Perceptions & Solutions for Women and Youth in Entrepreneurship
MEDA's Youth Economic Opportunities team is proud to be spotlighting two of our very own MEDA experts who particpated in a Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) discussion hosted by Chemonics. Adam Bramm, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Women's Economic Opportunities and Nicki Post, Senior Consultant / Project Manager of Youth Economic Opportunities participated in the event and provided insightful dialogue to further the agenda for women, youth and entrepreneurship.
This article was developed by Christy Sisko, Manager of Chemonics' Economic Growth and Trade practice. The original article can be accessed here.
- "Watch, listen, and learn. You can't know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity." - Donald Trump
Entrepreneurship is trending around the globe. There is no doubt that mobilizing entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses, create positive change in their communities, and use innovation to drive economic growth is a solid tool to sustainably strengthen economies.
As well-known as the perks of entrepreneurship are, the risks are just as notorious. Being an entrepreneur is not for the light hearted. Persistence, vision, drive, resiliency, and flexibility are the core of a successful entrepreneur. Since Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) this past November 2014, I have been pondering--how does the development community successfully encourage entrepreneurship around the world, present it as a long-lasting career option with benefits that outweigh risks, and ensure that minority groups and marginalized populations who are commonly more risk-adverse are able to actively participate in this global trend and economic opportunity? And how do we make sure entrepreneurialism is gender-neutral and a career option for all?
Global Entrepreneurship Week
During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national, and global activities designed to help them explore their potential as self-starters and innovators. These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors, donors and even investors—introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities. GEW is more than an awareness campaign. It is a platform for connection and collaboration—engaging all players along the entrepreneurship spectrum in strengthening ecosystems around the world.
Chemonics and our partners Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), Making Cents, the International Youth Foundation (IYF), and Vital Voices decided that this celebration of entrepreneurs around the world was our opportunity to collaborate, discuss, advocate, share, and learn in the name of women and young entrepreneurs around the world.
We thought through some questions. What have we been doing to support them through our own projects? What are the most pressing issues in entrepreneurship for women and youth today? What can we share about our own experiences supporting women and youth becoming thriving entrepreneurs? The result of this was a twitter chat titled, "Impacts of Women and Youth in Entrepreneurship,", held on November 19 where Chemonics and our partners shared our opinions on main constraints assisting women and youth when starting a business, access to finance opportunities or lack thereof for start-ups, and perceptions on the most successful methods for learning entrepreneurship.
Taking a piece of advice from famous entrepreneur Reid Hoffmans' top ten rules for entrepreneurs, "Rule #5: Maintain flexible persistence," Chemonics and our partners decided to continue our discussion even after GEW by continuing sharing our experiences in entrepreneurship programming and advocating on the economic benefits for entrepreneurship to stay committed to our vision of entrepreneurship being a skill set and job opportunity for all.
Continuing the Discussion
On January 22, Chemonics, MEDA, Making Cents, and IYF reconvened for an open discussion to continue sharing best practices and drilling down into successful methods in addressing key in entrepreneurship for women and youth. The panel was structured around the most prevalent questions asked during the event in November were the following and this shaped our agenda for this knowledge sharing event:
What is the biggest constraint you see for women when starting a business?
What policies and programs are you seeing that promote women's entrepreneurship?
What are some important components of youth enterprise development/entrepreneurship programs?
What are some advantages to using mobile technologies, especially with start-ups?
Leading this stimulating discussion was Sarah Green, deputy director of Collaborative Learning and Action from Making Cents, Nicki Post, senior consultant/project manager for Youth Economic Opportunities from MEDA, Adam Bramm, senior consultant/project manager for Women's Economic Opportunities from MEDA, Rebecca Logan, project director, Asia Region for Chemonics, as well as Mara Kronenfeld, director of Partner Development at IYF.
The event resulted in a rich discussion during which members of the development community and sector specialists not only answered the pressing questions listed above, but created linkages and pushed the conversation forward on how we continue to crack the code of encouraging entrepreneurship for all.
Sarah from Making Cents, who focused on constraints for women seeking to start a business, shared that "training is not the key to success in overcoming constraints; instead the focus should be on customized packages of support according to the spectrum of entrepreneurial activity." What does a support package look like? Sarah stated that "just in time" support, mentorship and peer networks were all important components.
Discussing what projects have successfully promoted entrepreneurship for women was Rebecca from Chemonics. The USAID Egypt Competitiveness (ECP) project created sustainable mentorship networks that would last beyond projects' end and show these emerging entrepreneurs that success is possible. Rebecca also touched on the program's success in engaging women in their Start-Up Weekends. In order for this to happen, they provided transportation to and from the event so women did not have to stay overnight at the event to participate.
What are important components for youth programs? Mara from IYF shared her experience creating training programs for youth. "If you're a young woman and you get agency through training, you feel like you can actually do this," she said. Going beyond agency, she discussed the importance of building the capacity of local institutions to properly train youth. If we want sustainability and scalability, local institutions will be vital. On the same topic, Nicki from MEDA advocated on the issue of access to finance for youth entrepreneurship. She noted, "you have limited access to finance: only 12.3 percent of youth (15-24) in the Middle East and North Africa have a bank account." MEDA has created several financial products specifically for youth that are shared in their recent "Designing Sustainable Youth Products" case study.
Adam from MEDA finished off the discussion with the topic of leveraging mobile technologies for women and youth entrepreneurship. Using mobile technology as a medium to expand reach as a business owner in traditionally limiting or insecure environments has proven successful. Adam noted, "With more than 5 billion mobile connections, the mobile phone is one of the most widely available technologies in the world today. The incremental annual revenue opportunity for mobile phone operators is US$13 billion."
A topic that wove through the event was the importance of soft skills for both women and youth. Adam shared, "Soft skills are a very integral part of any project in order to increase that sense of empowerment for women," and Sarah, who was an entrepreneur herself added, "the ability to sell yourself, to sell your product" is a key skill for youth entrepreneurs to develop."
Persistence, although only one key aspect of an entrepreneur, is one that cannot be avoided. In an effort to stand by the entrepreneurship movement, the development community must persist as well in our mission to empower successful entrepreneurs and encourage entrepreneurial spirit around the world. As implementers and donors continue to provide support, we must reflect and discuss what has worked, what has not, and where can we go from where we are now. In support of GEW, we will persist to not have just one week dedicated to celebrating, assisting and growing the entrepreneurship community. The discussion will continue. In out next we will be discussing how do we define success and failure in entrepreneurship, what hasn't worked, and how can we ensure entrepreneurship is seen and taught as a long lasting skillset.
We cannot have this discussion alone, and we would like to sincerely thank our partners, MEDA, Making Cents and IYF for their innovation, knowledge sharing efforts and share dedication to empowering entrepreneurs.