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Entrepreneurship is Key to Empowering Women in Asia-Pacific

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photo: Financial Express

Despite the progress made over the last two decades in empowering women in Asia and the Pacific, there remain huge gender gaps, particularly in the economic and political spheres. The ADB-hosted seminar “Breaking Barriers: Women Entrepreneurship in Asia and the Pacific” was held at ADB’s 51st Annual Meeting, with the participation of policymakers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and development practitioners.

The message from the seminar is that supporting women’s entrepreneurship is key to their economic empowerment.

“Women’s entrepreneurship is important because it helps us move closer to the goal of achieving a more gender equal Asia and the Pacific,” said ADB President Mr. Takehiko Nakao at the seminar. “Under our new Strategy 2030, ADB will pay increased attention to generating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women.”

Panelists at the seminar included International Labour Organization Director Mr. Graeme Buckley; Chief Executive Officer of Prelo (an Indonesian enterprise offering a retail-sharing e-platform) Ms. Fransiska Hadiwidjana; Undersecretary of the Philippines’ Department of Trade and Industry Ms. Zenaida Maglaya; President and Representative Director of Veolia Japan K. K. Ms. Yumiko Noda; and President of the Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Ms. Rokia Afzal Rahman.

In the theme chapter of the Asian Development Outlook Update 2015, ADB estimated that closing the existing gender gaps could generate a 30% increase in the per capita income of an average Asian economy in one generation or 30 years, and 70% in two generations.

The panelists agreed that while there is a long road ahead to full gender equality, policies supporting women’s entrepreneurship can help ignite momentum for this effort, together with access to information, government services, and credit. The seminar discussed various ways in which women entrepreneurs can overcome the multiple barriers they face and how the public and private sectors can help accelerate support for women startups and entrepreneurs.

Nearly half of ADB lending already has strong gender design elements. ADB under  Strategy 2030 will place an even stronger emphasis on women’s economic empowerment. Infrastructure projects will maximize women’s access to markets and opportunities for skilled jobs. Through enhanced technical and vocational education and training programs, ADB will enable women’s access to quality jobs in nontraditional, higher-paying sectors. ADB will also expand integrated support for women entrepreneurs through better access to finance, the adoption of new technologies, and policy and institutional reforms.

ADB has been adopting innovative approaches involving other partners in promoting women’s entrepreneurship. In April 2018, ADB received a $12.6 million grant from the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) (a global fund hosted by the World Bank Group) to help Sri Lankan women-led businesses obtain bank loans and improve business skills. This new source of funding complements ADB’s own financing of $175 million, which was approved earlier to encourage local partner banks to grow their small and medium-sized enterprise portfolios—especially for businesses that are outside Colombo or are women-led.

Mr. Nakao also mentioned ADB’s ongoing efforts to improving gender balance within ADB, with representation of women among international staff increasing to a record high of 35% in 2017—a step closer to the bank’s target of 40% by the end of 2022.

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Philippines Growth to Remain Strong Despite Global Uncertainty

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The World Bank maintains its 6.7 percent growth forecast for 2018 and 2019 despite rising global uncertainty. Considering recent economic data, the composition of expected growth was revised as compared to the April edition of the World Bank Philippines Economic Update.

Given recent fiscal trends, government consumption growth was revised upwards, while private consumption growth is expected to expand at 5.9 percent in 2018 and 6.2 percent in 2019.

Investment growth was slightly upgraded due to higher public capital outlays, including increased infrastructure spending. Overall, it is anticipated that real GDP growth will increase towards the end of 2018 and into the first half of 2019 with higher election-related public spending.

The government’s ability to carry out its investment spending agenda will determine if the Philippines can achieve its growth target of 6.5-7.5 percent over the medium term,” said Birgit Hansl, World Bank Lead Economist for the Philippines. “In addition, higher private investment levels will be critical to sustain the economy’s growth momentum as capacity constraints become more binding.”

Exports, a key driver of growth for the Philippines economy, are projected to moderate in the coming years as global growth is expected to decelerate.

The World Bank’s June 2018 Global Economic Prospects projected a gradual global slowdown over the next two years, predicated on moderately higher commodity prices, strong but gradually moderating global demand, and incremental tightening of global financing conditions. Uncertainty around global growth conditions has risen, with the possibility of trade and other policy shocks emerging from major economies.

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New Programme Aims to Improve Infrastructure Procurement Capacity in Africa

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The Africa Infrastructure Fellowship Programme (AIFP) was today announced by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to France’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

The World Economic Forum, the Global Infrastructure Hub and the private investment firm Meridiam have partnered to create the Africa Infrastructure Fellowship Programme (AIFP), an initiative to help African governments strengthen internal procurement capability by training and retaining key officials in procurement agencies, with the aim of attracting greater private-sector investment to Africa.

The components of the programme will be tailored to the needs of each country but, at its core, the AIFP will be made up of the following elements:

  • Three-day introduction to infrastructure procurement and networking with peers (provided by GI Hub)
  • Tutoring and examination through the Multilateral Development Banks’ Private Public Partnerships certification course
  • Two-week intensive course in infrastructure procurement (provided by selected universities)
  • Two-month placement in a private-sector company’s infrastructure team
  • Ongoing support for 12 months following the programme, including twice-yearly AIFP-related events hosted by the GI Hub

“It is important to emphasize that this project is in line with the mission of the Forum, to improve the state of the world. It is necessary to highlight the importance of jointly solving the challenges that surround the development of infrastructure at the global level,” said Denise Burnet, Head of Event Management and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum.

Chris Heathcote, Chief Executive Officer of the Global Infrastructure Hub, said that, despite ongoing efforts, attracting private-sector investment into Africa remains a major challenge, and is a barrier to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“In order to meet the UN SDGs and the demands of accelerating economic and population growth in the African continent, we forecast that these countries will need to spend $7.6 trillion to 2040. Our analysis forecasts that the continent will invest $4.3 trillion based on current trends, exposing an investment gap of $3.3 trillion, or 43%. Investors will only invest in countries where market conditions are favourable, and it’s our goal through this initiative to assist in creating an environment that is conducive to private-sector investment in infrastructure,” said Heathcote.

Thierry Déau, Chief Executive Officer of Meridiam, added: “As long-term investors, we are convinced that key success factors to projects rely on excellent synergies between the private and public sector. We chose to accompany the AIFP initiative, convinced that this agile organization based on strong commitments of stakeholders is the perfect tool to accelerate the deployment of sustainable infrastructure in Africa.”

Africa has the highest population growth globally, and a number of its countries rank highly in terms of economic growth; and yet these countries also have the lowest growth in infrastructure stock.

The AIFP will be a six-month capability-building programme that will give participants a robust understanding of procurement, governance and the role of the private sector in infrastructure projects. The programme will provide participants with a mix of theoretical and practical training, opportunities to work within major private-sector companies, and lead to the establishment of a strong network of infrastructure practitioners across Africa.

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How ICT is transforming and making our societies more resilient

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Together with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other partners, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has organized a side event at the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to explore how information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming and making our societies more resilient.

The HLPF, which runs through to 18 July, brings together more than a thousand government, business and civil society leaders. The Forum, which meets annually under the auspices of ECOSOC, is a platform for the exchange of experiences in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), identifying gaps and lessons learned.

A selected multi-stakeholder panel at the side event, “ICT enabling the transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, included government, business and the UN. Participants discussed how digital technologies are improving productivity and competitiveness, pointing out that recent studies confirm that digitalization has immense potential that could deliver around $100 trillion in value to business and society over the next decade. It was also noted that digital solutions have the potential to enhance resource optimization and efficiency in water and energy consumption.

Providing a UN perspective, UNIDO’s Takeshi Nagasawa said, “The sustainable energy transition and Industry 4.0 share important characteristics that can be interconnected to pursue a sustainable energy transition. Such integrated approaches could be guided by the SDGs, which provide important target setting for energy, climate change and industry,” adding that UNIDO has “the capability and relevant portfolio to foster Industry 4.0 across all stages of industrial development.”

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