PHOTO CREDIT: Ron Hansen, unsplash.com
I always try to be pretty honest and open about my entrepreneurial journey, and next Friday I’m very honoured to be asked to talk about my entrepreneurial journey and lessons learnt along the way to a very special delegation of women entrepreneurs from Bangladesh & Nepal, as part of a program called ‘Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Business Sustainability’ being run by University of Southern Queensland.
The program is designed to empower women, and improve the success of women entrepreneurs in these regions. This includes helping individuals in leadership roles in these countries who have an impact on women entrepreneurial development, capacity building, knowledge transfer and skill building.
Participants are from three partner organisations:
1. The Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) is a national program developing women entrepreneurs in 64 districts of Bangladesh through policy advocacy, training, market linkages, access to finance, business awareness and capacity building. The BWCCI has extensive platforms, linkages and networks to advance women entrepreneurship. Our program will directly contribute to BWCCI’s 2020 vision to graduate 5000 women from micro to leadership roles by providing support in areas of capacity development, product development, access to finance, environment conservation and reducing gender disparity among others.
2. The Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED) at BRAC University supports the capacity development of women entrepreneurship through targeted programs. Through its strong linkages with local, international organisations and government departments, the outcomes of our program will directly benefit CEDs new business incubation centre which targets skill and capacity building of women run micro venture.
3. The Industrial Enterprise Development Institute (IEDI) engages in technical skill-building workshops, opportunities for networking of women and exposure to various local and foreign markets, capacity building for development of new innovative products. Through is implementing an inclusive program initiated by Government of Nepal, our program will add specific value to areas such as creativity, innovation, building competitive advantage for women and disability-inclusive strategies.
So what will I tell them?
Whilst I’m well traveled having visited over 50 countries, some of which I’ve spent months in, I’m very aware of the cultural differences, histories and sensitivities of different regions, so I’ve started doing some research into some of the specific barriers women entrepreneurs in these regions face in establishing or succeeding in business as women. In the interests of expanding your global awareness as I expand mine, I thought I’d share what I discovered:
1. Poor Access to Finance
Women Entrepreneurs in these regions tend to lack adequate capital. They usually rely on personal assets and savings for start-up capital. Their access to external source of finance is extremely limited. Generally, women lack ownership of property for use as collateral to get bank loans and banks and financial institutions consider women as less creditworthy. Just imagine that! In these countries, properties are generally inherited by sons and they lack having a track record of financial performance. They also lack the education and knowledge to get bank loans, so rely on loans from close friends and relatives to start new ventures. There have been some good examples of women banding together to fund one in the group too, and then once they have the money to launch, the group changing their focus to the next member of the group. Talk about resourceful!
2. Lack of Skills and Experience
Women in these regions sometimes lack skills and experience in manufacturing, construction and technical areas. They generally do however possess administrative experience and may be quite capable with arts, child rearing, crafts and cooking related skills. This limits their ability to be entrepreneurial with many types of ventures. Illiteracy among women is widespread and women tend to study liberal arts in schools and colleges. Lack of appropriate education holds them back as they lack knowledge about business know-how and marketing. This stops them taking risks.
3. Business Relationships
As they often juggle the needs of their family i.e. parents, or young family if they have married, they will often find limited opportunities for developing business relationships and find getting business relationships started in male- dominated groups difficult.
4. Low mobility of women
Compared to male, females in these regions tend to be less mobile. In most developing countries, women cannot travel alone in faraway places. Without the mobility they need to meet the right connections, source the right products or make the right sales, it makes it difficult for women to be successful in entrepreneurial roles.
5. Family Pressures
In many of these societies, the main role of women is to look after the household and bring up children. Pursuing entrepreneurial pursuits can be frowned upon, and there may be little to no support for women to devote their time and efforts to a new venture. Some husbands do not allow their wives to start a business or be employed at all, seeing this as a sign that they are not providing sufficiently for the family. This means women are dependent on their husbands and limited to one income.
6. Lack of Infrastructure
Some women in these regions live in areas where basic infrastructure such as power, roads, communication, water and so on are sub-standard. Just getting access to the basics let along business equipment and resources can be difficult.
7. Stiff competition in the market
In large populations there may be many people offering the same product or service. There may be a scarcity of raw material needed for art-and-craft-oriented enterprises run by women. Finding a point of differentiation is key, and marketing skills are needed for women entrepreneurs to get their message ‘out there’.
8. Legal Constraints
It exists everywhere and even in developing countries too – red tape! Women entrepreneurs in these regions are aware of the many laws and regulations and these sometimes discourage women to enter into new ventures.
So how do you put all that into a presentation?
I haven’t completely decided yet how I’ll share my story in a way that the delegation can use to it improve their lives and the lives of others, but for now I’ll stick to the Stephen Covey mantra of ‘Seek first to understand’ and will continue with the online research and consulting with some contacts I have that have worked a lot in these regions.
And later when it comes to being on stage in front of them, I’ll simply speak from the heart, because after all, no matter which country you are from as an entrepreneur, everything should always be done with kindness and love. Love after all makes the world go around. And I do know that I keep getting drawn back to Gandhi quotes. One or more of these may just make it into my presentation…