While female-run enterprises are steadily growing all over the world, contributing to household incomes and growth of national economies, women still face challenges in maintaining successful enterprises due to lack of funding, fewer skills and social constraints. Below are several program approaches that female entrepreneurship project funders and creators can take to address these challenges.
Business Development Training Programs
The level of business acumen and skill that a micro or small business owner has can be the key to their ongoing success. Business Development Services (BDS) offer training, resources and support to women entrepreneurs to help grow and sustain their businesses. Generally, these services include basic day-to-day management training like how to keep track of accounts, handle taxes and understand compliance rules and regulations. They can also focus on strategy and the long-range success of a business from writing a business plan to targeting specific markets, along with product innovation within business clusters and incubators.
Beyond business skills training, BDS should include elements that contribute to women-owned businesses in other invaluable ways, such as:
- Soft skills and life skills. Customer care and negotiation are soft skills often needed by female entrepreneurs to help their businesses run smoothly, while life skills like family planning, nutrition and self-confidence make it possible for women to keep their businesses running at all. Personal challenges within the home can actually hinder business growth.
- Flexibility. Programs should consider women's childcare constraints, familial commitments, transportation, and other cultural factors that may keep them from participating in training.
- Gender-sensitization of family and community. Much of female entrepreneurs' success is dependent upon acceptance within their communities and families. If these groups have a better understanding of their struggles and support their business efforts, the better chance they have to succeed.
- Networking. When women are paired with mentors and coaches or given access to other women entrepreneurs with similar experiences, they benefit from exposure to useful public, private and peer resources. Networking within clusters helps women gain an advantage through labor pooling, bulk purchase of raw materials, joint lobbying to local authorities, or joint access to finance. For women entrepreneurs, being part of a cluster can grow their businesses faster and help combat the cultural norms that can limit women’s income-earning opportunities.
Access to Finance Programs
Access to finance is one of the most common challenges that entrepreneurs face and this is especially true for women who are further impeded by lack of personal identification, lack of property in their own name and the need for their husband's countersignature on many documents. Efforts to facilitate access to finance for women entrepreneurs typically encompass initiatives that reform restrictive bank and regulatory policies. Such reforms accept less traditional forms of collateral, look at a lender’s willingness to repay and simplify business registry. They also help financial institutions develop innovative loan and savings products for female entrepreneurs.
In order to ensure the success of women’s access to finance, program creators should consider the following:
- Consult with women’s groups. Before developing new financial products, assess the need and scope of these products with help from women in the community, who will be the main consumers.
- Ensure gender-disaggregated data collection. Be sure that financial institutions are considering gender in research and data analysis of their policies as well as analysis of cash flow, credit history and less conventional forms of collateral.
- Support gender sensitivity. Promote training of the financial community to close any gaps in gender access to finance and be sure that female clients are treated equally and fairly.
- Build infrastructure. Female entrepreneurs often lack a supportive network, so forming partnerships with local organizations help open communication channels between entrepreneurs and lenders, increasing access to capital.
Access to ICT
With the explosion of smartphones and cell phone use across the globe, the inclusion of information and communications technology (ICT) in any program is a must. Female entrepreneurs should receive training on how to use ICTs, not just for business needs like online banking and recordkeeping, but also as a means to access health and education information to benefit their families and lives overall. These services should also introduce women to ICTs as new business ventures in and of themselves.
Successful ICT training programs should:
- Ensure equitable access. Female entrepreneurs should be able to access the appropriate devices and connect to the Internet or communicate in a cost-effective way.
- Address limited exposure. ICT programs for women may need to take a slower pace to include basic literacy training, incorporating basic communication through the use of text messaging and email.