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Women Entreprenuers Outside the U.S.

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By Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., President and Founder of Women Presidents' Organization (WPO)

Question:  How do women-owned businesses compete globally?

I was fortunate to be a delegate and speaker at the 11th meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women Leaders' Network (WLN), held in Hanoi, Viet Nam.  As the premier forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region, APEC has 21 members * - referred to as "Member Economies" - which account for approximately 40% of the world's population, approximately 56% of world GDP and about 48% of world trade.

Unfortunately women do not have a seat at the APEC table. As a result, they have created their own organization, the WLN, to influence decision-making.  Decisions made within APEC are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis.  The WLN provides an opportunity to have the voice of women heard through direct access to APEC ministers and leaders. 

About 350 delegates from around the world attended the WLN meeting, to focus on enhancing the competitiveness of businesses run by women and ensuring the integration of a gender neutral perspective within APEC policies and objectives. 

Delegates were able to attend a variety of sessions, panels and workshops that addressed effective, dynamic and sustainable economic development for women entrepreneurs; social and environmental issues affecting women; and ways to promote women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (M/SME).  In one of the sessions, I spoke about accelerating the growth of women's entrepreneurship using the Women Presidents' Organization, as an example.

U.S. and Canada Have the Highest Percentage of Women-Owned Businesses

I found that among the APEC members, the U.S. and Canada have the highest percentage of women-owned businesses, with the U.S. at 48% of all privately-held business being women-owned, Canada at 47% and Chile trailing with a close 46%.  However, most of Chile's women-owned businesses are too small to qualify for WPO membership, they are not grossing over one million annually.  Those APEC countries with businesses large enough to qualify include:  The Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. In the sprit of connecting globally, I collected the names and personal information of a great many contacts in these countries, which I make available to our WPO members.

The Viet Nam press was interested in what I had to say and chose to cover my presentation.  Viet Nam is at a point in its economic development where the country is no longer living in its past, but sees great financial opportunity in engaging in commerce with U.S.-based businesses.  One senior Vietnamese official, a woman named Tran Thi Thu Hang, spoke in a plenary session about the topics of trade liberalization, as well as an action plan to facilitate business and investment for SMEs and women entrepreneurs. 

Some important recommendations came out of the 11th WLN meeting, including:

  • The establishment of an APEC advisory committee on women's participation in the digital economy, where urban and rural women would be included in the master plan of enhancing information technology and the development of a database.
  • The review of existing laws, regulations and practices relating to investment, business and credit to eliminate gender bias in impact and enforcement, in addition to strengthening compliance by increasing awareness of women-owned M/SMEs.
  • Gender analysis training for APEC government trade officials.
  • Funding and expansion support for M/SMEs owned or led by women.
  • Promotion of the economic empowerment of women.
  • The implementation by APEC enterprises of the International Labor Organization Code of Practice on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work.

Women Do Not Differ That Much From Country to Country

As I meandered and shopped in Hanoi during my free time, I noticed that nearly every retail establishment I entered was run by women.  I saw women selling flowers on street corners while their children played on a nearby blanket.  It struck me that women all over the world have a need for greater economic security and the ability to support themselves financially.  We women do not differ that much from country to country.

In Singapore alone, there are 53 professional and business-oriented organizations for women.  The Viet Nam Women's Union I mentioned earlier has 13 million members and has just finished construction of an $8 million-dollar building.  I met two Muslim women from Malaysia, both of them heads of organizations, one of which was a construction company. 

What a tremendous experience it was to participate in the WLN meeting.  Through conferences such as this one, women the world over can exchange ideas, and share their experiences and best practices in business expansion and economic empowerment, in order to reap the rewards of trade liberalization and meet the challenges of globalization.

Footnote:

* APEC's 21 Member Economies are: Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; Viet Nam.

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