The Commonwealth Women's Entrpreneurial Summit 2021
ABE alumnus and successful entrepreneur, Selveena Parmanum, attended the 2021 online Commonwealth Women's Entrepreneurship Summit and has written this blog, summarising the summit's discussions and takeaways, to share with the wider ABE community...
The Commonwealth Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit 21 held its first global online event on the 19th-20th May 2021 with the theme of women's entrepreneurship in emerging tech sectors. The summit was organised with the collaboration of GEN UK (Global Entrepreneurship Network), CBWN (Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network) the UK Government (Women in Innovation Network), (AWEP: African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program) and all the activities were synchronised on the WorldLabs platform. The triumph card of the event was the ‘Heroine Stories’ where women entrepreneurs were invited to share a video about their experiences, challenges and achievements which served as inspiration to summit attendees.
The emphasis of the summit was on how business was crossing the threshold of transformation in key sectors such as Cleantech, Healthtech, Fashiontech, Edtech, Createch, Agritech and Fintech. The analysis and proposals are as follows:
Cleantech is a sector that has substantial market opportunities globally as regards energy, water, waste and mobility. If we look at the complex challenges, from climate change issues to pollutions, we realise that it is of utmost importance to find strategic solutions that will help to achieve sustainable development. Innovative projects such as Ripple2wave (an incubator that focuses on building Water and Cleantech Startups) and The Cyclect Group (Service provider for Solar PV, Waste-To-Energy, Biogas, Biomass solutions) have proved their effectiveness in accomplishing these goals.
We should be more passionate about producing innovative products and services that will meet the demand of the ‘green economy’. There should more opportunities in terms of joint ventures and investment, grant facilities to enable more women to join this promising sector.
Entering the digital era has enabled health innovation that created a long-lasting impact on the wellbeing of people across the globe. Yet women entrepreneurs and innovators encounter many difficulties that prevent them from transforming their ideas into innovative health products. However, thanks to Fintech facilities and Commonwealth Support, some successful projects were launched: Kazi Health Mobile App. (a digital health application); PUBUDU: (an application for people with disabilities with benefits such as screening, intervention, identifying level and report generation); TOGETHER FOR HER (an application providing programmes that support mothers with pregnancy guidelines using intelligent algorithms); DIHS2 which is all about capacity-building projects that can help graduates and PhD holders apply the measures and solutions to their specific country. DIHS2 was successful in Sri Lanka which used this platform for suspected Covid cases.
Despite the developments that have been made for women entrepreneurs in the digital health sector, there is still room for improvement in terms of infrastructure, education and training facilities, with microfinance schemes to enable a more inclusive culture.
Fashion and technology are increasingly merging throughout the world. Technology has not only made fashion more accountable but also helped to connect with consumers in a more authentic way. Bulk production is no more the trend. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a shift to digital commerce forcing people to go online with a more selective and one-to-one approach. Producing sustainable fashion has proved to be a worthy investment which is linked to livelihood across the globe. For example, leather made from the Nile Perch Fish in Nairobi is being used for dresses and other accessories and another project, Blue Fashion Scarf, has health benefits on the skin.
Meaningful evolution and revolution of fashion will occur as consumers learn more about sustainability. Hence, we should redefine our production systems and make good use of sustainable marine resources whilst utilising technology to help us create a ‘People-Planet’ win-win situation.
The infusion of technology has not only complemented a more robust education industry but it is also a ‘beacon of hope’ for women's empowerment and entrepreneurship. The use of technologies, such as mobile phones, has helped women launch e-commerce and digital finance facilities for their businesses. The COL’S Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) provides open online courses via a mobile phone interface and has proved its usefulness for women entrepreneurs both at a social sphere level and for self-empowerment.
If we want the female population to become the ‘contributors’ for sustainable development; a targeted approach is advisable on the access to education and digital technologies at a grass root level itself, especially for girls, as it will not only promote learning and enhance skills but also encourage them to be autonomous and become the ‘real innovators’ of our economy.
Createch (Creative Technology) is the amalgamation of creative skills and emerging technologies which can open up to new avenues for growth and investment. The women entrepreneurs in the creative industries have benefited enormously from social and cultural opportunities. Investors in female founders of this sector have gained in terms of return on investment and also as a CSR policy which are both fundamental for the company’s brand reputation and success. Typically, ‘Sthree –Women’s Initiative’ is a social enterprise in Sri Lanka that provides women entrepreneurs and people with disabilities with capacity building training and marketing facilities for their craft products.
Collaboration and a change in mindset are key factors that can accelerate change. To close the digital gap faced by women, there should be more opportunities like mentoring and coaching programmes, equal access to education (including art & science subjects) and access to technology that is affordable and user friendly.
The use of technology is vital for taking agricultural innovation into commercial success. Investing in agri-tech like bio-technology is essential to unlocking a sustainable future. Despite the threats, many women across the globe are business leaders who are driving the agricultural innovation sector. In Africa, 62% of women are traders, processors and producers. The deployment of technology in the agriculture and farming sectors has brought value to business and improves the livelihood of farmers. Ingenious projects: Food Makers Africa acts as a facilitator for small-scale Agri-Food Producers in Africa and AgUnity is a global blockchain service provider with technological solutions for farmers’ empowerment and efficient production.
Access to finance and resources, business training (mentoring and coaching) along with an intercontinental collaboration can help women entrepreneurs to break through the ‘glass ceiling’ so they can compete and expand on an international scale.
Fintech (financial technology):
The importance and benefits derived from Fintech are immense. From flexibility to secure and convenient advanced digital solutions, financial institutions and banks have been able to offer services that are tailored to the needs of every customer. Fintech has enabled women entrepreneurs to be beneficiaries of crowdsourcing and mobile money services. One such example is the ‘Shatter Fund’- a returns-driven fund that invests in technology companies led and started by women. However, women entrepreneurs still lack adequate funding and gender inequality issues are hindering their overall progress.
We need entrepreneur-centric solutions that will enable women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and reach their potential. There should be a shift towards building an inclusive culture and a diverse mindset.
Challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in all sectors:
- Having no access to education and digital technologies was sadly a ‘lived reality’ for many girls and women across the globe. Many women do not even have a bank account in their name.
- Family commitments and a lack of support from family members, leave women with little or no energy to devote their time to business. This became more obvious during the pandemic crisis where women took more responsibilities for households, homeschooling and childcare.
- Male chauvinism is still prevailing in today’s society causing inequalities and discrimination for women in business.
- Access to finance which is considered the ‘lifeblood' of every enterprise is still a major issue.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy worldwide has brought about a significant increase in business closures, job losses, higher rates of domestic violence and abuse; hence depriving women and girls of their rights and threatening the progress made over decades.
Commonwealth – the ‘game-changer’ for human development:
The Commonwealth Charter and the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) 2030 Agenda especially the SDG5 (gender equality) are important catalysts for achieving sustainable economic development. The Commonwealth has been a pioneer in women’s empowerment and autonomy for decades. For instance, its ‘Say No More' campaigns have promoted positive partnerships for change, with the cooperation of government and other stakeholders, aimed at ending violence against women and girls.
Policies and recommendations:
Based on surveys and reports, the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) concluded there is still a gender gap in entrepreneurship across nearly all countries of the commonwealth and this is due to barriers such as lack of skills and education (41% of women), fear of business failure (43% of women), cultural barriers and limited access to finance amongst others. The OECD recommends that governments come up with policies and targeted actions which promote role models to inspire potential entrepreneurs; review policies and also strengthen post-start-up support for women with entrepreneurial growth potential. Alongside this, there should be strategies that will help to raise awareness and generate positive attitudes towards female entrepreneurship, as well as the implementation of masterplans such as coaching and mentoring programmes, better access to digital technologies such as mobile phones for women, access to microfinance schemes and the right to education for girls where entrepreneurship is included on the curriculum.
Bringing together these initiatives will combine to improve women’s economic participation and bridge the gender gap worldwide.
From the Entrepreneurs’ standpoint:
- Be passionate about what you are doing and believe in yourself
- Do not be afraid of failures and do not give up, stay open-minded
- Enhance your skills, engage internationally and support other women
- Have a vision for the business - research, re-assess and restructure your plans and strategies, never stop innovating and build something that is sustainable.
Lord Bilimoria reflection: “Your beliefs become your thoughts,
your thoughts become your words,
your words become your actions,
your actions become your habits,
your habits become your values,
and your values become your destiny.”- Gandhi
By making the 3Ps (Patience, Perspective & Persistence) your everyday motto, you are bound to emerge triumphantly in life.