A chauffeured limousine in Tianjin, an industrial city in Northern China. The passenger is Zou Lianhui, the president of a technology venture that includes a chain of 60 car-wash stores, employing nearly 300 workers. Just a few years ago, she was an unemployed ink factory worker struggling to make ends meet by selling flowers. Now she owns a business that's worth a million US dollars or more, selling machines that recycle water. The machines have helped revive the city's car-wash industry that almost collapsed when a regional drought led to a ban on the use of fresh water. Ms. Zou owes her success largely to the Tianjin Women Business Incubator. Established in the year 2000, it's a pilot program set up by the Tianjin Women Federation and supported by the UN Development Programme, UNDP. Its beneficiaries are women laid off by state-owned factories as a result of China's recent economic restructuring. By offering counseling and training programs to promote new businesses and jobs, it has helped 3,000 women workers re-enter the job market. Yang Jing Sui is the Director of the Incubator.
YANG JING SUI
We view unemployed women as the motivating force and engine for development in our country.
The project includes a micro-credit program that offers start-up loans. Although many workers have no business experience, they seem to have a natural entrepreneurial talent, says UNDP's China Representative, Kerstin Leitner.
So what they really needed was just that encouragement, that push, that empowerment, that kind of support to learn how to run a business.
The incubator supports some 40 businesses ranging from small-scale crafts to medium-sized ventures. For a hundred dollars a month, they get space, free utilities, and business consultation. Many more women are waiting for their turn to join it. Wang Huai Ying of the Tianjin Women's Federation explains the goal.
WANG HUAI YING
As they develop their own business, they create not only jobs for themselves, but also new jobs and opportunities for other unemployed workers to start their own business.
Operating out of the incubator, car wash tycoon Ms. Zou sells her water recycling system for USD$9,000 a set. So far, it's the most successful business hatched here.
Our business has just gotten off the ground. The financial base is not very solid. Thanks to the incubator, which has guided us from the beginning, we have stayed on track, growing smoothly and quickly without being sidetracked.
Ms. Zou seized an opportunity and revitalized an industry, generating a ripple effect resulting in hundreds of jobs. Her success is an example for China's millions of job seekers. Given a chance, perhaps they too one day will have their lucky break, clean up, and own a limousine. This report was prepared by Patricia Chan for the United Nations.