15 November 2013
If you could adjust just one variable to exponentially improve the quality of life for everyone on planet earth, what would it be? We’d argue there are few places where you would get a bigger return on your investment than supporting women entrepreneurs.
The evidence is overwhelming. Countries where women have more power are more successful. Economies where women participate more are more successful. A report from McKinsey & Co. finds that companies with gender-balanced executive committees have a 56% higher operating profit than those with male-only executive committees. According to the Harvard Business Review, women entrepreneurs bring in 20% more revenue with 50% less money invested. These are just a few of the statistics. Women are good for business.
As the world seeks to grow in a way that is environmentally and socially sustainable, the task of figuring out how to unleash the potential of women in business becomes all the more pressing. Business is the sector of society today that has the most resources and flexibility to create change. Business is how we organize ourselves when we want to solve our needs more efficiently. Change business, change the way business operates and defines success, and you change the world.
Women currently make up half of the world’s population, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half the world’s food, but only earn 10% of the income and own less than 2% of the world’s property. We live in a 90/10 world. What would the world look like if the fruits of labor were closer to 50/50?
In her keynote speech at the 2013 Impact Investing in Action conference, Ambassador Melanne Verveer said it best: “no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. And there is no way that our collective quest for security, prosperity, and stability can be realized if we don’t invest in women, one of the most effective and powerful forces for re-shaping the globe.”
We have reached a moment in our society’s evolution in which it is time to re-define what “success” in business means. Success is a business with impact at its core–a business that functions based on a set of core values, which is designed and managed to serve the needs of all its stakeholders.
Getting more women in business might be the single best way to create an economy based on this definition of success. An economy that equally represents and integrates the values, opinions, and needs of both genders–that harnesses the power of all of us–is much more likely to be successful in the long run. The best way to create this change now is to accelerate the growth of high-potential women entrepreneurs.
It is not an easy task. Globally, when they are even allowed to own a business, women face tremendous barriers above and beyond those that male entrepreneurs face–including lack of access to capital, male-dominated networks, and familial responsibilities. Most come from cultures that undervalue them because of their gender. But when people have agency, they become hard to stop. We have seen first-hand dozens of incredible women entrepreneurs in Latin America turn powerful ideas into successful businesses that create both profit and impact in their communities.
Maria Pacheco, founder of Kiej de los Bosques and Agora Class of 2011, has created 1,174 jobs in her home country of Guatemala in just 3 years, primarily for women. Maria Rodriguez, founder of Byoearth and Agora Class of 2012, has trained 3,280 Guatemalan women in the practical skills of vermicomposting. Dulce Martinez, founder of Fábrica Social and Agora Class of 2013, has trained more than 200 women in 10 rural communities in Mexico in design and management, which has led to a 400% increase in hourly wages for these women. These three entrepreneurs are increasing the agency and economic power of other women, resulting in exponential benefits for their communities. These include decreased birth rates, improvements in education for their children, increased earning potential of their families, more equal civil participation, and a change in the general perception of the place of women in society.
As a society, we must accelerate efforts to provide women entrepreneurs with the knowledge (human capital), networks (social capital), and financial capital they need to attract investment, access markets, and grow their business and their impact. More women in business is not only good for business, it’s good for all of us.
Agora Partnerships just launched its Accelerate Women Now (AWN) initiative, a movement fueled by those who believe in the power and potential of women business leaders to be disruptive changemakers. AWN is supporting the growth of women business leaders in the developing world with the proven potential to inspire real change in their communities by unleashing the agency of the next generation of entrepreneurs, such as Gabriela Flores of Kirah Design, Emily Stone of Maya Mountain Cacao, and Jessica Altenburger and Isabel Medem of x-runner. In just three years, Agora has worked with 45 companies, facilitated more than $11 million in investment, and increased the participation of women-owned or co-owned businesses from 22% of the accelerator class of 2011 and 2012 to 44% of the class of 2013. The accelerator class of 2014 will be 60% comprised of women owned or co-owned businesses.
This post was written by Ashoka Fellow Ben Powell, the Founder and CEO of Agora Partnerships, and Dana Warren, Agora’s Communications Associate. Check out Ben’s latest for Forbes: Is Philanthropy Ready for Systems Change?
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