Women entrepreneurs play an increasingly valuable role in the economy. But many still battle against gender bias and other hurdles in order to start and grow their businesses.
At the Friends of Europe debate “Women entrepreneurs: Spearheading implementation of Agenda 2030” in Brussels on 6 June 2018, five women panellists – entrepreneurs or donors – explored the chief challenges of surviving and thriving in a male-dominated business world.
Held during European Development Days 2018, the event underlined the encouraging progress of recent years. Some 10 million SMEs worldwide are now owned by women, and gender equality has become an integral part of all EU programmes. Yet access to finance for women remains tricky, especially in developing countries where getting credit often depends on land tenure.
“The world must wake up and invest in women entrepreneurs, because we failed on that for the Millennium Development Goals,” said Dorcas Apoore. This ambitious young woman created a Ghanaian basket-weaving business that went from 30 to 220 women in one year, thanks to a small loan. She said women must dare to put their business dreams into action.
There was praise for the ‘golden triangle’, or public-private-partnerships, and how the private sector can support women entrepreneurs. Angie Rozas, from The Coca-Cola Company, called women “the backbone of our business” because of their participation in numerous firms involved in local supply, distribution and retail. The company’s 5by20 programme is well on track to achieve its goal of economically empowering five million women entrepreneurs by 2020.
Capital now flows more easily to business-minded women. “We supply credit lines as well as technical assistance to support women-focused programmes for governments and entrepreneurs,” said Catherine Collin from the European Investment Bank. She acknowledged the importance of supporting women’s businesses during the riskier part of their development with equity and seed capital.
Women entrepreneurs also need the time to do business, added Odile Conchou from Agence Française du Développement, a major donor working worldwide. That can mean governments providing the sort of childcare and social security so common in France and other European countries, but still absent in most developing countries.
“We must highlight the potential benefits of empowering women entrepreneurs,” concluded Henriette Geiger from the European Commission. She said a 2015 McKinsey study noted that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. The EU is playing its part there by following the EU Gender Action Plan, as well as harnessing the EU External Action Plan to boost relevant investments by combining private loans with Commission grants.
“Networks are more important than ever for women entrepreneurs,” concluded the seminar’s moderator, Shada Islam, Director for Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. “As the #metoo social media campaign showed, networks can bring issues like gender equality to the attention of a much wider public.”
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