Five Leading Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia

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This post is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.

In the emerging democracies of South Asia, the majority of women are blocked from full economic and civil participation by a range of both formal and informal obstacles, including laws and regulations, and cultural and societal norms. While there is no shortage of aid programs for women in the region, CIPE recognized that limited attention was being paid to reforming the broader economic and political institutions that are skewed against women – by improving the business environment so that women-owned businesses can thrive.

Last week, CIPE launched a blog series exploring the connection between women’s economic empowerment and democracy in South Asia. The series, inspired by CIPE’s panel at a March 2015 conference in Delhi, tells the stories of five key members of CIPE’s network of South Asian women’s chambers and associations, and explores the crucial role that women’s empowerment plays in strengthening democracy and furthering economic growth.

Women face great difficulties in obtaining finance; their right to own property (and as such, its use as collateral) is often restricted; and at times their very access to marketplaces is constrained. CIPE launched a program to address these issues by strengthening women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, building a network of such organizations from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Over the last two years, CIPE has brought the network together several times to exchange information and best practices, and to establish links between weaker and stronger organizations. CIPE provided training on governance, financial and staff management, communications, and membership development. CIPE has lately begun to fund small advocacy programs carried out by these organizations. Across the board, their successes have been awe-inspiring.

Key members of each organization were invited to speak about their lives and their organizations at the Delhi conference. Read more about each of these five remarkable women below.

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Economic Inclusion: Leveraging Markets and Entrepreneurship to Extend Opportunity

fs-inclusionBurgeoning youth populations across the developing world emphasize the importance of achieving sustainable economic growth and providing widespread employment opportunities. Economic inclusion refers to equality of opportunity for all members of society to participate in the economic life of their country as employers, entrepreneurs, consumers and citizens — and the private sector is a central partner in fostering economic growth.

CIPE’s latest Economic Reform Feature Service article outlines strategies to build a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem by engaging traditionally under-represented groups in economic and political life. The article focuses on approaches to promote entrepreneurship opportunities among women and youth as well as informal sector operators. The article also illustrates successful approaches employed in CIPE projects around the world. Read the full article here.

Teodora Mihaylova is Research Coordinator at CIPE.

Property Markets, the Rule of Law, and Real Estate Investment

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Real estate investors are attracted to the United States because its strong legal system protects their investment and because of the easy availability of accurate information. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

I recently participated in George Washington University’s 2015 Global Real Estate Conference in New York. Having been invited to share CIPE’s work developing the International Property Markets Scorecard at the International Real Estate Federation’s (FIABCI-USA) annual meeting, which dove-tailed with the conference, I took the opportunity to educate myself on the current happenings in the real estate field and see how CIPE’s work might resonate with the professionals most connected to international investment in property.

Headliners at the conference included international representatives from such prominent companies as Morgan Stanley, CBRE, Knight Frank, and Cushman & Wakefield. Mostly I learned a great deal of “inside baseball” language and can now boast a broader vocabulary, but there was another theme that kept coming up. Whether talking about mitigating risk, conducting valuation of property, or trying to determining capitalization rates, it all came down to the need for reliable information and a stable environment that allows for confident investing.

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What’s Stopping Pakistan from Reaping its Demographic Dividend?

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Photo: Dawn

“In the absence of adequate job creation by the public or private sectors, it is more important to enhance financial inclusion, which can help create greater opportunities for self-employment instead of salaried employment.” Tameer Microfinance Bank CEO Nadeem Hussain

Pakistan is one of the top ten most populous countries in the world. Youth make up over 36 percent of the Pakistani labor force, and that proportion is projected to rise to 50 percent by 2050. According to the World Bank there will be 1.7 million Pakistanis entering the country’s labor force every year, yet, worryingly, the Pakistan labor force survey also finds that over 3.7 million people are currently unemployed. The yearly upsurge in the unemployment rate is putting additional weight on the shoulders of the Pakistan government. The government must reassess and make needed reforms in order to change the current trajectory and allow Pakistan to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend.

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Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy

This post is Part 1 in a series. Read Part 2 here.

CIPE’s focus both on how economic growth strengthens democracy, and on how sound democratic institutions are needed to make an economy function smoothly, directly bears on women’s political and economic empowerment in South Asia. In March 2015, CIPE staff participated in a conference in Delhi entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Asia: Inclusion, Participation and Rights,” organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the World Movement for Democracy, the Asia Democracy Network, and the Institute of Social Sciences.

As one of the four core institutes of the NED, CIPE was invited to organize a panel at the conference, and selected the issue of the links among women’s economic empowerment, women’s entrepreneurship, and democracy. CIPE invited five key members of its network of South Asian women’s chambers and associations to share their views as the panelists, with CIPE’s Regional Director for Eurasia and South Asia, Marc Schleifer, moderating.

Their conversation explored the ways in which CIPE’s work at the intersection of economic development and democracy ties into women’s issues in a challenging region. This post will be the first of six reflecting on CIPE’s panel at the conference, and is intended to spur a deeper conversation of these issues. Each entry in this series will build on the stories of the key members of CIPE’s South Asian network, illuminated by the questions that Schleifer posed during the panel to these South Asian leaders, as follows:

  1. In what ways do private enterprise and entrepreneurship help spark economic empowerment for women and lead to improved political participation among women?
  2. What are some motivating factors that encourage women to move beyond growing their businesses to start civil society organizations, in order to give back to other women?
  3. Why is it important to focus on scaling women-owned businesses, and in what ways is access to finance and policy change a part of that scaling process?
  4. How do these women’s business organizations approach the issue of policy advocacy? What kinds of policy challenges do women in business in your countries face? And how are your organizations working to tackle those issues?

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Working Together for the Future of Serbia’s Youth

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 By Milos Djuricanin, Program Manager at Serbian Association of Managers. Duracanin was a 2014 ChamberLINKS participant.

“It is clear that youth unemployment is one of the biggest problems of our society. If we want to successfully solve the problem of unemployment, we have to listen more to the voice of the economy and private sector. This is the absolute priority of the Government of Serbia. That’s why we initiated conversations with businessmen, in order to get first-hand information on their personnel needs and to create a common set of measures which will enable increase of youth employment”– Vanja Udovicic, Minister of Youth and Sports.

The status and position of young people in the labor market in Serbia falls into the category of challenges with no quick fix. Year after year, we are faced with statistics that continue to confirm that every second, a young person is left without a job. According to data presented at the National Youth Strategy for 2015-2025, youth unemployment in August 2014 in the Republic of Serbia is 41.7 percent for people aged 15-24, and 33.27 percent for people aged 15-30 years. Young people are inactive in the labor market: last year the inactivity rate of young people aged 15-30 years was over 50 percent and in 2013, it was noted that 20 percent of young people ages 15-24 belonged to the category of young people NEET (not employed, in education or training).

One of the key issues affecting the high youth unemployment is a mismatch between the skills that young people acquire through formal education, and the knowledge and skills that employers expect them to have. According to research conducted by the Union of Employers of Serbia, young people throughout the formal education system receive and adopt only theoretical knowledge and only 4.12 percent of young people are considered to possess the knowledge and skills for real business. Eighty-six percent of young people reported that they felt they did not possess any practical knowledge.

Among the barriers for business development in Serbia, the lack of adequate staff is increasingly climbing on the list: from an 8th place ranking in 2006 to third place ranking in 2013. This is a clear indication of how difficult it is to find high quality staff.

Given this information, the Serbian Association of Managers (SAM) with the support of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) organized an event titled “Support for the youth – future for the country,” during which a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Ministry of Youth and Sport and SAM aiming to increase opportunities for top university students in the country to intern for SAM’s member companies.

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Can Women Entrepreneurs Help Serbia Overcome Recession?

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Recently I visited Serbia to attend events for a women’s mentorship program led by our partner, the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW). I was excited to speak with the local women entrepreneurs, because I had read literature on how women in business face serious barriers in Serbia despite the country’s history of socialist emphasis on gender equality. What I saw from Serbia’s women entrepreneurs was impressive.

In Serbia, men and women have similar levels of education and equal treatment in labor legislation. When it comes to access to economic opportunities, however, it’s a different story.  The employment rate for working age women is over 20 percent lower than that of men. Women-owned enterprises (small businesses, limited liability companies, partnerships, etc.) make up only 26 percent of all registered businesses and companies active in the Serbian economy.

Economic growth has been anemic since 2009 and the country slipped into recession in 2014, due in part to severe floods. Despite overcoming the setbacks of the 1990s — conflict, international sanctions, and breakup of the former Yugoslavia — and being in negotiations to join the European Union, Serbia now faces an unemployment rate of nearly 17 percent. The unemployment rate is even higher among youth — 47 percent. Many economists have argued that the answer to revitalizing Serbia’s economy is encouraging more women into the private sector, especially to start small and medium enterprises. And ABW for the past 10 months has been doing exactly this: inspiring and supporting entrepreneurship among women throughout the country.

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