example of this is Gladys in Peru. Peru has a very different economy from Senegal’s. Gladys comes from a very small village in the Andes Mountains, and she comes from extreme poverty herself. She saw tremendous suffering for her family and her mother. There are the cultural dynamics, and there is abuse, but also they struggled just for food and for any kind of work in the small village they were in. So, she, as a young teenage girl, decided, ‘I can’t live this way.’ 

“Gladys vowed ‘I am not going to fall into this.’ And she worked her way to get to Lima, in the capital, and on the outskirts where people just build and hope that they can stay there. She eventually started a small minimarket, and she created this business that now supports her family very well. Gladys is married, has two children, and wanted to expand her business; her husband wasn’t so interested in that and he was very scared of the risk. But Gladys is one of the hardest working women I have ever met, and she was determined, and she went ahead and for the first time ever, she was able to get a bank loan to help her expand her minimarkets. Now, she’s even looking beyond just one or two markets, envisioning perhaps a chain someday.”

Gladys would not have been able to get a loan on her own just a decade ago. “The regulations in these countries can be overwhelming,” Maureen explains. “But four or five regulations are lifted and suddenly doors open and a snowball effect is created. So, even when there’s still corruption and abuse at the top levels of government, doing away with just a few regulations can help so much, and, when this happens, you begin to see change. These small changes start to add up and you really can see progress being made, because people want to be entrepreneurial, and they want to improve their lives and the lives of those in their communities. But until the excessive red tape is reduced, we won’t see progress.”

Selyna Peiris of Sri Lanka, the third female entrepreneur featured in “She Rises Up,” is working to expand a textile company founded by her mother. Peiris, a lawyer by training, and her mother were intentional about their textile business. “Selyna calls it a social enterprise,” Maureen says. “She and her mother intentionally created this business as a way of creating jobs for women in the most remote areas within Sri Lanka. What’s also interesting is that they are preserving their culture through traditional weaving, but also creating products and things you might buy in stores. You might recognize their gorgeous clothing and textiles. And the women they hire are in micro-facilities they’ve built where maybe ten women work in this small sewing center, but they have flexibility. They can come and go when they need to, they can work part-time. It’s addressing the needs in these very rural areas of how women need to work, so they can have access to jobs.”

Selyna ran into trouble when she helped employees set up bank accounts for payroll deposits. A worthy endeavor, but it came into conflict with the way things traditionally had been done. “One employee was beaten up by her husband, and the other one had her sewing machine destroyed by her husband because she didn’t give him the full amount of her pay. Selyna has had to look at the situation and say, ‘Okay, so how do we help people learn and improve their circumstances without causing more harm than good?’ ” 

Far away from the subjects of her films, Maureen has also had a remarkable journey leading her to tell the stories of these women through film. Maureen is a native of upstate New York, where she and Jim still live when not on location. She studied film and writing at SUNY-New Paltz and worked in production with Mountain View Group doing internal communications for large corporations such as GE and Coca-Cola. “I knew I wanted to get into film, and I studied film and writing, but this is the kind of business which you really do learn by doing. So, I learned filmmaking by working with filmmakers from the ground up. And then I met my husband. He had a production company and was doing a lot of corporate and commercial work, and that’s where the rest is history.”  

Their most acclaimed documentary is “The Singing Revolution,” based on the events that led to Estonia’s shaking off the yoke of the Soviet Union and featured massive singing gatherings. Jim Tusty’s father came from Estonia as a child. The success of “The Singing Revolution” set their course for the future. “We had been doing a lot of corporate and educational work. We worked for Fortune 500 companies. I did a lot of traveling for GE working on their internal communications, and it was very interesting to travel to so many different locations in the world from the business perspective. 

Although Maureen enjoyed her corporate work, she had a different passion and wanted to focus her efforts on promoting the cause of liberty. 

“Then about 15 years ago we decided to focus strictly on documentaries, so we started our own company, Sky Films Incorporated. Our documentaries center on global stories of triumph of the human spirit. They tend to resonate around the theme of freedom, whether it’s personal freedom or economic freedom, and are constant reminders of how precious freedom is and where freedom can lead people.”

Telling the stories of inspirational women, like those featured in “She Rises Up,” is certainly a worthy cause. And we at IWF are also inspired by Maureen, and her dedication to bring such stories to life.