Fostering women’s entrepreneurship as a means of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment
Speech by Ms. Arancha González, Executive Director, International Trade Centre
Delivered on 06 February 2014 at the meeting of the ITC-UNGC-ICC side event to the 8th session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
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H. E. Ambassador Jean-Francis Zinsou, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Benin,
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me extend warm thanks to our partners, the United Nations Global Compact, represented on the panel by Executive Director Mr. Georg Kell as well as the International Chamber of Commerce, panel represented here today by Ms. Ronnie Goldberg, Regional Vice President, International Organisation of Employers, and Senior Counsel at the United States Council for International Business. Thank you very much for joining with ITC to organise this event on ‘Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship as a means of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment’.
I would also like to thank Ms. Patricia Hargil, from Strategy and Corporate Development at Alcatel- Lucent, for joining us today as the voice of the private sector.
As you know, this event is taking place in parallel to the 8th meeting of the General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals. One of the three key areas explored this week is Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment. ITC, UN Global Compact and the International Chamber of Commerce are putting the spotlight on entrepreneurship is because we believe it is a means to foster inclusive sustained and sustainable economic growth and employment. Let me elaborate.
We know from our collective efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, that dynamic and stable economies and a healthy and resilient environment underpin poverty eradication and sustained and sustainable social and economic development.
We also know that successful women’s entrepreneurship contributes not only to MDG 3, as measured by the movement of women into non-agricultural waged-based employment, but also to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Women reinvest an average of 90% of their income back into their families and communities, which helps to reduce poverty and improve health and education outcomes.
It is clear that ‘creating inclusive growth through decent work with decent wages’ is a prescription for what to do. Today we will look at the ‘how’ factor: How organisations such as ITC, UNGC and ICC are leveraging their mandates to support women entrepreneurs and how positive results and valuable lessons learnt can feed into the formulation of the Post 2015 Development Agenda.
SMEs as engines of growth
Today, the largest untapped source of growth is that of small and medium sized enterprises. Across the developed and developing world SMEs are the main source of employment accounting for almost 80 % of jobs. In vulnerable countries, such as fragile states, post conflict states, land-locked countries and small island developing states, building the supply side capacity and supporting the growth and competitiveness of SMEs are necessary anchors for development – because without jobs, the achievements we make in health, education, peace and security will not be sustainable. It is therefore clear that SMEs as incubators of growth must form a central part of our debate.
The employment created by these SMEs is often filled by the vulnerable groups in society such as women and youth. In many countries emerging from conflict it is women who carry the responsibilities for families, and it is women who stand to gain the most from capacity building and links to markets where there is a demand for their goods and services. In many OECD economies, women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men. In developing countries, we now have 8-10 million women-owned SMEs, often representing close to 40% of total SMEs. In some of these countries these firms are growing at faster rates than those owned by men. Women economic empowerment is therefore an integral part of the ITC’s agenda.
Today we will hear from Georg Kell about the Women’s Empowerment Principles, promulgated by the UN Global Compact and UN Women under which companies pledge to expand business relationships with women-owned enterprises, including small businesses, and how that is being facilitated through the ITC “Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women-Owned Enterprises”. These concrete initiatives are practical ways for development partners to engage and support women economic empowerment, particularly within the small business sector.
Given their importance to employment, inclusive economic participation of vulnerable groups and undeniable link to poverty eradication, it is critical that we bolster SME competitiveness with concrete actions which boost the competitiveness of women-owned enterprises!
This is a multi-dimensional issue. Supporting the growth and competitiveness of SMEs requires good governance and predictable and open markets; strong and capable trade support institutions that understand where women are active in the economy and actively address gender-based constraints to trade; growth in the services sector; an upgrade in skills including skills to trade; business environments that are supportive of women entrepreneurs; efforts to bring the informal sector into the formal legal structure of the economy; and avenues for these SMEs to access finance, especially trade finance. These are not just SME competitiveness initiatives particular to women, these are ‘whole of economy’ competitiveness prerequisites.
Advocacy on ‘Three Es’
This being the case, we need to remedy the paucity of references to small and medium sized enterprises and to support for entrepreneurship – especially women’s entrepreneurship - in the current debate around the sustainable or post 2015 development goals. It belies a deeper assessment about the kinds of structural impediments that constrain women’s participation in trade and SME growth. To put it simply, factors that undermine the competitiveness of women-owned SMEs undermine job creation and economic growth.
If a successful women entrepreneur for example, received an order for twice her current production in the coming year, her inability to access finance and any other required inputs, restricts her productive capacity – and the number of employees – to current levels. There is no actual growth despite a potential for growth. There is no innovation.
This is why, at ITC, we are advocating a focus on three ‘E’s’, which seeks to take a more inclusive and sustainable approach to economic development by recognising that improved entrepreneurship leads to economic growth which in turn creates employment. ITC’s Three E initiative: Entrepreneurship for Economic growth and Employment focuses on building entrepreneurship of SME exporters and of SMEs who have a potential for becoming exporters.
We have a “Women and Trade Programme” that, in addition to our mainstreaming efforts, operates to foster women’s entrepreneurship. But this isn’t enough. In order to achieve sustained and sustainable results we need to ensure adequate human and financial resources are accorded. This means: Specific referencing to successful women’s entrepreneurship in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. One measurement could be to collect sex-disaggregated data on the position of women-owned enterprises in production chains. Our panellist may have others. We would be interested also, in hearing from you during the Q&A that will follow at the conclusion of the remarks of our third speakers.
It is to our distinguished speakers that I now turn. Each has eight minutes in which to share key thoughts and experience on how to Foster women’s entrepreneurship as a means of promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
It is my great pleasure to introduce H.E. H. E. Ambassador Jean-Francis Zinsou, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Benin.