Amplifying the voices of female entrepreneurs
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The celebration of the International Women’s Day is on March 8. In honor of this important event, let me share salient information culled from the DAN Female Foundry Accelerator initiative. The program is a conversation with women in Southeast Asia, which consistently mentions the importance of both vision and strategy for the long-term success of businesses run by female entrepreneurs, focused on aligning them with a clear destination and specific pathway to success. 

Women in emerging markets are continuing to turn to nontraditional forms of employment.  Fifty-six percent of online women in Southeast Asia are self-employed merchants. These female entrepreneurs are enabled by technology and changing the traditional roles of women in emerging markets, breaking down barriers and borders. It is time we #HearHerVoice. 

The profound structural changes brought about by globalization, more competitive marketplaces, technological advancements and the emergence of new communication platforms are providing new opportunities for entrepreneurs — men and women alike.

Women from emerging markets are capitalizing on this realization and thriving as business owners, creating sustainable ventures powered by technology and fueled through growing Internet and mobile penetration in the region. Grab (a Singapore-based technology company that offers ride hailing, ride sharing, food delivery service and logistics services through an app), Luxola (a start-up online company based in Singapore that sells cosmetics), Orami (a top online shopping destination for women in Southeast Asia) and Rappler (an online news website based in the Philippines with a bureau in Indonesia) are all female-founded businesses underpinned by technology that have raised the tech ecosystem as a whole in Southeast Asia.

These female voices are bolstering economies and redefining women’s roles in some of the most traditional markets in the world. Wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are disrupting the digital economy and setting themselves up to be pivotal players in future socio-economic development. Technology, Internet connectivity and low price points for mobile data access, competitively priced smartphones and high social media usage are all mobilizing these home-grown ecommerce businesses.

Women are more likely to support their own business

Leveraging on its initial research in 2015, DAN’s Consumer Connection System talked once more to 1,536 women aged 18-64 across Indonesia (305), Philippines (307), Singapore (308), Thailand (306) and Vietnam (310), who answered a 10-minute survey.

The study discovered that women are more likely to support their own initiatives for business (with up to half funding their own start-ups). Motivational drivers are steeped in family and community betterment, and easy access to apps and simple sharing platforms facilitate access to more and more potential customers. Overwhelmingly, social media remains the single most important platform for their business infrastructure and automation.

The demographic profile of female entrepreneurs skews towards urban millennials, selling on both online platforms and via their smartphones. Forty-one percent of these female entrepreneurs are employing one to five staff members with the goal to expand in the next 12 months. Female entrepreneurship is thriving in the apparel, cosmetics and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Despite the growing role technology has in supporting these businesses, tech-focused start-ups remain low.

Obtaining investment. Half of the women in the research panel in Southeast Asia are providing their own initial investment to set up their own businesses with very few receiving banking, charitable or government funds. Reaping the benefits of higher incomes, security and flexibility in managing their work-life balance, they feel more empowered. Supporting their families and the anticipated increase in income are the two core motivations for these entrepreneurs. They are willing to invest in their own future. Over 56 percent of female entrepreneurs in emerging markets are motivated by their own potential to make money.

Income opportunities. Over a third of female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia are reselling products as a main source of income and one in 10 are planning to generate an income through self-employment in the next 12 months. The remainder is generating a supplementary income. In emerging markets, women are making up to 10 times the national average salary. This trend is consistent across the region.

Overcoming challenges. The most challenging aspect of starting a business venture is the amount of time it takes before seeing any profit. This is exacerbated when many female entrepreneurs are self-funding using their own savings to fulfill their entrepreneurial ambitions. If funding was more accessible, then this challenge might be less of a growth inhibitor for these smart, ambitious entrepreneurs. Despite having relatively little business background and financial support, these women are changing the economic landscape with their earning potential and influencing traditional roles and responsibilities.

Technology is fueling the conversation. These women are successfully using technology, with 93 percent of new female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia claiming that mass-market technology has positively impacted their business. Mobile and social are key drivers in propelling their businesses forward, with 83 percent of female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia galvanizing their businesses through social media, which are facilitating access, reach and potential across a scaled online audience base. Over 50 percent of small owner-operated online businesses are taking place on Facebook, while Instagram is gaining popularity as well.

Vision for the future. To grow and scale in the next 12 months, female entrepreneurs say they will seek technical skills and personal development. One-fifth intends to raise capital and source further financial backing.  Moving forward, there is a tangible opportunity to bring women together and provide leadership, inspiration and valuable skills to current and future entrepreneurs. Over 90 percent of successful female entrepreneurs would mentor future entrepreneurs at the beginning of their journey.

Unleashing a great force for economic reform. The dialogue with this group of motivated business owners and investing in targeted efforts to support them will undoubtedly contribute meaningfully to unleashing what could be a great force for economic reform.

Ruth Stubbs, iProspect Global president, said, “We should look at these findings with a view to accelerate change in the way we approach our business, especially as emerging markets become more influential in the digital economy. By 2030, 80 percent of the global middle class will live outside the developed world; today these markets are home to the poorest and most disadvantaged people on the planet. This confluence will be one of the biggest disrupters to business as we know it.”

If we can establish a more informed position on the role new and existing technology and access to platforms is having on these women and their communities, we will become more effective marketers. In the celebration of IWD, we should become more supportive advocates for women in rural and developing urban communities. We should impose a new kind of moral and social conscience on everything we do, so we can give a voice to a new era of female entrepreneurs.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com.

#HEARHERVOICE WOMEN’S DAY
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