Planet Entrepreneur: Women Speak

When Steve Strauss, Advisor to the World Entrepreneur Forum, asked me to join his list of contributing writers for a book he was authoring entitled Planet Entrepreneur, I jumped at the chance to present an emerging economy perspective from Asia, as well as the chapter he assigned to me on Women and Minority Entrepreneurs.

Well, its finally out! Planet Entrepreneur, published by Wiley Publishing, explores the full extent of this fascinating and multi-faceted global entrepreneurial revolution. Through real-world examples, stories and strategies, this book explains just how important, vital and vast this revolution is, what the emerging markets are, where the opportunities today lie and how to tap into the entrepreneurial mindset to achieve success.

My take on all this is that if entrepreneurs are out to shape the future of this planet, half the population of the planet are women, who have their own entrepreneurial styles. I truly believe female entrepreneurs are out to transform society at the deepest levels. Stats and data abound to support the conclusion that when women are economically empowered, money is recycled back into businesses and towards the health, education and well-being of the family. Women in leadership, in the corporate world and policy creation positions likewise contribute to a more humane compassionate society, to a future that is more collaborative, more sustainable.

From a large-scale perspective, female entrepreneurs encompass approximately one third of all entrepreneurs worldwide. However, while numbers of women entrepreneurs are rising all over the world, millions who live in Asia and Africa come from the informal sector with micro-businesses, where we find the least productivity and the least amount of resources. Educational choices, traditional views and stereotypes about women and greater time restrictions due to household and family responsibilities add to the long list of challenges women have.

Many women still face the traditional gender-role issue. This is especially true in many societies of Asia, Middle East and Africa. Entrepreneurship is still considered a male-dominated field, and it may prove to be difficult to surpass these conventional views.

Although women are not minorities per se, they have been in the minority when it comes to starting businesses that make it big. Women have just not been able to scale businesses as compared to male counterparts. There are many reasons worldwide but by and large, women lack the "structural hard skills" of business with challenges that include lack of and difficulty in accessing finance and capital, technical and scientific knowledge; limited or, sometimes even, a complete lack of business, management, marketing skills and training; market access; control over resources; sometimes needing the permission of husbands or fathers to open a bank account, establish a business, obtain a passport or enforce a contract; Inability to own land to use as collateral for business loans, therefore without access to formal finance; Lack of access to information, equipment, suppliers and buyers; Fewer business networks and role models and in developing countries, the disparity in available capital for women-owned businesses.

Compared to their male counterparts who can access capital easily, women get micro-loans, (and pay back 100%) even as they are running all types of businesses from home, to big factories and export. The reason for this is the challenge women entrepreneurs, in early development-stage economies face, in sustaining their businesses beyond the startup phases. They fail to generate substantial revenues and scaling up becomes a real challenge, so loans remain in small levels. This also holds true for women entrepreneurs in areas like Africa and Arabic countries and some countries of Asia where strong fundamental cultures prevail and women have a hard time applying for loans without their husband's consent or signature.

Global policy groups are now focused on how to help women increase their productivity. The work is to understand the barriers that prevent women from scale-up businesses to fully participate in entrepreneurial activities-specifically in science and technology where there are fewer opportunities to patent their inventions. Entering innovative industries also pose a challenge for women due to prevalent gender differences in access to education and in the fields of study and career choice.

Power is at the core of this forward progression. Women are in the process of reclaiming, balancing and redefining their own power. First, finding the inner power to break limitations created by their own minds due to culture and gender biases, and outer power to effect entrepreneurial economic success.

My co-writers and members of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, the first think tank fully dedicated to entrepreneurship, include Tugrul Atamer, Inderjit Singh, Nikhil Agarwal, Colin Jones, Thais Corral, Tony Meloto, Jack Sim, David Drake, Baybars Altuntas, Fadi Sabbagha, Anna-Lena Johannsen, Nicolas Shea and Laurel Delaney. Each contributor tackles different aspects of the challenges and opportunities currently being encountered by entrepreneurs. Planet Entrepreneur (available on Amazon in hardcopy and Kindle format) will be launched at the end of October this year, when we convene in Singapore for the 6th edition of the World Entrepreneur Forum with this year's theme "Entrepreneurs: Navigating Change for Sustainable Growth."