7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

The power of entrepreneurial women for social impact

The power of entrepreneurial women for social impact

Business solutions for women empowerment – tapping into the potential and removing the barriers for impactful women’s businesses

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 16:15 to 17:30

Key points

  • Now that gender equality is acknowledged as a key to fostering development, policy has increased its focus on supporting gender entrepreneurship.
  • The lack of funding for women, which is an obstacle for those who want to set up or scale up their social enterprise, must be remedied.
  • Actions to encourage and support female entrepreneurship must include programmes to change political and social attitudes.
  • The difference in the size and sustainability of social enterprises set up by men and those set up by women needs to be addressed.
  • Too often female social entrepreneurship focuses on urban women, whereas rural women also need encouragement to set up social enterprises, which can help empower them in a number of ways.


Gender equality is recognised as a major engine for development, as key Sustainable Development Goal 5 focuses on Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This means that all of the tools and actors must be engaged for pushing this forward in all areas. Because ordinary businesses employ far more men than women, social entrepreneurship is an area that presents great potential. 
Needed tools include training and employment opportunities and more economic possibilities for micro-enterprises; the actors are governments, international organisations, funders and women’s organisations.  
Women run only about 29 % of social enterprises. Conventional funders are more open to lending to men, and female entrepreneurs consistently complain about their lack of access to funding, even though they have a better record of repaying loans than men. Governments and donors should solve this by setting up accelerated programmes. These programmes promote gender balance in social enterprises and push for stronger female representation on the boards of investors. Evidence has shown that boards composed of men consistently prefer to fund men. 
A number of social and political measures are also needed to promote female social entrepreneurship. These include programmes to change male attitudes to women’s domestic responsibilities, and to prevent women from ‘self-sabotaging’. Successful programmes have targeted husbands who initially were obstructive when their wives suggested setting up businesses, and insisted that they should not neglect their domestic tasks. 
After a series of workshops, the men changed their attitude, understood the financial benefits and supported their wives. Women entrepreneurs are often their own worst enemy, as they do not believe they are good enough to start their own business, or to build on a successful start-up. When workshops were set up to tackle this problem and build confidence, 75 % of women reported increased self-esteem and greater ability to make choices. A spin-off has been that women are more likely to take leadership positions in business.
Current research has found there is a correlation between women entrepreneurs and the size and sustainability of social enterprises. First, businesses run by women are smaller than those run by men. This is partly because of the difficulty in obtaining funding, but is also a reflection of women being more financially cautious: they are less likely to take risks than their men. On the other hand, social enterprises run by women are more sustainable – they last longer, even though they make less profit. 
It was pointed out that discussions on female entrepreneurs always focus on urban women, and that poor rural women, whose lives revolve round the collection and preparation of food, would highly benefit from the opportunity to set up social enterprises. It could also improve the lives of rural women and girls. For example many young girls cannot attend school one week a month for lack of sanitary towels. In some rural areas, women have set up social enterprises to provide better cooking facilities, and others to produce sanitary towels.


Doubling the number of social enterprises run by women would provide employment for another 12 million women.

Organised by

    Paula Woodman
    Senior Advisor for Global Social Enterprise programme
    British Council
    Reintje Van Haeringen
    Drector and programme manager Women's economic empowerment
    CARE Nederland
    Zissimos Vergos
    Team Leader - Private Sector Development Sector
    European Commission - DG for International Cooperation and Development
    Misrach Mekonnen
    Project Manager
    CARE Ethiopia
    Carolina Aranha
    Pipe Social
    Mark Richardson
    Chief Executive
    Social Impact Consulting
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