Anita Dharapuram , C.E.O. Women , Oakland/ San Jose , California


The mission of C.E.O. Women is to create economic opportunities for low-income immigrant and refugee women through teaching English, communications and entrepreneurship skills, so they can establish successful livelihoods. C.E.O. Women then provides women with intensive mentoring, coaching and access to capital needed to start a small business.

YourStory spoke to Anita Dharapuram, Director of Programs, Oakland/ San Jose

Like many children of South Asian immigrants, Anita enrolled in college as an engineering major. However, she quickly came to her senses, ended up graduating with a major in economics, a minor in math and a one-way ticket to California with a dream of starting something of her own. Soon after, Anita started her own event floral design studio in San Francisco, which she ran for 5 years. Her passion for social justice work and economic empowerment of women led her to think creatively about how to put her business skills to work for the greater good. She closed her business and then began to work and volunteer in nonprofits.

Anita volunteered for C.E.O. Women, serving as one of the organization's first business coaches. She also served as the Conference & Initiatives Manager at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, an organization providing consulting, training and other resources to Bay Area nonprofit organizations. Under her leadership, Anita produced Nonprofit Day, the Bay Area's premier nonprofit conference, as well as other programming reaching over 5,200 participants annually. Anita also participated in the Coaching and Philanthropy Project, the Fundraising Academy for Communities for Color, and the Women Executive Directors of Color (WEDOC) network. She has served on the Board of Kearny Street Workshop and has been a collective member of OY! Organizing Youth. She often credits her success to her ability to collaborate with volunteers, funders, and partner organizations.

CEO Women was founded by Farhana Huq.

Farhana comes from a family of self-made entrepreneurs of the South Asian Diaspora. In 2000, she founded C.E.O. Women, the 3rd start-up venture she has been involved with, after being inspired by the enterprise revolution in her father's native Bangladesh and by the struggles that poor, single women in her own family faced to become self-sufficient. Farhana has always admired the creativity and freedom of micro-entrepreneurs. She envisions a world where the most powerful and unlikely relationships come together to connect women in meaningful ways.

Farhana created "Micro-enterprise in Action", a self-initiated audio documentary on the lives of women entrepreneurs from around the world. She was recognized as one of the "40 Under 40" up and coming business professionals to watch by the East Bay Business Times. She was named the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year National Finalist in the Supporter of Entrepreneurship Category. Most recently she was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship, the most prestigious fellowship for leading social entrepreneurs around the world.

What does CEO Women do? Here is their program:

1. It starts with an idea and a dream for a better future...

Born in El Salvador, Haydee Lainez first arrived in the US in 2000, with the goal of learning English. Haydee worked as a housekeeper, working 12-hour days, getting paid as little as $5 an hour, and dealing with difficult customers. That's when she knew that the only way to become truly independent was to be her own boss.


Haydee dreams of running her own business.

2. Training

One day in 2007, Haydee was watching a Spanish language program on TV when a commercial for C.E.O. Women came on. It was exactly what she needed to get her business off the ground. She enrolled in C.E.O. Women's "Starting a Small Business" course the following year. She improved her English while gaining basic business skills including marketing, legal knowledge, negotiation techniques, finance, public speaking, and networking. Haydee graduated in 2008 and opened her business, Haydee's Serene Cleaning.

Haydee graduates from C.E.O. Women's training program.

3. Capital and Ongoing Support

In February 2009, Haydee received a Venture Fund award from C.E.O. Women. Her profits have increased and she is saving money through a matched savings account with a partner organization.

She attends monthly workshops at C.E.O. Women, meets with a business coach, and has become a Community Connector, promoting the program to other immigrant and refugee women.

Haydee receives her Venture Fund award.

Who does C.E.O. Women serve?

All of C.E.O. Women's clients have a strong desire to improve their English, become entrepreneurs, and contributing members of society.

  • 100% of C.E.O. Women's clients are women and 94% earn low to moderate incomes, according to HUD and HHS guidelines
  • An average C.E.O. Women client entering C.E.O. Women's programs has a personal income of $14,092 and an average household income of $25,767 to support a family of four
  • 25% percent of C.E.O. Women clients are single heads of households
  • 100% of the clients are immigrants or refugees from countries all over the world. 50% are Latina, 36% are Asian, 9% are African/Caribbean and 5% identify as "other"

A soap opera to learn about entrepreneurship and english? Sounds better than the saas-bahu routine we see in India

Grand Café Training : A Unique Model

In September 2009, C.E.O. Women launched Grand Café, a ground-breaking microenterprise training program that takes the same ESL and entrepreneurship training from the organization's traditional 16-week classroom training and integrates it into an 18-episode soap opera that tells the story of four immigrant women who want to start their own businesses.

Grand Café is...


The only program of its kind in the microenterprise industry, Grand Café is a "blended learning" model, taking distance learning - used successfully in many industries including ESL - and combining it with opportunities for trainer and peer support.


Women watch the DVD episodes and complete accompanying workbook exercises in their homes and attend group sessions led by a Vocational ESL trainer in Oakland and San Jose. The Grand Café program model enables C.E.O. Women to reach out to women who were previously unable to enroll in the twice weekly classroom training due to barriers such as employment, childcare, or transportation.


The characters in Grand Café were developed to mirror C.E.O. Women's client population. Students can easily relate to the adventures, challenges, and triumphs that the characters in Grand Café experience as they start their own businesses as immigrant women in the United States.


The Grand Café program follows a rolling admissions calendar, enabling C.E.O. Women to reach more women per year than ever before. Through future strategies such as television broadcast, online distribution, and an affiliate partnership program, C.E.O. Women hopes to bring its training to the more than 170,000 women in the Bay Area that could benefit from it, as well as women across the nation. This innovative tool will have a multiplier effect on women, families, society and the economy that goes beyond the walls of C.E.O. Women's classroom

To read more about their initiative and success stories through this program log on to

YourStory wishes the team of CEO Women all the very best in their future efforts.


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