Rural Entrepreneurship for Women: A Case for Wealth Creation by Africa’s Rural Poor amidst Global Financial and Economic Crises

This paper underlines the strategic challenges and opportunities from a gender focus to analyze the prospects of rural small and medium entrepreneurship for women through an analytical research on women’s IT-based commercial enterprises and present a

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  African Economic Conference 2009 Fostering Development in an Era of Financial and Economic Crises 11 – 13 November 2009 • United Nations Conference Centre • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  African Development Bank GroupEconomic Commission for Africa Rural Entrepreneurship for Women: A Case for WealthCreation by Africa’s Rural Poor amidst Global Financialand Economic Crises K M Baharul Islam   1 Rural Entrepreneurship for Women: A Case for WealthCreation by Africa’s Rural Poor amidst Global Financial andEconomic Crises K M Baharul Islam 1  Introduction: The growing emphasis on rural small and medium size entrepreneurship for economic development, especially in the context of poverty alleviation indeveloping countries has thrown up some major challenges for thecommercial ventures led by women in global perspective. The position of women, even in the developing world, has been far from uniform or nonlinear in this emerging global scenario.Against this backdrop and through several exemplary cases around the world,this paper intends to highlight that women entrepreneurs have made somegains and its emerging role in the rural African setup given the imminentglobal economic crisis. The market for e-business and e-commerce is, at least potentially, has strengthened their ability to more effectively compete even inthe domestic market. A number of such interventions in the area of IT basedcommercial enterprises for women have been undertaken all over the world.This paper, therefore, underlines the strategic challenges and opportunitiesfrom a gender focus to analyze the prospects of rural small and mediumentrepreneurship for women through an analytical research on women’s IT- based commercial enterprises and present a matrix of issues before thewomen entrepreneurs.Women Entrepreneurs have grown in large number across the globe over thelast decade and increasingly the entrepreneurial potentials of women havechanged the rural economies in many parts of the world. Besides the star cases like “ Grameen Telephone Ladies ” in Bangladesh spearheaded by NobelLaureate Muhammad Yunus, many other isolated cases of successful women 1 Chairman & CEO, South Asia Development Gateway and Director, Regional Institute for Research &Development, 46, Sijubari Masjid Road, Guwahati 781038 (India). Email:   2  businesses abound in recent years. 2 Richard Duncombe et al  shows ELIFBusiness Solutions (Zambia), BusyIncubator (Ghana) and Kudumbashree(India) as some illustrative cases. 3  With the increasing number of rural women joining the entrepreneurial bandwagon their conventional role in the society has also been changing withthe growing economic leverage they are mastering now. The quintessentialhome-maker with her born managerial skill, knowledge and adaptability inthe difficult social milieu made them eager to take up even otherwiseapparently ‘non-viable’ business ventures and often turned them into successstories. ‘Women Entrepreneur’, in a larger sense, therefore is a person whoaccepts challenging role to meet her personal needs and becomeeconomically self-sufficient. They are moved by a strong desire to dosomething economically gainful that will bring ‘value addition’ to their bothfamily and social life.With the advent of global economy followed by information society andsubsequent knowledge economy, a new image appeared in the mass media-women who are ready to break away from the traditional roles and the‘circumstantial helplessness’ that hindered their entrepreneurial growth for many years. From women business leaders of the multinational corporationsto the village women in Ghana all are now aware of their own advantages,challenges ahead as well as the emerging opportunities. The challenges andopportunities provided to the women of information society are turning themfast into job creators.In the context of Africa, especially against the backdrop of a global financialrecession, although women constitute the majority of the total population, theentrepreneurial world of rural African women is still a very limited one.Rural women in many other countries like Bangladesh have provedthemselves in the business world but the larger mass of African rural womenare still facing some major problems in terms of funding, training, supportservices and technology orientation. Position of Women The general impression about the women entrepreneurs across the world isalso changing slowly. A World Bank study in 2007 – “The Environment for Women's Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa” showed that 2 Duncombe, Richard et al (2005) Supporting Women's ICT-Based Enterprises: A Handbook for Agenciesin Development  . IDPM, University of Manchester. [www.womenictenterprise.orgAccessed on 10/09/2009] 3    Ibid.   3 there is very little difference between male and female-owned firms in theMiddle East and North Africa (MENA). A major finding of the study is thatfemale-owned firms in the region are as well-established, productive,technologically savvy and connected to global markets as male-owned firms.In terms of employability the share of firms employing more than 100employees is on average higher among female-owned firms (31 percent) thanmale-owned firms (24 percent). Moreover, skilled and professional workersconstitute a higher percentage of the work force of female-owned firms,according to the study. However, despite these women firms' similar characteristics and performance, the study reports that that women'sentrepreneurship in the region isn't reaching its potential, despite aninvestment climate that is "much less gendered than suspected." Only 13 percent of 4,832 firms surveyed in the eight countries were owned bywomen, says the study.One of the major challenges for lesser participation of women in business isof course the general barriers in the business environment as reported in theWorld Bank Group's Doing Business Report of 2008. 4 But, soci0-culturalnorms and negative attitudes toward working women further discourage thewomen entrepreneurship even further. 5  Financial capital requirements and cumbersome bureaucratic and legal procedures for starting and exiting a new business, pose greater barriers towomen because women require "greater flexibility to scale down or abandon business aspirations to meet family needs." Despite strong economic and jobgrowth since 2000 and major gains in girls' education, female unemploymentis high and rising, with the highest unemployment among the most educatedwomen, says the study. "Women still do not have equal access to economicopportunity," says Mustapha K Nabli, World Bank Chief Economist. "Justthe same way as women still face more barriers inside and outside the labor market despite educational gains, women face additional barriers in the business environment despite their capabilities and business acumen." 6  According to Nadereh Chamlou, lead author of the report: “Women'sentrepreneurship could help the region meet its challenges, becauseempowering women and diversifying the economy can go together - and helpthe region meet the critical challenge of creating more and better jobs." 4    Doing Business 2008 . Published by World Bank, Sept 2007; Washington DC 5 Environment for Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa Region (2007). WorldBank Report, Washington DC. 6    Ibid.
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