“When women come together in Nicaragua, we usually talk about families and communities. We never discuss about our businesses. That’s why a community like Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) is important, where women are encouraged to talk about their businesses without offending someone or thinking it’s a taboo.”
Marla Reyes Rojas, the owner of Techno Commerce Group, told me this over a cup of coffee during my recent trip to Managua. I was glad to hear first-hand how a CIPE partner is fostering a community where businesswomen, like Marla, can openly talk and build networks with other women in business.
Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) growth has been touted as a key for Nicaragua’s economic growth, but the country remains one of the most difficult places to start a business in Central America (for example, the licensing process takes more than 200 days to complete). This is even more pronounced for women entrepreneurs who confront myriad of challenges, and as a result only represent around 25 percent of the MSME sector in the country. Additionally, women face the rooted machismo culture that prevents them from achieving gender equality in the economy.
In such an environment, it’s crucial for women in business to come together and motivate one another. That’s why for the past year, REN led a mentorship program to develop leadership and entrepreneurship skills among women in Nicaragua. The program linked successful women entrepreneurs to female university students with business degrees (who served as interns) and emerging women micro-entrepreneurs (who were the mentees). REN matched ten teams — a team consisted of a mentee, mentor, and an intern — and each group worked to improve the mentee’s business.
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.
Fostering a strong competitive market requires the private and public sectors to understand each other’s needs. In any country, entrepreneurs look for ways to make their businesses successful while the federal and local governments deliberate how they can boost the economy by providing loans for businesses or building up infrastructure. Developing solutions to such questions involve facilitating effective public private dialogues (PPD).
At the 8th PPD Global Workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark – which was co-organized by the World Bank Group, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Confederation of Danish Industry – over 300 participants from civil society organizations, companies, governments and development partners from 54 countries came together to share their experiences with PPDs. CIPE and several current and past partner organizations from Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Moldova, Serbia, and Nigeria participated in this four day event.
Betty Maina, CEO of CIPE partner Kenya Association of Manufacturers, was a featured speaker and highlighted the importance of PPD for the enabling business environment. Director for Multiregional Programs Anna Nadgrodkiewicz also presented CIPE’s joint initiative with the World Bank, an interactive knowledge hub website for the global PPD community of practice (www.publicprivatedialogue.org).
The workshop focused both on successes and challenges faced by PPD practitioners when developing, implementing, and evaluating constructive dialogues in different environments. The breakout sessions were divided by range of themes such as fragile and conflict-affected states (e.g. Palestine and Guinea), politically and socially transitioning environments (e.g. Tunisia and Slovakia) and city-level versus regional-level PPDs.
Children’s book and toys that were developed as a result of Association of Business Women in Serbia’s mentorship program.
Fear of failure. Lack of confidence. Aversion to risk. These are some of the biggest hurdles that one faces when starting a business. Around the world, these challenges are often far more pronounced for women entrepreneurs. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report noted that one of the top reasons why there are significantly fewer female entrepreneurs than male entrepreneurs is because women simply believe they are incapable of launching their own businesses.
What can be done to reverse such beliefs?
One answer is fostering a network among women in business through mentorships.
The Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) and Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) both saw a pattern in their countries: women are reluctant to start businesses because they lack role models and the right skillsets to pursue entrepreneurship. To fill this gap, CIPE is supporting both organizations to empower and support aspiring or new women entrepreneurs in Serbia and Nicaragua.
Women entrepreneurs around the world face a myriad of challenges. Balancing obligations between at home and work, lack of networks, and limited access to finance are just few of the universal problems faced by women in the private sector. Such challenges hinder women’s full economic potential and thus hurt the overall economy.
This is especially true in developing countries where a large percentage of small and medium enterprises are owned by women. Moreover, when women are not fully participating in an economy, they are marginalized and thus not represented equally in a society.
Overcoming these challenges require women to have a voice – and this can be done through women’s associations. Women’s chambers of commerce and business organizations can help address issues faced by women in the economy by bringing them together to advocate for their economic rights.
In this month’s Economic Reform Feature Service article, CIPE summarizes a panel discussion that was held on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. The three guest speakers – Lucy Valenti, the president of Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua; Lina Hundaileh, the chair of the Young Entrepreneur’s Association in Jordan; and Selima Ahmad, the President of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry – shared their stories about women’s leadership and importance of advocating for women entrepreneurs around the world.
The key, they all agreed, is for women to engage male stakeholders to challenge cultural, social, and economic norms that limit women’s full economic potential. Achieving these points would produce more enriching democracies that benefit all members of society.
Read the full story here.
CIPE and Atlas Corps welcomed the latest class of Think Tank LINKS Fellows at the end of January. This year’s class comes from a wide range of backgrounds – from South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa – to Washington, DC for six months to partake in a leadership development program. All of the fellows will serve at renowned think tanks in Washington, DC, and shadow researchers and experts to learn best practices of successful think tanks in the U.S.
We’re excited to introduce our latest Think Tank LINKS fellows to everyone!
A Burmese man checks his mobile phone.(Photo: Flickr)
Since 2011, Burma has slowly been transitioning into a fledgling democracy from a reclusive military dictatorship. Some positive steps have taken place – multi-party elections have been held and more than 3,000 political prisoners have been freed. Yet as the U.S. deputy national security adviser stated recently, “[p]arts of the reform effort have stalled, parts have moved forward and parts, we’ve seen, have even moved backward, so it’s a mixed picture.”
The biggest test for Burma’s democratic transition is the upcoming general elections taking place in November. For citizens to make informed decisions and to hold future leaders accountable, they must be empowered with knowledge. The potential political leaders also must be educated about how to govern, as well as find ways to communicate and engage with their constituents. And technology, more specifically mobile phones, will have a large role to play for both groups.