'The fundamental conditions for female entrepreneurship are lacking'
After the release of a female entrepreneurship index, researchers comment on the barriers across the world
At the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network conference in Austin, Texas this week the second Gender Gedi report was released. This female entrepreneurship index, sponsored by the tech company, seeks to compare the support provided to women in a range of countries, across mature and emerging markets.
This year's report profiles 30 countries, up from 17 last year, and reveals that the best places to be a woman starting a business are the USA and Australia, while Pakistan and Bangladesh are the worst, owing to a lack of "basic legal rights and education for women and acceptance of women's social and economic empowerment". Malaysia saw the most marked deterioration, falling four places from 9th to 13th.
Ruta Aidis, project director for Gender Gedi, and Geri Stengel, founder of Ventureneer and author of Forget the Glass Ceiling: Build Your Business Without It – the publication accompanying the report – shared lessons they felt might help organisations working to support private sector development and female entrepreneurs in developing countries.
What was the key discovery you made in the course of your research?
Ruta Aidis (RA): In the 30 countries we surveyed, in the majority of them the fundamental conditions needed to foster high-potential female entrepreneurship are lacking. There is a lot of room for improvement, and the index shows where the bottlenecks are in various countries.
What does the research show is possible if we want to see a change in the levels of female entrepreneurship?
RA: The key message is that we need a holistic approach. Before you decide you are going to find female entrepreneurs and give them training you have to make sure that the baseline is there – equal rights. Access to property is a good example: when women in African and Asian countries don't have that, how do you expect them to have the startup capital needed to start a business that is going to be successful?
The second message for developing countries is that there is a pool that is not being tapped into: women with skills and education who, often because of social pressures or low expectations of what's possible, are not starting businesses which could create the jobs needed for economic growth and development. There is too much emphasis on poverty alleviation for the bottom tier and not enough on the women in the middle who could have the biggest impact. While it is very important to target poverty, it's not the whole picture.
Are you disdainful of microfinance?
RA: I think it has a very important role to play but we must ask: so, you've got these women out of poverty, what next? We need to remove the barriers for women at the next level, who want to scale their businesses and this is the responsibility not just of the development organisations.
Are you setting yourself up for advocacy failure by focusing on high-potential female entrepreneurship in contexts where the basic gender rights are often not respected?
RA: This sort of change is only possible when a multitude of organisations work in tandem. But governments have been quite silent in this process, leaving it up to the donors. They have to see the potential within their country and take women seriously.
Geri Stengel (GS): It is also about taking a multi-pronged approach: we want policymakers to do their bit, embracing transparency and accountability so that we can look at the data, truly understand the needs and clearly see what progress has been made. But role models are equally important: successful female entrepreneurs can be both the example of what is possible and the source of funding for other women.
How do you think private corporations can leverage their resources and strengths to tackle the issues identified by the index?
GS: To do business with the US government, corporations have to spend 5% of their procurement budget with women and minority-owned businesses. The more we can encourage companies to do that throughout the world, the better.
Secondly, businesses that are scaling require more structure. So businesses owned by women that have been identified as having potential will need more hand-holding as they develop their infrastructure and corporations need to provide that.
Geri, your book profiles successful women. For women in developing countries does it matter that these role models often don't look like them or come from their communities?
GS: You often don't know where inspiration is going to come from so it is important to nurture both international ambassadors and grassroots advocates. There is no harm in enabling women from all backgrounds to tell their stories.>>>