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Bangkok - 19 Nov 2021

News Number: PI/05/2021

Enabling opportunities and solutions for women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific

Photo credit: ESCAP/Tassama Kaemanuchade

In celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day 2021, the ILO and ESCAP have collaborated on a high-level event bringing stakeholders together to discuss innovative opportunities and scalable solutions for women entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific.

On 18 November 2021, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) hosted a virtual high-level event to celebrate Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.

The session, ‘Women’s Entrepreneurship Day: Opportunities and Solutions for Women Entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific’, focused on gender-responsive and scalable solutions to support women entrepreneur’s recovery from COVID-19 and long-term resilience. The discussion contextualised the complex challenges they have faced during the pandemic, and ways forward for women entrepreneurship development in the region.

Various stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, such as government representatives, private sector partners, financial institutions and women entrepreneurs were invited to share their expertise and vision for a more equitable future of work. The event was opened by Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP along with Panudda Boonpala, ILO Deputy Regional-Director of Asia and the Pacific.

Panellists included Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, Maria Perdomo, Regional Coordinator for Asia and Regional Manager for Inclusive Digital Economies, UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), Diedrah Kelly, Ambassador of Canada to ASEAN, Maneesha Chadha, Head of Grant Programming, APAC, J.P. Morgan, Vanessa Seow, Executive Vice President and Head of Communications, Lazada, Reeta Simha, President of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal and Armin Zaman Khan, Founder and CEO of Romoni Services Limited. 

Women’s entrepreneurship in the time of COVID-19

The panel discussion centred each speakers’ expertise in women entrepreneurship development.

Her Excellency Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs in Cambodia, underscored the importance of MSMEs as the backbone of Cambodian economy and the crucial role and contribution of women entrepreneurs. She highlighted the urgency of transforming Cambodia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem into one that is more gender-responsive and inclusive, especially by strengthening efforts towards recognizing, reducing and redistributing women’s increased burden of unpaid care and domestic work. The Minister called for more commitment and multi-stakeholder collaboration to formulate and implement inclusive and innovative solutions that enhance women’s entrepreneurship development as well as address women’s unpaid care work for a sustainable post COVID-19 recovery and building back better.  

Emphasising Government of Canada’s feminist policy, Ambassador of Canada to ASEAN, Diedrah Kelly highlighted valuable lessons and experiences emerging from the regional initiative Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship. “Canada’s recognizes gender equality and the economic empowerment of women as the most effective approach to promoting inclusive economic growth and eradicating poverty and with ESCAP, we are working to remove gender-based structural barriers by addressing the root causes and enabling women in the Asia-Pacific region to have the opportunity to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions to achieve economic independence”, says Ambassador Kelly.

The conversation also focused on the critical challenges women entrepreneurs face in accessing finance, and what innovative strategies can be adopted to leverage capital for supporting women-owned businesses. Maria Perdomo, Regional Coordinator for Asia, UNCDF, highlighted key strategies and mechanisms to scale women entrepreneurs’ access to finance through women-centred design of financial products such as a credit guarantee scheme to secure funding for women led businesses, women’s livelihood bond as well as fintech solutions to support growth of women MSMEs.

Reeta Simha, President, Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal, highlighted that women entrepreneurship association can play an important role in policy making and the design of support measures to ensure it responds to the needs of women entrepreneurs. “Women entrepreneurship associations has an important role to play when it comes to ensuring that women’s interests are considered through advocacy and dialogue with the government. We can also provide women entrepreneurs with a network and access to the business community as well as other type of support.” She also highlighted the importance of providing timely support to women entrepreneurs, including capacity-building assistance focused on financial literacy, digital skills and business continuity planning to support them during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expertise from the panellists were contextualised by Armin Zaman Khan, Founder and CEO of Romoni Services Limited, who shared their first-hand experience being a woman entrepreneur during the pandemic. She emphasised the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs primarily operating in beauty tailoring and fashion industries in dealing with uncertainty and how they were able to adapt their business model. As founder of the first beauty and fashion technology platform in Bangladesh, Romoni stressed that access to finance, digital solutions and business community were priorities for women entrepreneurs going forward.

Supporting women entrepreneurs for the long-run

The high-level event was an opportunity to bring stakeholders, partners and entrepreneurs together for women’s entrepreneurship development. The discussion framed the need for innovative and continued support for women-owned businesses that is inclusive and accessible. In addition, participants shared how leveraging each other’s resources and expertise will enable large-scale impact and opportunities to build back better.

“The intersection of COVID-19, small businesses and gender inequality highlights the interdependence of the world of work and importance of supporting women entrepreneurs during the crisis. Through our continued collaboration and coordination, together we can forge a human-centred recovery and build back better”, says Panudda Boonpala, ILO Deputy Regional-Director of Asia and the Pacific.

“During these trying times for women entrepreneurs, our programme on Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship - supported by the Government of Canada - has become even more of a lifeline. The programme addresses three fundamental barriers that hinder the growth of women-led businesses- access to finance, digital and business skills and enabling policy environment”, says Kaveh Zahedi, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP.

The high-level panel was organised by the ILO ‘Rebuilding Better: Fostering Business Resilience Post-COVID-19’ project in collaboration with ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme.

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