“Studies show that investing in women is a high yield investment as gender equality in access to education, healthcare, political participation, and economic participation is key to a country’s competitiveness and prosperity. It is a fact that women-run small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) drive economic growth and create jobs. This is true in my country and it is true around the world.” – Melanne S Verveer and Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia.
According to the World Bank, South Asia has the largest number of economically deprived and undernourished people in the world. Despite this it also has the world’s largest working age population and 25% of world’s middle-class consumers. If stabilized, the benefits of economic growth in the region would not only help alleviate policy, but would also extend to developed countries by supplying quality goods and services. On top of everything, peace in this region will also be ensured.
One of the ways to improve the economic conditions of South Asian countries is engaging women in economic development through entrepreneurial activities. To help support women interested in entrepreneurship, the U.S. State Department organized a two-day South Asia Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium in Dhaka on 9-10 December. One hundred and twenty women entrepreneurs from eleven countries in the region, including Central Asia, participated in the event, which focused on creating cross-border linkages between women entrepreneurs and leaders in South Asia. During the symposium, participants in breakout sessions discussed the challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs in technology, governance, trade, and entrepreneurship.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Robert O. Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, said that “from the beginning, the Obama Administration has emphasized women’s empowerment as an essential lynchpin in our global outreach strategy and a critical aspect of our foreign policy. Advancing gender equality and economically integrating women throughout the region is a key objective for the South and Central Asia Bureau that I lead, and a cornerstone of our vision to build regional ties and networks.”
On the whole, the most discussed issues in each session were access to capital and lack of knowledge about the stiff regulatory environment for women-owned businesses. Discussing the outcome of the breakout sessions and the entire symposium, the steering committee decided to appoint country focal persons to take forward recommendations, including the development of frequently-asked questions (FAQs) for doing business in each country.
At the same time, complementing this excellent initiative by the US State Department, CIPE recently launched its own program to address issues facing women entrepreneurs in South Asia. CIPE’s project seeks to strengthen the capacity of women’s chambers and associations, so they can better serve the needs of women entrepreneurs, including through policy dialogue. To begin this effort, CIPE will first focus on building an effective network among South Asian women’s business associations, so they can share experience and ideas. The project will kick off with a meeting on February 1-2 in Dhaka, bringing in approximately 15 leaders of key women’s chambers and associations from across the region. CIPE and the State Department have discussed how to build synergies between these two initiatives, and create a multiplier effect to benefit women entrepreneurs in South Asia.