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Female Entrepreneurs of Asia: A Learning Curve

Women are increasingly recognized as a key driver of economic growth and job creation.

In 2020, women comprise about 17% of the estimated 43 million employers in Asia and 23% in Southeast Asia. These numbers are expected to rise as the recent economic downturn acted as a catalyst for positive change. Women, who involuntarily or voluntarily took a career break, are set to return to the labor market. Not all will return as employees. Many have chosen to pivot to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is an empowering experience for women to pursue their passion and remain agile for the future of work. However, “entrepreneurship is not necessarily the easiest pathway to economic empowerment, but with the right type of financial and non-financial support, starting your own business can be a rewarding journey,” said Dr. Lily Yu, Impact Strategy Expert of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF).

Female entrepreneurs have found it harder to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic, compared to their male counterparts. As with many other working women in Asia, they have had to balance their business and household responsibilities with minimal assistance.

“The pandemic has taken a toll on a significant proportion of women-led businesses across the region,” said Dr. Yu. “Not only have women entrepreneurs had to explore pivots to their business model and re-evaluate their company assets and resources but for many, an increase in care and household responsibilities have placed additional demands on their time and mental well-being.”

Upskilling female entrepreneurs for a digital-first future

The booming arrival of e-commerce compelled entrepreneurs to digitize their businesses. This is an additional challenge for many women in Asia. Some have limited access to devices and the Internet while others are not equipped with the digital skills required to compete in a digital-first economy. Many are unsure of the skills development support available to them in this region.

This is why learning opportunities should be personalized.

“Our first step is to identify their immediate needs. We know upskilling and reskilling are important but if the basic digital needs of these female entrepreneurs aren’t met – devices and/or bandwidth, then they won’t be able to conduct their business or learn,” said Fannie Lim, Executive Director of Daughters Of Tomorrow.

However, “upskilling isn’t limited to learning new tech skills. Our female entrepreneurs have had to upskill their financial, business, and marketing knowledge,” shared Dimple Sanghi, Co-Founder of Her Rise Above.

“As contactless delivery becomes the norm and more micro and small businesses pop up, our women business owners have had to re-strategize their business plans. How to package for a contactless delivery. The types of stickers, labels, and bags to use to minimize cost.”

It is important for women entrepreneurs to “know their finances, know their market and its trends, and understand the areas in which they can downscale or upscale,” said Dr. Yu.

Being in the know of this data enables them to make quick decisions, swiftly adapt to the changing business environment, and pivot where and when needed. Thus, developing their resilience to thrive in the future of entrepreneurship.

The Power of Community

“One of our female entrepreneurs had a customer who wanted to do an international order of her cookies. She approached us and asked whether we could help her out. We reached out to our network of female entrepreneurs and the amount of support to make this business opportunity feasible was overwhelming,” shared Sanghi.

Although the international order was not feasible, the experience itself was a lesson.

The female entrepreneurs recognized how empowering it is to connect, network, and build a support system especially in a region where micro and small female-owned businesses are rising.

Knowing that you are not alone and how to build relationships with one another are just as important as the digital skills female entrepreneurs need to grow their businesses.

Check out Fannie Lim and Dimple Sanghi’s full conversation on our YouTube channel.

Michelle Low
Michelle Low is a Malaysia-based writer and educator, with experience in interactive learning and archaeogaming.