Action Learning impact: Empowering women entrepreneurs in China
By Kathryn O’Neill
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In 2013, when Xuemei Fei first teamed with MIT Sloan China Lab to help her company expand, Yunnan Holyflora Horticulture Industry Co. Ltd. was a relatively small flower preservation business.
Today, the company is among the top producers of roses in China, selling preserved and fresh flowers both in China and abroad. And, on October 22, Fei, CEO of Holyflora, was honored with the 2019 Goldman Sachs & Fortune Global Women Leaders Award, an honor presented to outstanding women from around the world who are working to empower others in their communities.
On November 1, MIT Sloan Action Learning held a small luncheon to celebrate Fei’s accomplishments. “This award for Xuemei Fei is a source of pride for us here at Sloan because we had a collaboration with this company,” said Yasheng Huang, the Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management and faculty director of Action Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We were there at the start.”
Fei earned the award for her efforts empowering rural women through entrepreneurship in Weiyuan County, Gansu Province, China, an impoverished rural area of the country. Fei’s team has taught women technical skills, provided business training, and stressed a different way of thinking about work with the goal of helping them earn a sustainable income by creating their own family farms. To date, 70 women have pulled themselves out of poverty, according to Holyflora.
Back in 2013 and 2014, however, Fei was still in the early stages of transforming her company from a small export business into a floral powerhouse. She credits the experience of working with MIT Sloan students with helping her lay the foundation for her company’s success.
“China Lab Action Learning students gave me a lot of help,” Fei said. “I’m so lucky I had this opportunity.”
China Lab is one of MIT Sloan’s roughly 20 Action Learning labs — courses that give students the chance to apply classroom learning to real-life business challenges. For two years in a row, the course paired teams of students with Holyflora to help the small business develop data-driven marketing plans.
Holyflora’s projects with MIT Sloan Action Learning provided timely insights into specific target markets, but Fei emphasized that the takeaways for her company have been much broader — and longer lasting — than anyone might expect from a couple of class projects.
Partnering with Action Learning provided Fei with new insights into the benefits of teamwork and gave her a model for using data to inform the company’s decision-making. As a result, Fei said, Holyflora now has research and development centers and routinely employs data analytics to support its business decisions.
“We were able to take this concept from MIT and leverage it,” she said.
The Global Women Leaders award presentation was held at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. on October 21–23, where Fei served as one of the speakers. Also receiving the award was Lara Ayoub from Jordan, co-founder of Sadaqa, a nonprofit that advocates for daycare in the workplace.
Fei, who was honored for her project in Weiyuan County, noted that she was inspired to give back by her experience participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative, a global effort to foster economic growth through providing women entrepreneurs around the world with a business and management education, mentoring and networking, and access to capital.
The Goldman Sachs & Fortune Global Women Leaders Award is provided through a partnership between the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program and Fortune’s Most Powerful Women franchise.