Inclusive Businesses are uniquely equipped to improve gender equality. As commercially profitable, yet impact-driven companies, they follow the market and their social vision. Both paths lead towards women empowerment.
A look at inspiring inclusive business ventures and supporters to underserved women
In Zambia, beekeeping used to be men’s work. Making beehives from barks and hanging them high up into trees requires strength. Later, farmers spend days in the fields to harvest honey. For women with children, this is hardly possible.
This is gradually changing. Katherine Milling, CEO of Nature’s Nectar, is part of this change. “In our model, the hives are hung and harvested by zone lead farmers,” she explains. This makes beekeeping far more inclusive for women, who form half of the company’s farmer base. “While we had to overcome some initial concerns about female beekeepers, they have been well accepted by now.”
Nature’s Nectar is an inclusive business company. It partners with conservation organisations to distribute Kenyan top-bar beehives as an alternative to traditional hives made of tree barks. This improves the quality of the honey and limits deforestation. After harvest, the company buys the honey at a premium price and markets it to consumers.
Nature’s Nectar is not the only example creating sustainable income opportunities for women. Inclusive Businesses are uniquely equipped to improve gender equality. As commercially profitable, yet impact-driven companies, they follow the market and their social vision. Both paths lead towards women empowerment.
Focusing on half of the world’s consumers
Commercially, focusing on women means focusing on half of the world’s consumers. In many countries, this market is largely untapped. Financial products specifically designed for women, affordable hygiene products, or maternal healthcare offers for people with low incomes simply do not exist in sufficient quantities.
Inclusive business companies can fill these gaps. In Nigeria, for example, Temie Giwa-Tuboson founded LifeBank to provide mothers suffering from postpartum bleeding with donor blood. By now, it has evolved into a medical logistics company delivering supplies across Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Since 2016, it has helped save 20,000 patients.
In India, Chetna Gala Sinha founded a bank for female savers. “Women are trying hard to make themselves bankable, but bankers are not prepared”, she explains, “because traditionally, women do not have collateral.” At Mann Deshi Bank, she has found alternative ways to assess women’s credit worthiness: the cash flows of their enterprises, for example.
Creating income opportunities
Inclusive business companies not only serve the consumption needs of low-income women but can also offer them livelihoods.
In some sectors, women sales agents offer commercial advantages. Frontier Markets in India, for example, only employs women to sell durable goods. “The network of women in rural India is very strong and deep in the most remote areas,” says founder Ajaita Shah, adding that “their convincing power to sell a product is much higher due to their better understanding of the customer.” The women themselves improve their social standing by contributing to the household income.
Other inclusive businesses, too, have made a point of creating opportunities for women. Myanmar Belle Company, for example, produces frozen and dehydrated vegetables. Seventy percent of their employees are women. “It is important for me to create opportunities for them,” says chairman Ye Myint Maung.
Supporting inclusive businesses
While inclusive business companies can be a lever for women empowerment, they face challenges – especially when they are not only women-focused, but also women-led.
Policymakers can improve the framework conditions for them. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, launched its Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in 2020. Building on the guidelines, Cambodia, a member of ASEAN, started an accreditation process for inclusive businesses in 2021. Such actions are beneficial to all inclusive business owners, no matter their gender.
For investors, it is important to address the limitations female founders continue to encounter. “One of the key barriers to the global progress for gender equality is the extent to which we are truly giving underserved women a voice”, says Robert Kraybill, Chief Investment Officer of Impact Investment Exchange, and calls for gender-lens impact measurement. To address this issue, the organization has launched a bond series that explicitly targets women-focused enterprises.
In addition, we can all help make women’s voices heard. For example by joining Global Scale Up X! This Instagram channel is a community of and for driven women around the globe that aim to learn from each other how to successfully access funds to start or scale their business.
In addition, you can learn more about women and Inclusive Business on this new and inspiring subpage on InclusiveBusiness.net!
Read more about underserved women here.