One of the many challenges in the development process is managing the uncertain environments into which aid dollars flow. Corruption, cronyism, and weak rule of law all contribute to this uncertainty. Chris Blattman, on his blog, said “uncertainty about the political stability of [a] country” is one of the biggest barriers to achieving economic growth in developing countries. One source for overcoming this challenge of uncertainty is focusing on women entrepreneurs.
Women tend to invest in capital intensive efforts; they are good at delivering public services to the broader public and bringing transparency to their efforts. A World Bank Development Research paper entitled,Policy Research Report on Gender and Development (Working Paper Series, no. 4), found that “the greater the representation of women in parliament, the lower the level of corruption.“
At a recent Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) conference, Democracy that Delivers for Women, Ambassador Melanne Verveer presented ways to empower women in developing societies. She explained that “progress for democracy and progress in women go hand in hand.” Ambassador Verveer is the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. She said that women “as agents of transformation” are strong local allies for development assistance as such programs enter a country. They “help achieve the sustainable growth we seek” in the development process.
The CIPE-hosted, two day-conference, examined linkages between women’s empowerment and governance; the power of associations; and the institutional framework for achieving women’s empowerment. Approaches to increasing women’s empowerment covered during the event included:
- Analyzing family and community involvement where women entrepreneurs develop businesses in order to asses collateral potential when formal property rights are not extended to women;
- Supporting local women leaders who will serve as “home grown role modes” for younger generations;
- Carrying out efforts to bring women entrepreneurs into the mainstream and include them in the formal sector;
- Making sure women have a voice, so that they can represent themselves;
- Considering how to take the empowerment of women beyond just a ‘woman’s rights’ issue and frame it around good economic behavior.
Selima Ahmad, the President and Founder of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, spoke to the process by which women can be included as participants. She explained that “small business development is [critical] to building economic empowerment and growth for women.” Women in small businesses create jobs, growth, networks, and demand for institutional change. Women who “provide for themselves economically are in a better position to contribute to policy debates.”
Some areas of foreign assistance from which women receive support as entrepreneurs include for-profit firms like Up From the Dust. Mary Schnack, who started Up Form the Dust, explains that female entrepreneurs impact policy. Her firm “imports jewelry, purses, and home decor items from women entrepreneurs in Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda, Ghana, Mexico, Guatemala, Egypt, Cambodia, Afghanistan, India, Palestine, and China” to help women in developing countries grow their business.
As female-owned businesses grow, the women who run them are able to speak with a louder collective voice on policy. Their involvement increases, and that involvement results in a reinvestment back into the community increasing the skills, knowledge, and capacity needed to move the society forward. With time, transparency and accountability grow from this type of organization.