Inclusive Business for Women Entrepreneurs

By Audry Maulana, Student Reporter

Inclusive Business for Women Entrepreneurs

Women make up half the world’s population, but in many cultures and countries, women entrepreneurs face enormous challenges accessing opportunities – in education, business, and capital. Audry Maulana asks: What does the term “inclusive business” mean for some of the women attending IBF 2013?

“Inclusive business is not charity,” even if the aim for many is reducing poverty, says Ursula Wynhoven, General Counsel of the UN Global Compact, which works with businesses to implement more sustainable practices and policies.

But as the name implies, inclusive business is about making opportunities to succeed available to all members of a society. For many women entrepreneurs, they are playing a pioneering role in breaking down barriers in many societies around the world. On the first day of the 16th International Business Forum in Istanbul, there was no shortage of such entrepreneurs, each with her own take on how inclusiveness in business can benefit women.

One example is Tara Hopkins, an American who has lived in Turkey for over a decade, who founded çöp(m)adam – “Garbage Ladies,” in Turkish – a social enterprise in the town of Ayvalık (in the north Aegean region of Turkey) that offers training and a workshop that empowers women through their core business of transforming waste materials into handbags, clothing and other crafts.

“Most of the women I’m working with only had 6th grade education and are married,” Hopkins says, “so they don’t have many options other than staying at home.”

çöp(m)adam has trained over 60 women with the skills and knowledge to turn trash – like bottle caps, scrap materials, or discarded fabrics – into something that is “fashionable and fun”. All while creating profitable business.

But it’s not only about the money. “It’s also about the sense of self, a sense of doing something,” says Hopkins.

Roopali Shahaney, General Manager at The Paharpur Business Centre, an eco-friendly business working space in India, says that basic skills and knowledge of business still remains one of the main challenges for woman.

“To start business, you need a good plan,” explains Shahaney. “You have to make sure that it’s going to be profitable and can get financed. To do that, you need a specific set of skills, and that’s what lacking.”

Shahaney also believes family commitment can be a major barrier for women. “If your family and relatives do believe in you, it´s a job half done,” she says.

Salinee Tavaranan, whose company SunSawang provides affordable solar energy for rural regions in Thailand, agrees, adding that cultural views on gender roles can make it difficult for woman who want to start their own business.

“In my business field, it is dominated by males,” explains Tavaranan. “All of the technicians are male, most of my customers are male, and sometimes they don’t believe that a woman can do this business,” she says. “But that’s what makes me work harder. I stay up all night, I work on weekends, and try to prove myself that I can make it. “

It’s a tough work, but for her, and many women entrepreneurs from around the world attending IBF 2013, it’s worth it.

“Sometimes, it´s funny that those people who have doubt at you at the beginning, congratulate and look up at you in the end,” Tavaranan says with a smile.

Lead Questions:

  • Women need to face huge challenges when it comes to doing business – being it the difficulty of getting external financing or gender discrimination. What are in your opinion the ways in which women can gain specific skills required from the market and play a leading role?
  • What would be the way to further encourage women entrepreneurship and what still need to be done to support women entrepreneurs?
  • With regard to investors choice, we need to understand how different decision-making processes favor or disadvantage women entrepreneurs. What could society do to change those perceptions?

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