Sinah Legong and her team meet at Raeketsetsa, a program that encourages young women in South Africa to get involved in information and communications technologies. © Mutoni Karasanyi/World Bank
Olou Koucoi founded Focus Energy, a company that brings light, news and entertainment to people living off-grid in his country, Benin. Its spinoff program ElleAllume hopes to train more than 1,000 women to bring power to 100,000 Beninois homes this year. “At the end of the day, [inclusive hiring] is not a gender decision, it’s a business decision,” he says.
Over the past few months, I interviewed a number of incubator and accelerator programs to compile best practices for the World Bank Group’s Climate Technology Program. The research spanned 150 programs in 39 countries, ranging from relatively new to seasoned veterans of the clean tech incubation space. The consensus regarding gender diversity and inclusion was almost unanimous; all but one program echoed Koucoi’s sentiments – in principle.
In practice, however, encouraging more women into the clean energy sector and related programs has proved challenging. Below are some of the most popular explanations for the low levels of female representation:
“We can’t find them.”
Many clean energy incubation programs said they had difficulty recruiting due to a lack of women in the industry and strong women’s networks to tap into. While there is no shortage of women in clean energy (with industry-specific examples such as clean cookstoves serving as a good example) there are few women-led businesses. This lack of visible leadership translates into lower rates of participation.
“We would love to focus on bringing more women into the program, but we have limited resources.”
Incubation programs are often lean, with little time and few resources to expand on offerings and create targeted programs for women. Instead, to create quick wins and draw in additional funds, programs often take a “low-hanging fruit” approach, seeking out the most visible companies to recruit and invest in, which tend to have male co-founders.
“Does it really matter at the end of the day?”
Many programs are pro-gender-diversity in principle, but gender-agnostic in practice. This stems from a disconnect between the “gendered-lens” approach discussed when fundraising for incubation programs and the results frameworks which judge their success. Such factors as the number of companies exited are still weighed much more heavily than gender balance.
Below are some of the best ways I have found to create more gender-diverse and inclusive programs:
In most developed nations, when dealing with the aftermath of a natural catastrophe, an accident, a divorce – or even retirement – women know they can buy and rely on insurance to handle the damages, give them access to long-term savings or, at a minimum, cover a portion of their lost assets.
In emerging and developing markets, on the other hand, this is usually not the case. Working at IFC in Washington and staying in touch with my family at home in Senegal, I’ve heard countless stories of men and women living in terrible conditions after a natural disaster.
These are not only people with lower incomes. I’ve met women who have lost everything following their spouse’s death or divorce because customary practices and inheritance laws did not give them access to the family assets. (In fact, in 20 percent of economies around the world, women do not have the same inheritance rights as men.) Worse, there are women whose children have died because the public hospital was too full and too busy to accommodate them at the time they needed medical help, and because they did not have the means to afford private health care.
These are sobering and, sadly, true stories that very seldom make headlines. Yet if we look at families’ needs and at how women tend to be more affected by death, disaster and family illness, the answer seems simple: insurance.
It’s only when something bad happens that, all of a sudden, people – especially women, who tend to be more risk-aware – wish that they had planned better to deal with the situation at hand. What tends to keep women from choosing insurance as the solution to their risk-mitigation needs are misperceptions, affordability, lack of awareness, lack of bank accounts or access, and the stories of people with insurance policies that do not seem to cover any claims.
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.
International Women’s Day is when we celebrate the strides made towards equality, but it also reminds us that gender is a powerful determinant of economic opportunities, particularly in developing countries. Financial inclusion is one of the areas where we observe a gender gap—women in developing economies are still relatively more excluded from the financial sector than men, even after controlling for income and education
For the first time, we can quantify this gap using hard data and evaluate how women around the world save, borrow, make payments and manage risk, both inside and outside the formal financial sector. With the release of the Global Financial Inclusion (Global Findex) data, we now have a comprehensive, individual-level, and publicly-available database that allows for comparisons based on more than 150,000 nationally representative adults in 148 economies in 2011. The dataset includes over 40 indicators, but here we’ll focus on three main categories: account ownership, savings behavior and credit.
While it’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, many of us at infoDev are trying every day to make women, specifically women innovators, central to our strategy of supporting high-growth entrepreneurs in developing countries. But this is easier said than done as women are notoriously under-represented in tech-related industries and even more so in the area that I work in – clean technology – which is largely manufacturing and therefore male, dominated.
I recently attended one of the largest renewable energy forums in the Caribbean attracting investors, experts and entrepreneurs from around the region. As I looked around the room, I spotted only a handful of women. And this is not an isolated case. I see this scenario play out whenever I meet climate and clean energy entrepreneurs at events like this around the world.
12-12-12 marks an auspicious day on which couples are rushing to get married. Globally, many women and men have been waiting for this day to mark as the day they got married. Those who miss it will need to wait 100 years to have another chance like this one again. But depending on where in the world they are, getting married will mean different things for these women, their career and future business opportunities.
In many economies around the world women are legally prevented from conducting basic transactions which are necessary precursors to entrepreneurship and employment. Women, particularly married women, can be barred from actions such as opening bank accounts, determining where to work or live, and having the ability to move freely. In some economies married women need their husbands’ permission to carry out such actions.
Just a few weeks ago, I launched a new World Bank report on gender in Pakistan – Is the microfinance sector in Pakistan serving women entrepreneurs? The report highlighted some troubling patterns which emerged from a review of the microfinance sector there, mainly that most women borrowers are actually acting as loan conduits for the men in their family, that much of the sector is engaging in de facto discriminatory practices, and that women who are actually running businesses in Pakistan have little interest in using microfinance products, because the products offered are unsuitable for their business needs. These are pretty counterintuitive findings, and have us questioning whether these observations are specific to Pakistan, or if these practices are more widespread.
As a follow up to that work, our team was given a great opportunity to organize a session at the recent FPD Forum on Supporting Women Entrepreneurs Around the Globe: Challenges and Opportunities. We saw this session as a way to raise the profile around this important agenda (beyond Pakistan), and ask some very important questions about how the Bank is supporting women in the private sector, what the key challenges to reaching this market segment might be, take stock of what we’ve learned about the impact of our work to date, and hear about the innovative work others are doing in this space.
The social and economic challenges of the Middle East and Northern African (MENA) region are all very well-known: the region has the world’s highest general unemployment rate (10 per cent – versus a global average 6 per cent) and the lowest female labor participation (26 per cent in the MENA region versus 52 per cent on average in the rest of the world). But recently, there are signs that this is changing.
Take for example last month’s ‘pitching contest’ by young entrepreneurs at the ArabNet conference in Lebanon, where 40% of the pitches came from women – a much higher percentage than is typical at similar conferences in Europe. And there are testimonies by female entrepreneurs like May Habib, founder of the Dubai-based Arabic translation service Qordoba.com which uses a lot of freelance female workers in the region. She mentioned in a recent interview that the internet has transformed women's opportunities. "More flexible work options, freelance, home-based work, low capital requirements; you can see why starting a company on a small scale is a much more viable thing for women to do than get a corporate job”.