Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012: Town Hall Meeting on Women’s Empowerment through Entrepreneurship

Organized to mark Global Entrepreneurship Week (12-18 November 2012), this year the UN community (involving UNITAR, UNCTAD, WIPO, ITC, UNDP and ILO) alongside the missions of Ireland, Mexico and the United States to the UN, decided to hold a special event in Geneva devoted to women's entrepreneurship. This is a reflection of the growing interest, importance and role of women as entrepreneurs and promoters of economic growth in their countries. The event saw panel discussions on "starting your business from the ground up" and "leveraging support networks for scaling up".

The event heard addresses by H.E. Ambassador Betty E. King (United States), H.E. Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho (Mexico), and H.E. Ambassador Mr. Gerrard Corr (Ireland).

In a keynote address, H.E. Mr. Gerrard Corr (above), Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ireland, stressed that women entrepreneurs are a positive potential that is currently untapped in many societies. In 2010, there were 190 million women entrepreneurs in 59 economies who started and managed new business ventures. This number is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, since many women entrepreneurs operate in the informal economy, where they fall outside of any protection measures and don’t get counted in the numbers that are included in many statistical databases.

He stressed that women can make significant contributions to the economy and society. National economies are losing out when a substantial part of their population cannot compete equitably or achieve its full potential. If countries could unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs, the effects on employment and the economy, on the health and well-being of families, on girls and role models, and on gender equality would be enormous.

In developing and transitioning economies, he added, having a policy and programme mix that has integrated gender analysis and includes specific measures to help bridge the gap for women’s entrepreneurship can increase employment and economic growth, and can contribute to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. However, in many countries women entrepreneurs still face systemic barriers that impede their capacity to start and consolidate a business that can generate productive and decent work.

Women’s business associations are a key means for women entrepreneurs of all sizes, but in particular micro entrepreneurs, to access networks, information and relevant services to take them to the next level. They also play a key role in advocating and promoting women entrepreneurs. Supporting women as entrepreneurs is and remains a key objective of Ireland’s National Women’s Strategy (2007-2016), he emphasized. As Ireland’s own progress on gender equality has demonstrated, equitable access to quality health and education is the bedrock on which women’s economic and political empowerment is built. The Irish Aid programme works towards the reduction of poverty, inequality and exclusion in developing countries. This is a complex and challenging requiring a strategic and multi-faceted approach that takes into account the needs of women and men. It also contributes to Irish Aid's gender equality policy, which identifies gender equality as an essential component of sustainable human development.

Irish Aid has been a pioneer in supporting women’s entrepreneurship in Africa and Asia through their partnership with the ILO. For the past ten years it has supported women’s entrepreneurship development with the ILO, a period in which Irish Aid and the ILO have built a strong partnership through which 20 million euros have been invested in areas of particular interest to Ireland such as the inclusion of people with disabilities, the elimination of forced labour and child labour, and especially the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship development. Specific tools and supports, partnerships and training networks have been established with the technical support of the ILO in order to serve the needs of women entrepreneurs and in 8 countries over 60’000 women entrepreneurs have been served.

Working on women's entrepreneurship makes an important contribution to Irish Aid's overarching goal of reducing poverty and addressing vulnerability by addressing the barriers to access to entrepreneurship and decent work for women, in particular those who are marginalised or living in poverty. This has included the strengthening of women entrepreneurs’ associations (including the Addis Ababa Women Entrepreneurs’ Association) so that women entrepreneurs are served and also represented in policy discussions. The ILO has tools and training networks that are geared towards such strengthening. These tools and past investments are being leveraged to benefit more and more women entrepreneurs and get the most impact out of past investments.

In conclusion, he observed that Global Entrepreneurship Week is only once a year, but it is a call for all partners to join together all year long in support of entrepreneurs, women and men, and ensure that women and young people in particular, can take up the entrepreneurial challenge if they so choose, and grow their businesses to create jobs and contribute to the economy and society.

Participants also included Susan Joekes, Donors Committee for Enterprise Development; Dr. Cori Gorman, Chief Executive Officer of BioXpress Therapeutics, United States; Ms. Yolanda Patricia Moreno Sol, International Trade Consultant, YeXpand, Mexico; Ms. Bendicte Foucart, President and Managing Director, ValeurAbsolue, Switzerland; Ms. Nicola Ehlermann-Cache, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Middle East and North Africa Women’s Business Forum; Ms. Antonella Notari-Vischer, Director, Women Changemakers; and Ms. Achamyelesh Ashenafi, President, Addis Ababa Women Entrepreneurship Association.