It takes a special type of woman to be an entrepreneur.
I didn’t quite know what to expect when, earlier this year, I met with a group of women entrepreneurs in Karachi who are participating in the World Bank Group’s womenX program. I had read a lot about the low numbers of women running businesses in Pakistan, the challenging environment they operate in, and their many constraints. But I was struck by the positivity and drive of the women I met. They shared with me how they are improving their business and financial practices, building their confidence, and expanding their networks.
Take for instance, Mussarat Ishaq, who runs Al-Karam Packages. Mussarat was a Karachi-based housewife, pregnant with her third child, when her husband divorced her. With no work experience, little education, no money and no plan, she learned the ropes of polythene production and with a business partner, started out small – purchasing the raw material from local markets, using outdated machinery to produce plastic bags, and supplying them to small businesses in their area. Today, they have purchased more sophisticated equipment and they employ 250 employees, working to provide low-cost, high-quality, reusable and environment-friendly packaging materials to Pakistani clients.
If you’re in the private sector, and if you somehow imagine that social issues don’t have anything to do with your business, then you’d better think again. The dollars-and-cents costs of chronic social problems and dysfunctional behavior have a direct impact on private-sector productivity and profitability.
As Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter told a World Bank Group audience not long ago, explaining his theory of “creating shared value”: If business leaders are serious about ensuring future private-sector-led growth – and about the long-range stability of the economy – then the corporate sector had better prioritize pro-active steps to address serious social issues as a significant part of their strategy.
Social issues might not readily rise to the top of corporate leaders’ in-boxes, since many hard-headed businessmen – and I use the suffix “men” advisedly – might presume that “soft” human concerns aren’t central to day-to-day business operations. Yet the painful human toll inflicted by social dysfunction is everybody’s business. Corporate executives who truly aim to fulfill a positive leadership role in society, to which they so often aspire rhetorically, have a duty to raise their voices about the many kinds of social trauma that impede socioeconomic progress.
If a sense of social responsibility isn’t enough to get corporate leaders thinking pro-actively, they should at least consider their business’ long-term enlightened self-interest. A workforce that’s de-motivated or demoralized – or, worse, physically injured or emotionally abused – will suffer lower morale and higher absenteeism, will trigger higher health-care costs, will be distracted from seizing new business opportunities, and will fall short of fulfilling its full productive potential. That economic reality should spur the private sector to take constructive, preventive action.
An event on Wednesday at the World Bank Group will offer a reminder of how one vicious form of extreme antisocial behavior – violence against women and girls – acts as a drag on society, a drain on the economy and an impediment to achieving every development priority. The 2 p.m. event in the J Building auditorium will launch a new World Bank Group report – the “Violence Against Women and Girls Resource Guide” – that surveys a wide range of analyses on the human suffering and social pain caused by gender-based violence.
Jointly sponsored by the Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Women’s Institute based at George Washington University, the afternoon event will follow a morning panel discussion – at 10 a.m. in GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium – featuring the authors of a landmark series of analyses of gender-based violence in The Lancet, the UK's pre-eminent medical journal.
Recognizing gender-based violence as a medical and public-health emergency – and reinforcing the World Health Organization’s recent declaration that gender-based violence is a global threat “of epidemic proportions” – The Lancet’s special edition is blunt about the grim toll of violence that deliberately victimizes women and girls: “Every day, millions of women and girls worldwide experience violence. This abuse takes many forms, including intimate physical and sexual partner violence, female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, sex trafficking, and rape.”
Yet the special edition of The Lancet asserts that this social scourge is preventable. The analyses “cover the evidence base for interventions, discuss the vital role of the health sector in care and prevention, show the need for men and women to be involved in effective programmes, provide practical lessons from experience in countries, and present a call for action with five key recommendations and indicators to track progress.”
In a parallel, practical initiative, the government of the United Kingdom – through its Public Health England arm – has published a “toolkit” to help businesses identify, analyze and take protective action for those who may have been victimized by domestic abuse, psychological trauma or gender-based violence. PHE’s toolkit and awareness-building initiatives redouble the efforts of the UK’s Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence.
In the spirit of the United Nations’ recent observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and occurring amid the current “16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence” campaign – the Wednesday discussions with experts from The Lancet, the Global Women’s Institute, the IDB and the World Bank Group will help highlight the pervasive gender bias that hardens social inequality, and that can take the extreme form of violence targeting women and girls.
Corporate leaders who aim to take a leadership role in society have an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment: by rededicating their organizations to activist steps to mend a society too often torn by violence and the causes of violence: economic insecurity, social-class stratification, winner-take-all rapacity, misogyny, discrimination and exclusion – all of which threaten the ideals of eradicating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity.
Wednesday’s forums on gender-based violence will remind us that building a stronger, safer, more inclusive society is everybody’s business. That challenge should inspire private-sector leaders to include the long-term welfare of society as one essential factor as they calculate their bottom-line summation of success.
Photo Credit: Mauricio Santana – Women’s Forum 2014
A pergunta foi o foco do Fórum de Mulheres realizado este ano nos dias 26 e 27 de maio, em São Paulo, Brasil. Em um país movimentado com a Copa do Mundo e se preparando para eleições presidenciais, o tema ‘Criar uma Economia Próspera para Todos’ foi bastante propício. Mais de quinhentos homens e mulheres participantes, entre políticos, empresários, membros da sociedade civil e acadêmicos de todos os cantos do Brasil, de países da América Latina, dos Estados Unidos e da Europa se reuniram para colocar em pauta – e no centro do palco – a questão da plena participação das mulheres na economia e na sociedade. O cenário foi bastante adequado: um país em que as mulheres conquistaram grandes avanços e cada vez mais estão em posições de destaque. Do mais alto cargo - da Presidente do país - e em todos os setores da socidade e da economia, as mulheres estão atuantes e continuam a assumir cargos de liderança, com muitos bons exemplos presentes nas sessões plenárias e durante todo o evento.
O Fórum foi de fato próspero e marcante. Começou com um apelo pela libertação das estudantes Nigerianas sequestradas seguido da palestra de abertura, dada pela Ministra da Secretaria de Políticas para as Mulheres, Eleonora Menicucci, focando na conquista da autonomia econômica para as mulheres no Brasil e em iniciativas como a campanha “Eu Ligo” pelo fim da violência contra as mulheres.
As sessões plenárias e painéis que se seguiram, todos compostos de brilhantes exemplos de mulheres em posições de destaque e de liderança em empresas brasileiras e internacionais, pequenas e médias empresas e no governo e na sociedade civil, como a presidente da Boeing Brasil, a presidente da companhia aérea TAM, a presidente do Fórum de Mulheres e a diretora para Mulheres e Crianças da Clinton Global Initiative, abordaram temas relevantes como negócios e direitos humanos, casamento, machismo, e investimento social em mulheres, incentivando talentos, entre outros.
Pick any country in the developing world.
Where are the women entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
They start and manage digital-content creation firms serving international clients. They are sole proprietors of construction businesses bidding for government projects. They supervise tailors and embroiderers in windowless storage rooms that double as stitching units. They export high-end gems and jewelry around the world.
Women entrepreneurs in Pakistan lead cutting-edge, innovative businesses – but there are far too few of them. The recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report finds that only 1 percent of Pakistani women are engaged in entrepreneurship – the lowest proportion in the world.
Pakistan is not alone in its dismal ratio of growth-oriented (or indeed any kind of) women entrepreneurs. Even in the developed Asian economies of Korea and Japan, only about 2 percent of women are entrepreneurs. Sub-Saharan Africa does much better in this regard, with 27 percent of women, on average, engaged in entrepreneurship -- but they are mostly involved in low-productivity sectors of the economy.
Women entrepreneurs, in Pakistan and globally, have narrow networks of friends and family who provide them with some initial capital to start their small businesses, with little expectation of further financial support. Their export customers are located wherever they have extended family. And they rarely feature in local chambers of commerce activities.
Banks are often reluctant to extend lines of credit to, provide working capital to or lend to women-led enterprises. This makes it difficult for these enterprises to pursue growth. Perhaps this is why the average growth projections for women-led enterprises are seven to nine percentage points below those for their male counterparts.
On this year’s International Day of the Girl, I was part of the vast audience in the Atrium of the World Bank who had the opportunity to hear Malala Yousafza, the young activist who is inspiring the world with her bravery and courage, speak about her passionate fight for girls’ education.
Just the night before, she had wowed Jon Stewart on his television show with her poignantly articulate and exceedingly wise responses. Among them, she said: “I believe in equality. And I believe there is no difference between a man and a woman. I even believe that a woman is more powerful than men.”
These words, though spoken by a teenager, could scarcely ring more true amid the battle to eliminate poverty. Women are indeed more powerful than men, in the sense that, when you invest in a woman, you also invest in her family, her community and her country at large.
Madame Ngetsi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of thousands of women in the world who—despite their talent, drive, and potential to contribute to the economic development of their countries—may never be able to fulfill their dreams of starting their own businesses. Their dreams may be dashed because of outdated legislation that reproduces debilitating gender roles.
If she were a man in the DRC, Madame Ngetsi’s initial steps in starting her business would be to obtain a certificate confirming the headquarters location, notarize the articles of association, and register with the Commercial Registry. As a woman, however, a significant roadblock stands in her way: She is legally mandated to first obtain her husband’s permission to register a business. This legal requirement, found in the family code rather than in any commercial or business code, is fully in effect in the DRC. Permission letters are readily found on file at women-owned company registries. Married men face no such requirement.
After a long job search, you are rewarded by the phone call all job seekers wait patiently for, the interview invitation. You prep and spend as much time on the outfit you plan to wear as you do practicing mock interviews with your friends. You get to the interview all prepared to discuss your semester abroad as a graduate student, your thesis that took you to Congo and extensive work experience that landed you coveted past jobs. Your prospective employer will be as interested in your past work experience as in your formal education or schooling. The quality and the quantity (number of years) of relevant experience could drop you out of the race all together or…land you the job, determine your pay bracket and impact your future career growth.
Is a solid education enough to level the gender gap in human capital? (Credit: World Bank)
Women entrepreneurs in the Caribbean are breaking through the walls (Credit: infoDev)
In the last few decades, women in the Caribbean have made impressive strides to break through the glass ceiling and obtain positions of power and responsibility. In governments throughout the region, we’ve seen women as national leaders including Janet Jagen (Guyana), Eugenia Charles (Dominica), Portia Simpson Miller (Jamaica) and Kamla Persad-Bissessar (Trinidad). In addition, the region’s women are attaining high levels of academic achievement, and now there are more female than male college graduates in total. While this is all extremely positive news for gender equality in the Caribbean, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels just yet. There is still one area of the playing field that remains to be leveled, and not just in the Caribbean, which is women succeeding as well as men as high growth entrepreneurs.
Last April 21, representatives from government, the private sector, and the financial inclusion world came together for Financial Inclusion Pathways for Women and the Poor. Panels covered a range of topics, including financial education, mobile banking and SME finance. But at the heart of all the discussions was the challenge posed by 2.5 billion unbanked people around the world –1.35 billion of them women. What actions can the public and private sector take to give the financially excluded—especially women who have the potential to transform economies-- access to finance?