Arancha González is the Executive Director of the International Trade Center, which helps small and medium-sized enterprises to become more competitive and connect to international markets. In 2016, the ITC launched the SheTrades initiative to empower women through trade as a contribution to the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
What is the situation for women entrepreneurs today?
What we have today is a big market failure. Only one out of five exporters is a woman-owned business. There are specific obstacles – in the form of laws, regulations, policies, discriminatory access to finance, limited access to networks, culture and norms – that relegate many women entrepreneurs to less productive parts of the economy. As a result, women lose, economies lose, society loses.
What can women entrepreneurs do to tackle these obstacles?
This is not just a discussion by women for women. It has to be a discussion about the structural transformation of our economies. We need decisive steps from governments and businesses, but we also need to make men and women more conscious of the gaps and the biases that exist in our society.
What kind of biases are limiting the participation of women in the economy?
Some of them are written in the law: there are professions where women cannot work, and countries where women cannot own assets or property. These biases are very explicit. However, there are many biases that are not written in the law. They are written in our genes. It’s how we look at the world, how we look at these female entrepreneurs, how we behave when they come to us and ask for credit.
Access to capital is one of the main problems for women entrepreneurs. Why do women have less access to investments?
There is no scarcity of capital. There is capital, but it is not connected businesses owned by women. Part of the problem has to do with the business: Many female-owned businesses are informal or too small and therefore considered too risky. But there is another part of the story: the financial sector. We have seen women being denied access to credit or capital not because they weren’t trustworthy, but because they were women. This is a problem not only because it is discriminatory, but also because we are not unlocking a huge source of potential that exists in our economies.
To what extent could women entrepreneurs contribute to the economy?
McKinsey & Company did an interesting study: It calculated that if all existing discrimination against women were removed, it would be the equivalent of adding an economy the size of the US and China put together. The financial sector cannot ignore these women-owned businesses. Although sometimes they are smaller and their short-term margins are not that big, in the long term we would create a huge economy that doesn’t exist today.
How is the ITC trying to free this potential and empower women?
Through the SheTrades initiative, we want to connect 3 million women to the economy by 2021. That’s actually a modest number, since there are 1 billion women disconnected from our economy today. At the ITC we are working on private funds that are de-risked through public financing to provide credit to women-owned businesses, which is what they need to move from micro- to small and from small- to medium-sized businesses.
The SheTrades initiative works through country-based activities. Why?
No country in this world has yet achieved full gender equality, but the problems are different depending on the countries. In Japan, for instance, the empowerment of women is about work-life balance, access to childcare facilities, habits and norms in the working environment. In other countries the problem is about gender-based violence, the pay gap, or laws that do not allow women to work in certain sectors. They all have something in common: they are not leveraging the potential of women in our economies.
SheTrades empowers women by connecting them to the economy. How important is access to business networks for women entrepreneurs?
Networks are not just where you get your connections. Networks are also about mentoring and coaching. They are about inspiring and giving motivation. However, women are less present in business networks. This is why it is very important to focus on building more of these networks for women-owned businesses.
Are you optimistic about reaching the 2030 UN Global Goals?
On our current trajectory, we will not reach the UN goals by 2030. We are living in a very turbulent world and while some governments have agreed to act for the empowerment of women and girls, there are also many others moving backwards, reneging on commitments they had made before. This is why the global goals are so important: they have to be a reminder that we have agreed to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, leaving no one behind.
Ending discrimination against women would add value to the global economy comparable to the GDP of the US and China put together.
The Global Human Capital Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that only 62% of global human capital is classified as “developed.” One of the main deviating factors was education systems being “disconnected from the skills needed to function in today’s labour markets.”
As a result, lots of human potential, or human capital, is being wasted because of restricted access to factors such as education. Leaders of Tomorrow are working to remove those barriers.
One of them is Mariane Tonello of Ensina Brasil, a non-profit organisation aiming to transform education in Brazil. “We want to develop the next education ministers and secretaries, the next education NGO founders and leaders,” Tonello says. The organisation works to encourage teachers to value not only their jobs, but the impact they can create as a result of being a leader in the classroom.
Himani Sancheti, Leader of Tomorrow and Young India Fellow at Ashoka University, takes a more philosophical approach. She wrote a bold Wings of Excellence Award essay focusing on using “financial capital to build human capital.”
By balancing “perspective-building” with traditional skill-building, Sancheti says, we can unlock a different part of our potential. Curricular reform, emphasising a historical approach to psychology, philosophy, history, economics, and art, would give people a deeper understanding of the present. “We will be able to connect ourselves to what we study, and exams will function so much better, because every child will understand why they are studying something,” Sancheti says.
There is no “silver bullet” for tackling education reform. But “we are going in the right direction,” Tonello says. – Connor Bilboe