What is the Future of Women’s Entrepreneurship?

On the other side of the doors for the afternoon workshop “Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Post 2015 Development Agenda – A Multistakeholder Approach” was a small, energetic group of attendees that carefully listened to the diverse panelists from a variety of fields.

It was clear that everybody in the room, both men and women, cared about women’s entrepreneurship. Women’s entrepreneurship may be defined as any woman who organizes and manages any entreprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk. Within the past decade, women’s entrepreneurship has been recognized as an important untapped source of economic growth. However, women entrepreneurs still represent a minority of all entrepreneurs. Moreover, women entrepreneurs are more likely to operate on a smaller scale and achieve significantly less profit than male-owned businesses.

The panelists emphasized the inequalities of women’s entrepreneurship today and what women entrepreneurs need in order to achieve greater success. Shanley Cox, the Co-Founder/CEO of Olivia Cox (www.olivia-knox.com), a female owned luxury-item manufacturing company based in East Africa, offered a perspective from the private sector by talking about the difficulties of being a female entrepreneur. “When you yell at a man to get something done, he doesn’t listen to you. But when a man tells him to finish by a deadline, he’ll do it.” She also talked about the challenges for women entrepreneurs in the high-level playing field. “Women aren’t getting the investors with a lot of money. They aren’t getting access to international markets. And many women aren’t even trained to produce goods of high value. They are often making small batches of craft goods while men are running the luxury item companies. This is a structural problem. There is a dearth of talent and resources [for female entrepreneurs]”. 

Hazami Barmada, CEO of the international NGO Al-Mubadarah (http://www.almubadarah.org), offered her perspective on the situation of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. She cited statistics that showed the deplorable state of women entrepreneurs and women-run businesses in the US, such as how only 3-5% of venture capital funding is given to women, and how only 4% of Forbes 500 companies are run by women. In contrast, women entrepreneurs are more common in the MENA region, especially in the context of a generally high regional level of unemployment and a majority population of youth. 35% of MENA startups are started by women. “I read the newspapers here [in the United States] and I understand that people see me as oppressed. But when I return home, I see empowered women everywhere,” she says.

Women’s entrepreneurship still faces many obstacles ahead. But the virtue of such a panel discussing multistakeholder approaches to strengthen and increase women’s entrepreneurship, especially within the context of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, shows that it is no longer considered a token activity, but rather one that is crucial for the world’s social and economic well-being. Facing a future fraught with ever more financial insecurity and unemployment, women’s entrepreneurship will be the key to a more stable, prosperous, and equal world.

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