Tag Archives: women

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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Gender Diversity on Pakistan’s Corporate Boards

When it comes to gender diversity, too many boards still look like this in 2015 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When it comes to gender diversity, too many boards still look like this in 2015 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Corporate boards have historically been comprised mainly of men. However, a number of countries have begun imposing quotas for the number of women on the boards of publicly traded or state-owned companies — an idea that is now being considered as a European Union-wide rule. This is likely to compel businesses elsewhere in the world, including Pakistan, to consider the gender diversity of their own corporate boards.

According to the International Finance Corporation, just 13 percent of 303 companies surveyed in Pakistan in 2010 had more than one woman director — a sample that included publicly listed companies, large family-owned firms, and private, unlisted companies. 

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Building a Network of EntrepreneuHERS

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Forbes estimates that 90 percent of startup businesses will fail. However, the entrepreneurship ecosystem – that is the enabling environment that is more or less conducive for startups – varies drastically throughout the world.

This year the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business report rated Serbia and Nicaragua as the 91st and 119th easiest countries for doing business out of 189 countries, respectively. The Global Entrepreneurship Index ranked Serbia as the 78th and Nicaragua as the 87th most entrepreneurial countries out of 130 according to their index. These rankings highlight the progress albeit continued uphill battle entrepreneurs face in operating a business in these countries.

More accurately, the 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) elucidates the unique institutions impacting women in starting and operating a business: a provision for childcare services, work-family conflicts, limitations to freedom to work and travel due to traditional family and religious norms, and equal legal rights, in addition to meeting expectations and gaining access to education, capital, and networks.

In a unique mentorship structure aimed at maximizing the number of beneficiaries of the project, CIPE partners the Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) and Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) linked successful women entrepreneurs with emerging micro-entrepreneurs for one-year mentorship programs. Though FEI reports a nine percent increase in the number of female entrepreneurs who have participated in some form of post-secondary education, factors such as lack of confidence or practical know-how still prevent young women from actually acting on their business ideas and subsequently making it through the first few years of operation. To account for this in Nicaragua, REN linked each mentor-mentee pair with a female university student studying business at the top universities in Managua. Seeing first-hand how a real business operates and a microenterprise can scale allowed interns to apply the skills learned in their coursework.

This month’s Economic Reform Feature Service articles on the case studies of Serbia and Nicaragua outline the mentorship structure of each respective program and bring to light the power of women-to-women mentorship in building leadership and confidence, considering long term career goals, and creating a nurturing and supportive network to rely on when navigating difficult professional and even personal decisions. Women’s business associations like ABW and REN aren’t waiting for an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs but rather are creating their own.

Stephanie Bandyk is the Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE. 

Mentorship Helps Women Entrepreneurs in Nicaragua Grow their Businesses


“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.

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CIPE Launches First Annual Photo Competition

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

Photo: © 2011 Swapping aid for trade in northern Uganda, Pete Lewis/UK Department for International Development

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank

Show us your best story-telling photo

Do you like to tell stories through photography? Then show us your best work! The first annual Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) Photo Competition is now open for submissions.

Open to participants of all ages, including student, amateur, and professional photographers, the inaugural photo competition will focus on the theme of Entrepreneurship.

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Five Leading Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia


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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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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