---By Saloni Maheshwari
Women are crucial to economic growth. Developing the financial capacity of women means developing a nation’s economy. The work women can do can change an entire nation making it better economically as well as socially.
Indeed, economic success for women will not only improve their own lives but will also bring positive changes to a country. And women entrepreneurship is deemed to be a valuable tool to enhance economic development in general and women empowerment in particular.
Figures Always Flatter
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, there are 126 million women operating new businesses and another 98 million at the helm of established ones. Yet there is a huge equality gap. The rate of participation by women is same as women in only seven countries: Panama, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, Nigeria, Mexico and Uganda. However there are still many countries where women are not involved in business at all.
But women also face huge challenges to become economically independent as they try to find a balance between their family, social and business lives.
Women think, observe and implement things with a different perspective. This is reflected in the businesses women have started. There are many examples of women entrepreneurs who have struggled and led an entire business to a whole new level of success. Women business leaders inspire other women to pursue their dreams. Over time, we have observed women entrepreneurs rise from scratch to the pinnacle of success.
Laxmi Sharma, is, today, an outstanding woman entrepreneur who has won various national and international awards. Recognised by Nepal as the first Nepali woman auto-rickshaw driver, she is now the proprietor of Laxmi Wood Craft Udhyog, the first button factory in Nepal. Overcoming illiteracy and single motherhood, Laxmi has become a prime example of how hard work and determination can create a successful woman entrepreneur.
Savitri Devi Chaudhary, today, holds important positions in the small business sector. She leads and represents the women entrepreneurs of Sunsari district in various capacities. She has also represented Nepal as a successful Nepali woman entrepreneur in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Less than three years ago, Savitri was a simple housewife struggling to meet her basic needs. To survive, Savitri began working as a labourer on a daily wage basis.
Life changed for Savitri when she attended a UNDP micro-enterprise programme. Now Savitri is a trainer at jute factories and a successful entrepreneur setting an example for every aspiring woman entrepreneur. Kalpana Saroj, 50, is the daughter of a Dalit police constable in Maharashtra, India. Today she heads a multi-million dollar business empire.
At 22, Saroj married a small-time furniture manufacturer. She also revived his ailing steel-cupboard manufacture business. This mother of two then started a construction company. Today Saroj's interests include various industries such as construction, hotel, sugar, non-ferrous tubes and art galleries.
Indra Nooyi did not grow up poor but she did come from a self-described ‘humble middle class’ environment in India. Nooyirose from her humble beginnings to be voted the most powerful woman of the year in 2010 by Fortune Magazine. She demonstrated her strong work ethic by working as a receptionist at night to pay her college tuition in the US. All of her work paid off as she landed positions at top firms Johnson & Johnson and Motorola upon graduation. Nooyi is now the CEO at Pepsi Co and earned almost USD 20 million last year.
Under the Male Gaze
Women can take their businesses to greater heights but are generally held back. It’s important to understand what’s not allowing women to reach their full potential.
Lack of leadership, lack of planning and insufficient financial resources all lead to an increase in difficulties for women when they are opting for free enterprise. Women also face the twin challenges of male dominance and restrictions imposed by society. The major obstacles to self-employment for women need to be seen in more depth.
Access to finance is one of the major constraints faced by women entrepreneurs at the start. When it comes to finance, women face particular hurdles, from a lack of collateral to discriminatory regulations and rooted gender bias. Theoretically, men and women are equal in terms of access to credit in Nepal but there are many cultural/social barriers that limit access to credit to women. Microfinance providers such as Women’s World Banking, Grameen Bikas Bank and other institutions are addressing the need. But a better job needs to be done in terms of providing credit facilities to women.
Access to formal education is another major constraint. Though many countries, including Nepal, have given female education and training priority, there are still women with lack of formal and basic education who are running businesses and are unable to grow. This is because they are not aware of the government’s policies, procedures and even the activities that are carried out by NGOs and other foundations supporting women entrepreneurs.
Home vs Work
Many times, women see themselves torn between a family and a business. Family support and cooperation towards entrepreneurs is essential for any success. If women are provided constant support they are more likely to fully commit to a business. Time management and delegation is one solution in order to successfully manage a business along with a family.
Women are more emotional and nurturing, which can sometimes be a deterrent to running a business. For men business is mostly just about the bottom line and getting the work done but for women it is totally different. They get emotionally connected with the clients/customers, holding them back from making tough decisions. Women also generally tend to give priority in building relationships that they hope will help in nurturing sales.
Groups as Springboards
Many of these issues are handled by NGOs, SMEs, banks and financial institutions and other women led organisations that conduct various programmes related to potential women entrepreneurs. These institutions provide training-cum-income generating activities which help in uplifting women entrepreneurs. The funding or investment is partially taken care of by the sponsors, which is of great help to the start-ups. This allows women to present their ideas to the public and build-up confidence.
The Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association Nepal (FWEAN) is an apex body of women entrepreneurs associations in Nepal. It was established in 2003 to promote women entrepreneurship throughout the country.
FWEAN’s various workshops related to women’s economic empowerment not only raise the issues but also seek to find solutions. It has helped women start ventures with some innovative ideas (e.g. the Women Crafts Village which provides a venue for women entrepreneurs from different sectors to come together to market or showcase their products). FWEAN has also lobbied the government and Nepal Rastra Bank, for women entrepreneurs to get collateral free loans.
Shaashakteekaran Foundation is another organisation helping to empower women economically. Like FWEAN, this non-profit group also holds training workshops to encourage women entrepreneurship.
The group’s innovative Velvet Shoe Making programme showed how women could start up a venture using locally gained skills from home there by also fulfilling their commitment to the family as well.
The World Needs Women
In order to encourage women to start entrepreneurial ventures there are a few more steps that can be taken by the government, concerned institutions as well as by the women themselves.
The first and foremost thing that can be done is providing easy access to finance to potential women entrepreneurs enabling them to opt for self-employment. This will encourage many women to start their entrepreneurial venture. The financial support from banks should not be considered as a one-time thing rather it should continue in response to the increase in the credit absorption capacity of the group.
Fostering early education among women especially in rural areas should be one of the main concerns and should be dealt with rigorously. Though there has been tremendous improvement in education among women, the gap between educated men and women is still vast.
Media can also play an important role. Awareness campaigns can be launched about women entrepreneurs emphasising their business successes as important mile stones. Women themselves need to take charge and make sure that they are visible to key decision-makers.
The world needs women entrepreneurs, and women entrepreneurs need all of us. Women must learn to overcome all the obstacles to make women become successful entrepreneurs.It is time to provide the support and tools to ensure that women-led businesses flourish.
The writer is an MBA Graduate in Marketing from Ace Institute of Management.