Female Entrepreneurs Matter

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

March 29, 2022

Entrepreneurship is encouraged by governments worldwide. From micro businesses to now big unicorns, entrepreneurship is a net positive contributor to socio-economic progress. Over the past few decades, women entrepreneurs have been making substantial contributions by way of creating jobs and fostering economic growth. Speaking of the US, the World Bank says “women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms, contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy and are directly responsible for 23 million jobs.”

A similar trend is observed in emerging economies. There are an estimated 8-10 million SMEs in the formal economy that have at least one female owner. The numbers will be significantly higher in the informal sector.

However, only a fifth of startups have female founders. This is despite the fact that they often outperform their male equivalents. This observation is universally true, although the percentage is slightly higher in Central and Eastern Europe. How can women learn to be confident in their work-life planning abilities to leverage bright ideas and manage firms over the long-term? How can women be better supported as entrepreneurs?

Horasis is organizing the Horasis Global Meeting on 19 May 2022 to examine and evaluate such developments. The one-day virtual event will see participation from a diverse range of people, spanning members of governments, businesses, academia, and the media. The goal is to deliberate on pressing issues to arrive at actionable solutions that ensure shared prosperity.

Challenges Faced

Women have been—traditionally—disadvantaged. Societal norms, and even laws in many cases, served as hindrances in women becoming more active contributors to their local economies. Even today, social norms lead numerous women to work in sectors with low incomes and minimal growth potential.

Women have been expected to first enact the role of caregiver for their families. The bulk of domestic chores are considered their responsibility. This archaic mindset is, fortunately, waning and there is consensus among many in progressive societies that household responsibilities are best shared between both men and women.

The lack of access to funding is an added obstacle. Besides, many in emerging economies also do not have the means to attend grade school. As such, they fall victim to a vicious cycle, where their limited economic means have prevented them from being able to compete on equal terms with men.

More recently, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has been a severe impediment to Ukraine’s women entrepreneurs. Several years’ or decades’ worth of gains have been reversed, and their operations will take considerable time to rebuild. A recent UN study highlighted the example of Valentina and Tetiana Denysenko. The sisters had to flee their home in eastern Ukraine, in 2015, during an earlier conflict and resettle in Kharkiv. Called Green for You, their startup produced micro-greens for several local restaurants. Unfortunately, Kharkiv has suffered inestimable losses over the past month. 

While the focus now is on how emerging economy women must be supported by enablers, women in developed economies also face severe barriers to equal opportunity. In fact, when dual income households became the norm in most western economies, incomes increased but gender pay gaps was and remain all too common.

“Empowering female entrepreneurs, especially those in high-growth sectors, has the potential to create jobs, increase incomes, lift thousands of households out of poverty, and lead to greater economic and social transformation,” says the World Bank Group.

One heartening example of women entrepreneurship is from Ghana. Former beauty pageant winner Hamamat Montia decided to head back to her native village, where she founded the Hamamat Foundation. The initiative came about from her desire to produce shea butter while ensuring the conservation of shea trees. However, the more profound impact that came about was generating employment for many rural women. The foundation says they were able “… to reverse years of exploitation of women and their resources in return for poor remuneration.”

Leveraging Technology

There are now alternatives to long standing hurdles to progress, such as the lack of education. With the uptake of technology, it is now easy to learn skills through online tutorials. An added advantage is the growing popularity of neo-banks or financial institutions with an online only presence. Their services can, therefore, be accessed on a mobile device without the need to travel to a physical location. Such services can help alleviate the problem of being unable to secure credit on favorable terms.

Using the help of online learning tools, women entrepreneurs have taken to new-age farming practices while even learning how to make organic fertilizers such as vermicompost. Much like Ghana’s Hamanat Foundation, a large share of women-led ventures is also sustainable; they are in harmony with broader environmental conservation targets. It is only fitting then for women entrepreneurship to be encouraged and supported.

Photo Caption: We must encourage women entrepreneurs. Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash.