Author Archives: Rachel Grossman

Women Entrepreneurs Changing the Game in South Asia #IWD2016

Participants at a Women's Business Network meeting in Nepal in 2014.

Participants at a Women’s Business Network meeting in Nepal in 2014.

Here at CIPE, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting the achievements of the South Asia Regional Women’s Network, an informal group of 31 inspiring and empowered women from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Members of the network are business leaders and owners, board members, and senior managers who represent organizations with membership figures ranging from 100 direct members to nearly 4,000 members in Bangladesh.

They are women who have overcome great obstacles to build their careers, and their businesses, and are now giving back to other women seeking to do the same thing by building the capacity of their organization pushing for policy reform. Over the last four years, the network has come together nearly ten times to exchange information and best practices, to establish mentorship links between weaker and stronger organizations, and to build relationships between women in business, as well as between entire organizations, across the region.

Not long after the launch of this program, these organizations have grown in strength and numbers and have seen solid advocacy successes that have started to reshape economic policy, easing the burden of doing business for women and improving access to credit helping women to scale their businesses and bring more women into the workforce.

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Ten Years of Expanding Opportunity in Pakistan

Women entrepreneurs celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week in Pakistan.

Women entrepreneurs celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week in Pakistan.

How far has Pakistan come? And how much further is there to go? This month, we mark the 10th anniversary of CIPE’s office in Pakistan by asking these questions.

At the time that CIPE opened its Karachi office, then-President Pervez Musharraf had installed a technocratic government and had liberalized the media, setting the scene for change in Pakistan. CIPE recognized the opportunity for deep change, and made a commitment to supporting that reform process through a major new program working with the business community, civil society and media. CIPE sought to open space for the private sector and civil society to have a greater say in policymaking, and to hold the government accountable for its promises.

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Fighting Informality in Albania


With reports showing a steady increase of the level of informality in Albania and recent World Bank reports that Albania’s informal sector is estimated to make up as much as 40 to 50 percent of the country’s economy, the issue of informality is integral to Albania’s development. Now especially, as the European Union has granted Albania conditional EU candidate status. The gesture indicates both a challenge and an opportunity – formal accession negotiations will not begin until Albania addresses several key priorities, particularly reforming the country’s finances and reducing corruption.

Over the last decade, the number of businesses around the world operating in the shadows has grown. Men and women who stand at cash registers and add up their profits at the end of the day are increasingly doing so outside the jurisdiction of the state. Profits derived from the informal economy represent a significant share of the global economy, both in terms of currency and workforce labor, accounting for between 25 and 40 percent of annual output.

In developing countries with large informal sectors, thousands of entrepreneurs are locked out of the formal legal economy by a maze of regulations, burdensome procedures, high tax rates, and other barriers. These entrepreneurs can neither thrive personally nor contribute to their economy. Further, these entrepreneurs, and their employees alike, lack legal protection, access to credit, and have no legal ground to push back against corruption.

Thus the concerted effort to reduce informality has taken a front and center role in Albania. Recognizing how the informal sector is a breeding ground for corruption, one of the country’s leading think tanks, the Albanian Center for Economic Research (ACER), began working on the issue with a group of reform-minded business organizations.

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Investing in Bangladesh: A Gender-Smart Approach to Private Sector Development

This post is Part 5 in a series. Read Part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here. Jump to Ahmad’s comments.

Over the last 28 years, Selima Ahmad, the founder of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), has worked exclusively on women’s economic and social empowerment – both in her country and worldwide.

As the first woman’s chamber of commerce in Bangladesh, BWCCI has become a strong voice to support women’s economic participation, calling fora gender-smart approach to private sector development. That approach focuses on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as engines for job creation and growth, and in particular seeks to tackle a range of issues facing women-owned SMEs in particular. For instance, less than five percent of loans for SMEs go to women-owned businesses around the world and the global credit gap for women-owned SMEs is estimated at roughly $320 billion.

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Women in Business Mean Business: An Engaged Civil Society Organization in Nepal

This post is Part 4 in a series. Read Part 1 herepart 2 here, and part 3 here. Jump to Bhandary’s comments.

Rita Bhandary is a woman in business who means business. She is the current President of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association in Nepal (FWEAN) and a successful entrepreneur in her own right. Rita began humbly, learning as she went to seize opportunities to launch her business and a career, and, eventually, to share her success with other women across the country. Her story starts not with the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs in Nepal, but in the home, like many women in South Asia.

As she noted at CIPE’s panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, entrepreneurial success for the women of Nepal is just like the recipe for success worldwide: take opportunities when they present themselves. Bhandary’s experience also shows the importance of sufficient human, physical and financial capital for women to succeed in business.

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A Reservoir of Capability and Talent: Women’s Economic Empowerment and Increased Political Participation in Pakistan

This post is Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1 here and part 2 here. Jump to Arbab’s remarks here.

Shamama Arbab, Vice President of the Peshawar Women’s Chamber of Commerce (PWCCI) in Pakistan, is both a director of her own business and a tireless advocate for economic inclusion for women in Pakistan. Peshawar is a city where it is often difficult for women to even leave the home alone, so launching and growing a business can seem like a journey too dangerous to consider. Yet given her own success, she strives to provide similar opportunities to other women. She is focused on fostering women’s economic, social and political inclusion, addressing inequality, building an ecosystem in which women entrepreneurs are empowered, and where women can contribute to the country.

Across South Asia, there are women like Arbab who are both inspirational and transformational. They are changing their countries from the inside out by changing the role that women play as citizens. With this blog series, “Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy,” based on a panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, CIPE is highlighting the work of several such women leaders of chambers of commerce and business associations in the region. Having broken through various glass ceilings themselves, these women are now sharing their success by building institutions and mechanisms to support women across the economy, from all walks of life.

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Progress on Pro-SME Legislative Reform in Ukraine


Kiev is Ukraine’s political and economic capital. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Ukrainian government is in the difficult position of trying to overhaul a wide range of economic, judicial, and political institutions, all while fighting a war in the country’s east. The challenges are stark: Ukraine is in the midst of its worst recession since 2009, and the government expects the economy to shrink by 9.5 percent this year, with annual inflation likely to reach 48 percent. Thus it comes as no surprise that many Ukrainian citizens have begun to complain that the government isn’t doing enough, or that the pace of change after the EuroMaidan is too slow.

A policy paper released by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in November 2014, not long after the current government took office, analyzed a range of Ukrainian policies that are slanted against the business community, creating particular challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

While the reform effort since 2014 has been intense, many SME owners are still not satisfied with efforts to ease the regulatory burden, according to the findings of a national survey of over 1,600 SMEs, recently conducted by CIPE as part of the USAID project Supporting Urgent Reforms to Better Ukraine’s Business Environment (SURE) .

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