Can Entrepreneurship Close the Gender Gap?

On March 1, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, close to 200 guests joined FINCA in Washington, DC for an important discussion: Can entrepreneurship close the gender gap?

The esteemed and diverse panelists were able to shed light on problems of women’s equality globally and how entrepreneurship can empower women to change their lives, their families’ lives and the communities they live in.

International Womens Day 2016 1Andrée Simon, Co-CEO of our microfinance network and moderator for the evening, began the panel by framing the problem of gender parity globally. In 2014, the World Economic Forum projected that gender parity and equality would be reached by 2095. However, late last year, the World Economic Forum revised their projections to reaching parity in 2133, or about in 117 years.

“Investing in women is the fastest and smartest way to achieve positive, global change,” she said. “Given that the gender gap is as big as it is, we really do need to continue to promote that investment.”

Lakshmi Balachandra, who researches entrepreneurship at Babson within the GEM Consortium, discussed statistics from a report on women entrepreneurs. Across 61 economies around the world, the total early stage of entrepreneurial activities has increased by 7% and the gender gap between men and women are narrowed by 6%. Equally as important, more women are interested in becoming entrepreneurs around the world.

“This is hugely important,” she said, “because women are more likely to invest in their local communities. They contribute to the education of their children. And they help the employment of others and support other local businesses.”

Juan Carlos Thomas recognizes the power of women entrepreneurs helping communities. As Director of Entrepreneurship at TechnoServe, which provides technical advice and support to small businesses in developing countries, he spoke about his staff’s learnings from working with women entrepreneurs in the field.

“Women are more sensitive to other women than men are, and that is a huge advantage when it comes to running a business. We have seen from research and from working in the field that women are more likely to hire more women,” he said.

International Womens Day 2016 2In training women entrepreneurs in Tanzania, Rachel Robbins, former board member of FINCA Microfinance Holdings, was impacted by the hard work and determination of the women to expand their businesses and improve their lives.

“To see a woman making five dollars per day that was able to put a dollar aside to reinvest in her business was pretty remarkable,” she said.

Rahama Wright sees this form of women empowerment first hand. As the founder of Shea Yeleen Health and Beauty, she works with women in Uganda who produce shea butter. Though the production of shea butter is a billion dollar industry, most of these women barely financially benefit from their work. By helping these women producers receive a fair price for their products, Shea Yeleen is empowering women to earn more and change their lives.

A lesson Rahama learned from her social enterprise is that “women doing business differently is a benefit, and we shouldn’t try to conform them.”

This lesson is echoed by fellow social entrepreneur Diana Sierra. An industrial designer by training, was influenced by the fact that so many girls miss school when they menstruate. She was inspired to found Be Girl, a social enterprise dedicated to creating extremely affordable, aspirational and high performance products that support women and girls’ autonomy.

“Breakthrough innovation is not building rocketships,” she said. “Breakthrough innovation is doing something that really helps somebody.”

The discussion with an important call to action: despite the progress made in gender parity, and despite the innovations and work of organizations like FINCA, TechnoServe, Shea Yaleen and Be Girl, there is still much more work to be done.

Watch the replay of the live screening below.