EmprendeAhora participants at the inauguration of the 2012-013 EmprendeAhora program. (Photo: EmprendeAhora)
Entrepreneurship and business ownership is becoming an increasingly attractive career path for many young women in Latin America — with the help of programs like the CIPE-supported EmprendeAhora entrepreneurship and leadership courses in Peru.
In recent decades more and more women have begun to enter into the labor market and formal private sector, leading to an increased productivity for businesses and higher economic growth rates. As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned at a recent conference, between 2000 and 2010, women’s participation in the labor market in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by 15 percent. Without such growth, the World Bank estimates that the level of extreme poverty in the region would be 30 percent higher. These facts demonstrate the importance of women actively participating in the formal economy.
Nevertheless, such participation is not always easy. Would-be women entrepreneurs have to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve economic independence. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, as in many other regions, certain obstacles make it difficult for women to enter the formal private sector or become entrepreneurs. While in some cases legislation can create unnecessary hurdles, many times obstacles come in the shape of family members, societal norms, or even a lack of confidence that causes women to underestimate their own entrepreneurial capacity.
An EmprendeAhora participant stands outside her shop in Peru.
Recognizing the value of a thriving small business sector, on Saturday, November 24, millions of consumers in the United States participated in the Small Business Saturday initiative to promote small business growth, generating sales of more than $5.5 billion at independent merchants.
Despite the marked advantages of large businesses — stronger brand recognition, greater human resources, and economies of scale — small businesses remain incredibly important to the U.S. economy. Small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms and employ half of all private sector employees. In fact, in the past 17 years small businesses generated 65 percent of net new jobs.
The Small Business Saturday initiative, launched in 2010 by American Express and also promoted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many state and local governments, and the White House, seeks to take advantage of the shopping buzz around the key shopping days Black Friday and Cyber Monday by encouraging consumers to purchase items from local small businesses.
Although not as popular as Black Friday or Cyber Monday, which have become famous for great deals, the Small Business Saturday initiative has rapidly gained traction through its promotion on social media. This year there were more than 213,000 mentions on Twitter and 3.2 million “likes” on Facebook. Besides promoting small businesses and boosting their sales on a specific date, the initiative was created to provide free marketing to this specific business sector by targeting consumers who would not traditionally partake on Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. In 2011, Facebook and American Express also gave away more than $1 million in free Facebook advertising to 10,000 small businesses, and YouTube rolled out a new geo-coded system to help viewers find videos about local businesses.
As in the United States, small businesses also make up a large part of the Latin American economy (these are generally defined as an independent business having fewer than 500 employees). With small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) comprising 99 percent of the businesses in Latin America, one would imagine it being virtually impossible not to patronize them. Yet the fact that they are responsible for only 30 percent of total economic activity – as compared to more than half of GDP in the U.S. — may lead some to conclude that consumers are heading away from SME’s to patronize larger businesses or the informal sector instead. Thus, although a large percentage of the businesses in Latin America are SMEs, their sheer quantity does not necessarily translate to a large market share.
A reporter mourns the death of his colleague. (Photo: Vanguardia)
After leaving (or trying to leave) years of dictatorships and civil wars behind, it seemed as if Latin America was finally on the right path towards democracy. However, in the last decade Latin America has been held up on that path due to increased violence, deteriorating legal climates, and media — including internet — censorship. If the trend continues in the same direction, not only is “Mexico’s future as a democracy at risk,” as Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists stated, but so is the democratic future of many other Latin American countries.
At a time when many Latin American countries are attempting to work on strengthening their democracy, can they really afford to set freedom of press to the side? Can democracy truly be achieved while governments censor the media? These questions and more related to the current situation of freedom press — or the lack thereof — in many, if not most Latin American countries were discussed last month at a briefing on freedom of the press in Latin America hosted by U.S. Representative Sam Farr. At the event, Commissioner Dinah Shelton from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Joel Simon, Executive Director from the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Delphine Halgand, Washington, D.C. Director from Reporters Without Borders, discussed downward trends of press freedom in Latin America.