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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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Top global firms commit to tackling inequality by joining G7 Business for Inclusive Growth coalition

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A group of major international companies has pledged to tackle inequality and promote diversity in their workplaces and supply chains as part of a G7 initiative sponsored by French President Emmanuel Macron and overseen by the OECD.

The Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) coalition will be launched at the G7 Leaders’ Summit in Biarritz, France, taking place from 24 to 26 August 2019. Spearheaded by Emmanuel Faber, Danone Chairman and CEO, the coalition brings together 34 leading multinationals with more than 3 million employees worldwide and global revenues topping $1 trillion. Members have agreed to sign a pledge to take concrete actions to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are more widely shared.

B4IG coalition members will tackle persistent inequalities of opportunity, reduce regional disparities and fight gender discrimination. Companies have identified an initial pool of more than 50 existing and planned projects, representing more than 1 billion euros in private funding, to be covered under the initiative. The projects range from training programmes to help employees adapt to the future of work to greater investment in childcare, to increasing women’s participation in the workforce; to financially supporting small businesses, to encouraging greater participation in supply chains; and to enhancing the integration of refugees through faster integration to the workforce. Coalition members will seek to accelerate, scale up and replicate already existing projects, while significantly expanding their social impact.

The platform, chaired by Danone, consists of a three-year, OECD-managed programme. It aims at increasing opportunities for disadvantaged and under-represented groups through retraining and upskilling, as well as promoting diversity on the companies’ boards and executive committees and tackling inequalities throughout their supply chains. They will also step up business action to advance human rights, build more inclusive workplaces and strengthen inclusion in their internal and external business ecosystems.

The B4IG initiative will be presented to President Macron during a meeting with business and civil society leaders at the Elysées Palace on Friday 23 August.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “Growing inequality is one of the biggest social challenges in the world today, perpetuating poverty, undermining social cohesion and trust. Sustainable economic growth means inclusive economic growth. It means giving every individual the opportunity to fulfil her or his potential, the chance not only to contribute to a nation’s growth but to benefit from it, regardless of their background or origins.”

Mr Gurría added: “I welcome this initiative by France to involve some of the world’s most important companies to work hand-in-hand with governments and the OECD to tackle inequalities. The OECD, for its part, will contribute with its policy analysis, research and expertise.”

A Business for Inclusive Growth (B4IG) Incubator of public-private projects will be created at the OECD. The facility will offer companies access to the latest policy research, to help them launch and develop projects, undertake impact assessments and eventually bring about meaningful change. The B4IG Incubator will be funded by both G7 governments and private donors. It will service innovative inclusive business projects that require strong collaboration between the private and the public sector. The Incubator will catalyse and disseminate knowledge around the business models with higher social impact.

An evaluation of the projects will be published after three years, alongside OECD guidance for promoting inclusive growth through joint public-private action and for measuring business performance.

OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa Gabriela Ramos, leader of the OECD Inclusive Growth Initiative, said: “The OECD has been documenting and raising the alarm bell regarding the increased inequalities of income and opportunities in OECD countries for decades. They do not only undermine social cohesion and trust, but they also hamper growth, by preventing our economies to take full advantage of the talent of its people and businesses. We are delighted to partner with leading companies that are committed to take action. Our experience, evidence and best practices are at the service of the Business for Inclusive Growth Initiative.”

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World Bank Launches Stakeholders Consultations to Support Peace in Afghanistan

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The World Bank today launched a stakeholder’s consultation to identify economic initiatives to support and sustain peace in Afghanistan once a potential political settlement is reached with the Taliban.

After completing several consultations with international and Afghan stakeholders, the World Bank is now seeking broader input from all stakeholders and made public several draft documents on its website to facilitate the process.  

At the 2018 Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, the World Bank was tasked to support planning for post-settlement economic development projects and programming following discussions.

According to Henry Kerali, the World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan, the consultations will serve several purposes. “First, we want to show that a peace agreement can bring substantial economic benefits to all Afghans and is in the interest of all parties involved in the ongoing conflict. Second, we want to identify potential principles and themes to guide programming decisions following a settlement. Finally, we want to provide some concrete ideas about the kind of programs that could be scaled up or initiated to maintain peace and realize new economic opportunities in Afghanistan.”  

Kerali also noted that the consultations come at a critical time for Afghanistan. “The World Bank is merely providing technical analysis and is not involved in any negotiations; our priority is to plan for the future of Afghanistan. Peace prospects can improve if the right economic conditions are in place and create job opportunities for those who might otherwise take up arms.” Kerali also noted that public input would be vital to ensure effective planning.

The World Bank is inviting comment on three documents now published on its Afghanistan website:

  1. A two-page consultation note;
  2. A short consultation presentation; and
  3. A full technical report.

Consultations are expected to continue until a peace agreement is reached and new programming decisions are made. The public is invited to share comments and questions throughout the process via email or through comments on the relevant website.

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Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but not necessarily a risk to human health

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A woman fetches water in Pakistan. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

Tiny plastic particles known as microplastics are “everywhere – including in our drinking-water”, but they are not necessarily a risk to human health, UN experts said on Thursday.

In its first summary of the latest research into the impact of the tiny plastic pollutants on humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that they have been found in marine settings, waste and fresh water, food, the air and drinking-water, both bottled and from a tap.

Frequently, microplastics are defined as less than five millimetres long, according to WHO.

Its report notes that the particles most commonly found in drinking-water are plastic bottle fragments.

“Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health. “We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere – including in our drinking-water.”

According to WHO’s findings, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres (a micrometre is a millionth of a metre) are unlikely to be absorbed in the human body, while the uptake of smaller particles is likely to be limited. 

Absorption of microplastic particles “including in the nano-size range may, however, be higher”, the WHO report continues, before cautioning that available data in this “emerging area” is extremely limited.

Asked by journalists about how levels of plastic pollutants differ between tap water and bottled water, WHO’s Jennifer de France from WHO’s Department of Public Health, replied that bottled water “in general did contain higher particle numbers”.

Nonetheless, Ms. France also cautioned against jumping to conclusions, owing to the lack of available data.

“In drinking water in general, often the two polymers that were most frequently detected were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene,” she said. “Now these polymers – the polyethylene terephthalate – is often used in producing bottled water bottles, and polypropylene, is often used in producing caps. However, there were other polymers detected as well, so more studies are needed to really make a firm conclusion about where the sources are coming from.”

While citing the handful of available studies into the absorption of microplastics and nanoplastics in rats and mice, which showed symptoms including inflammation of the liver, WHO’s report insists that people are unlikely to be exposed to such high levels of pollutants.

Drinking-water contamination: a million lives lost each year

A much more clearly understood potential threat than microplastics is exposure to drinking-water contaminated by human or animal waste, said Bruce Gordon, from WHO’s Department of Public Health, highlighting a problem that affects two billion people and claims one million lives a year.

One way that Governments can tackle this problem is by putting in place better waste-water filtration systems.

The move would reduce microplastic pollution by around 90 per cent, the WHO official explained, before noting that the report had touched on people’s wider concerns about how to live more sustainably and waste less.

“Consumers shouldn’t be too worried,” Mr. Gordon said. “There’s many dimensions to this story that are beyond health. What I mean by that is, if you are a concerned citizen worried about plastic pollution and you have access to a well-managed piped supply – a water supply – why not drink from that? Why not reduce pollution. Of course, there are times when you need a water bottle when you’re walking around, but please reuse it”, he emphasized.

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