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Taking conversations to scale in Viet Nam -  Reimagining the role of policymaking for women entrepreneurs

Photo credit: Business Studies Assistance Centre Viet Nam

Ms. Hong leads the Cuu Long Coconut Product enterprise in Ben Tre Province in Viet Nam. She explained that, as orders from traditional export markets stopped during the pandemic, their production was reduced and revenues fell by up to 80 per cent in 2020. As the area has experienced prolonged drought, there is also no freshwater for production. The water shortage has caused damage to their machinery, which must be constantly repaired or replaced, she said.

Ms. Hong was among the 37 women entrepreneurs who participated in a recent consultation that took stock of the impact of climate change and COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs in the Mekong River Delta region of Viet Nam. The consultation represented a critical first step in integrating gender considerations into entrepreneurship development strategies in the region to cope with the severe impacts of climate change in Viet Nam.

In the context of Viet Nam’s economic growth, the contribution of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) is vital, estimated in 2015 by the World Bank to account for 98 per cent of all business, 40 per cent of GDP and half of total employment.  Within the SME sector in Viet Nam, it is estimated that women-owned SMEs comprise 21 per cent of formal enterprises.  Women-owned businesses in Viet Nam have similar average annual revenues to their male-owned counterparts.  Despite this, women face greater vulnerability and additional barriers to start up and/or expand their businesses.

The ESCAP Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme (CWE) works with multiple stakeholders to address the barriers women face at various stages of their entrepreneurial journeys.  In Viet Nam, the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) - which is the nodal Agency for Enterprise Development - has for the first time been formally nominated to lead a gender iniatiative. The role of policymakers beyond their traditional sphere of influence is critical.

A consultative and human-centred approach has been at the heart of designing this initiative. More than 60 representatives of women entrepreneurs and over 50 participants from Government agencies, banks and the private sector discussed and agreed on the scope and design of the programme. This has ensured that the voices and needs of the ultimate beneficiaries have guided the decision-making process. As a result, a participatory mechanism for policy-making has been established for women’s entrepreneurship in Viet Nam.

Using research and evidence for designing context-appropriate interventions has been a vital attribute of the programme. For example, the assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on businesses provides a clear analysis of the policy environment and provides recommendations for the short, medium and long term. Three critical gaps emerged from the study as well as from various consultations.

First, limited knowledge and access to support services remain key barriers for women entrepreneurs to sustain and grow their businesses. In collaboration with Viet Nam Television, a TV series was produced about the barriers faced and resilience demonstrated by women entrepreneurs. The series was broadcast in English and Vietnamese throughout the country. A digital one-stop portal for women entrepreneurs, which will be situated under the National SME Portal, is being designed. This aims to provide women entrepreneurs with information on policy and support programmes, e-learning resources as well as online services.

Second, the implementation of laws and policies remains inadequate. Currently, the SME Law is being reviewed with a focus on its implementation effectiveness vis-à-vis women entrepreneurs. Targeted guidance for the provincial government agencies that are responsible for enacting the law will be provided.  This will help in addressing the particular barriers women face in starting and managing their businesses.

Third, research has shown that the interplay of social factors including community context and cultural constraints have a significant impact on women entrepreneurs. The psychosocial barriers that women face and how a systematic approach can address these challenges were discussed at an expert group meeting, resulting in an action plan to create an enabling psychosocial ecosystem. So far 103 women entrepreneurs have benefitted from access to resources on recognizing and managing stress in running their businesses.

A final ambition is to bring the conversations to scale. The programme’s success will ultimately be measured by whether its work leads to greater investments in women and their businesses. The work under the CWE programme and the role played by the MPI has already generated recognition of the need for a larger initiative. A new national programme for women entrepreneurs is being developed by MPI and it will be submitted to the Prime Minister of Viet Nam in late 2021. The learnings from these interventions at the country level have also begun to garner interest from regional mechanisms such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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Relevant Links: Vietnam Country Update

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Sudha Gooty
Programme Manager
Trinh Thi Huong
Director of Policy & General Affairs Division, Ministry of Planning and Investment of Viet Nam
Social Development +66 2 288-1234 [email protected]