The government issued a clarion call to the private sector last week in the aftermath of the much-hailed Budget 2015. There were the highs and lows but on the whole, the Budget invited the private sector to get moving. Fast. Sounds good but what I, as a woman entrepreneur, would like to know, is can more be done for women-owned businesses?
Globally, the potential of women-owned businesses are recognized and rewarded not only because they encourage and empower greater initiatives by women but also because they bring to the table the potential of new and innovative business ideas. Research shows that 30 percent of all businesses in the USA are women owned. In countries such as the USA, women-owned businesses are encouraged – with a high rate of growth, women are choosing more and more to become entrepreneurs and business owners as they remain firmly committed to seeing their dreams come true.
In Sweden, women make up 23 percent of all business start-ups – the figures remain high for the rest of Europe as well. New Zealand scores high in women-owned businesses and things are looking up for women in Japan too. In Latin America, around 25 percent of all employers tend to be women who run their own businesses. Central and Eastern Asia also score high on seeing more and more women-owning businesses.
On the global scale, governments and institutions remain committed to encouraging and fostering women-owned businesses. It would indeed be good news to women business owners in Sri Lanka to see more being done at a state level, that would boost their potential.
There are many ways in which the government can pursue supporting a women-owned business. Access to credit and financial support may be available at a micro level – so many micro credit institutions go to villages in search of female borrowers – but go a step higher with a small or a medium-scale business, and what you will find is a lot of rhetoric. What we need is a steady, long-term plan that will focus on providing financial support for viable women-owned businesses that will spur others as well. Financial support that can enable them to reach higher, do more and contribute a bigger slice to the economy.
There are many women out there who have their light bulb moments but who despair for lack of training and focus on building a business. Not everyone is born a Sheryl Sandberg – many do not have access to opportunities and are not able to expand their businesses because they tend to languish at a primary level. The government can help in the initiation of a mechanism that could equip women who own businesses to go one step further and reach the next level of growth.
Entrepreneurship is more attractive to women for many reasons – it encourages them to spend time with their families, engage with the children while managing a business. The government can always encourage these enterprising women by offering incentives for women-owned start-ups with potential. There should be more focus on these aspects than the overall skimming of women-centred issues.
Big businesses may pay lip service to gender relations but often, women struggle with issues they face at work. Working late, managing children, dealing with concerns of caring and minding children and ageing parents are real-life issues that discourage most women from engaging in a full-time career later on in life. They would like to move on into running a small business but do not want to leave their jobs because they need the money. Can the government sponsor mechanisms that would facilitate the transition from employee to employer so that an entire group of women who are budding business owners can venture out?
We all know that child and elderly care facilities tend to be very basic if not non-existent for the most part, in Sri Lanka. The support structures within families are still strong enough to empower the women to depend on family to manage these life issues while working. Can there be better facilities of child and elderly care that could encourage more and more women to enter the workforce? When women leave the workforce and do not engage in any form of business, the labour force suffers and so does the productivity of a nation. Recent statistics from Japan show that the Japanese government wants the women to come back to work because they need more hands to fuel the economic cycle.
There are real-life issues of widows and women-headed households who must engage in some form of self-employment to generate an income. They would benefit tremendously from being involved in efforts that would boost their income, offer training and empower their growth patterns tremendously.
We could persuade big businesses to choose to engage with women-owned small and medium-scale businesses – the more women you benefit, the more families you help keep fed and clothed. You can also encourage women-owned businesses to employ more women, thus creating a powerful cycle of mutual benefit.
It is no secret that Sri Lanka scores low when it comes to political activism among women. But one of the real issues, in my opinion, is encouraging and fostering women-owned businesses to grow and expand, to go beyond the start-up stage and venture out into becoming powerhouses of business. There are many women among us whose talent is on par with anywhere else in the world – they would benefit from state-sponsored initiatives.
Sri Lanka is on the threshold of formidable growth planned for the future; let’s hope that women would form a considerable part of that future.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at email@example.com)