The “Growing Together” report – guidance to businesses to support them in helping micro-enterprises in their value chains to thrive, and why that is important for women’s economic empowerment.
Our new report – “Growing Together”, developed with SABMiller, the Harvard Kennedy Corporate Responsibility Initiative and Business Fights Poverty, sets out why businesses should take a much more proactive and collaborative approach to supporting the micro-enterprises in their value chains, and provides practical support to doing so. CARE International has engaged with this process because of the important development gains to be had from helping micro-enterprises, and supporting micro-enterprises is a key element of our work in value chains (for instance in cocoa, coffee and dairy products).
A major part of CARE’s work is directed towards women’s economic empowerment in developing countries. As our report highlights, there are over 900 million micro-enterprises worldwide and approximately half are women. Even though probably the vast majority of these micro-entrepreneurs are necessity entrepreneurs (i.e. they run micro-enterprise because of a lack of other income-generating opportunities), CARE recognises that micro-enterprise can be a key way out of poverty for even the poorest women. Our 25 years’ experience of supporting very poor women in savings groups has shown us that with the right skills and access to some capital, women can significantly increase their incomes by taking on or improving small business activities.
We therefore are committed to improving the opportunities and operating environment for women-led micro-enterprises. While many of the women micro-enterprises we work with provide goods and services only to their local communities, we also recognise the opportunities that participating in global value chains can give women – provided women are properly recognised and supported. We know from our cocoa experience that even where women play a key role in the value chain, their involvement can be invisible. Therefore, as I have previously argued, companies must identify where women work, must develop a clear gender strategy and must articulate the business case for supporting women.
However, mere exhortation is not going to change much, so we have tried to be much more practical, and have worked with our co-sponsors to develop a practical guide to both WHY companies should collaborate better to support micro-enterprises across their value chains, and also HOW they can do so. We also highlight in the report the additional challenges faced by women micro-enterprises – including legal obstacles, but also the many issues that confront women due to social and cultural attitudes to gender. We know that these issues can only be properly and sustainably addressed by a network of stakeholders working to effect systemic change – many problems are interrelated and solutions are interdependent. Within this, companies can play a key role in bringing focus to the issues, and in building up alliances of stakeholders.
We hope therefore that our joint report will influence company strategies, policies and initiatives related to micro-enterprises, and , more broadly, support advocacy efforts to encourage greater focus on gender issues and more collaborative approaches to micro-enterprise development.