According to the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 257 years before there is economic equality between men and women. This month their annual conference takes place in Davos, Switzerland. This is an excellent opportunity to tackle this inequality. My call to participants: Invest in fair opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the poorest communities in the world.
The World Economic Forum attracts companies that are willing to invest huge sums in their membership and participation in the conference in Davos. The investment certainly pays for itself through the unique access to networks, influence and investors that the forum offers.
Small entrepreneurs living in poverty do not have such opportunities. They experience daily obstacles to increasing their income and escaping poverty. They lack things that seem self-evident to us: a bank account, a passport, or the ability to take out a loan. There are still 1.7 billion adults worldwide without a bank account. Because of deep-rooted inequalities, women have even fewer opportunities to do business. When they set up a company, they have insufficient access to the right training, networks, markets and financial products. No less than 80 per cent of companies with credit needs run by women are either unserved or under-served. Furthermore, women worldwide spend more than twice as much time on unpaid family and household work as men.
Davos itself has a poor track record when it comes to inclusion: only one in five participants is female. There is much room for improvement in that area. Even more important is that the participants ensure an end to (financial) exclusion in other places in the world. That requires a different approach: Invest in regulations, programmes, products and services that meet the needs of people living in poverty. Do not consider the poorest of the poor as a uniform group, but as the diverse men and women, entrepreneurs, producers and consumers that they are. Seek cooperation with governments, civil society organizations and knowledge institutions to ensure real change. Involve women entrepreneurs in your plans so that they not only have a say but also better match the products to their needs.
Investing in equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs from poor communities contributes directly to sustainable development goals, including eradicating poverty and reducing inequality. It is also a smart move with a strong business case. Investments in female entrepreneurs pay off in the form of a high return on investment, economic growth and the development of local communities. For example, CARE’s program for 5,000 women in Ethiopia led to income growth of 500%. Such successes bring equality closer. We cannot wait 257 years for this.
Reintje van Haeringen, Chief Executive, CARE Netherlands
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