May 6, 2021

Feminist economist helps develop gender-sensitive entrepreneurship curricula

“Why do we need gender-specific entrepreneurship programmes?” The question is posed by feminist economist, Professor Sara Cantillon, Director of the Centre for Economic Justice and Professor of Economics and Gender at GCU Glasgow School for Business and Society.

The answer is that female entrepreneurs face several limitations with different gender-specific dimensions, including business motivations, limited access to finance and lack of relevant skills of the workforce. Professor Cantillon has been supporting SPARK to develop a gender-sensitive entrepreneurship curriculum with seven e-learning and blended-learning modules on gender equality, women’s economic empowerment, business development skills, and sustainable livelihoods.

Only 8.8% of companies in Turkey are founded by women

“I am truly delighted to have had the opportunity to work with SPARK in developing their training modules on entrepreneurship. There is minimal help available to women entrepreneurs in regions affected by crisis, conflict or displacement. SPARK’s innovative work in this area is inspiring especially in how they open up possibilities for women, vulnerable groups and young people to enter the labour market or access pathways to employment as entrepreneurs.”

Improving women’s employment has become a vital priority for Turkey, and other countries in Europe and Central Asia. In Turkey, a 2019 household labour force survey found that of all employed people (aged 15 and above) only 29.4% were women, compared to approximately 63% who were men. Similarly women-owned SMEs are underrepresented in the economy. Women entrepreneurs constitute just 8.8% of all businesses in Turkey, while the number is closer to 29% in Europe, according to KAGİDER (Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey). Many women are working in the informal economy and the quality of employment and working conditions are in critical need of improvement.

In Turkey, insufficient social services, registration issues for women in business, a gender-based pay gap, male-dominated labour fields, a lack of gender role models in decision-making processes and lack of gender-sensitive education tools, all culminate in an unfavourable environment for women entrepreneurs.

In Central Asian countries, the situation has improved in recent years and the number of women-led businesses are growing. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet Union, women in business were likely to be sellers, or at best, beauty salon owners. Nowadays, women’s representation in employment has increased and diversified to new sectors such as agriculture, construction, tech and banking. Nonetheless, women-led business enterprises are smaller and are growing more slowly because women have lower start-up capital, and they often have traditional childcare and household responsibilities, a lack of business and entrepreneurial skills and prevailing prejudices in banks against the creditworthiness of women-led businesses.

Gender-sensitive entrepreneurship training by Viveka, SPARK's partner, for our Women Startup Programme with UN Women

Women entrepreneurs are still an untapped source of business and job creation in vulnerable economies, such as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. In collaboration with UN Women, SPARK is offering regional support to women entrepreneurs in these countries, whose businesses are vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Currently, 65 women with business ideas and those with established businesses who wish to grow are enrolled in a five-week intensive online entrepreneurship training. Selected entrepreneurs will soon have access to four-week mentorship sessions

Following the advice of Professor Sara Cantillon, SPARK and our local partner, Viveka, are training these women entrepreneurs using gender-sensitive modules, with female guest speakers who are experienced entrepreneurs.

Ebru Borgman, founder of Terra Enterprise, an organic textiles company

“This programme has played a stimulatory role in our efforts to transition our business idea into an actionable plan”, says Ebru Borgman, a Turkish entrepreneur and founder of Terra Enterprise, an organic textiles company. “Sharing this opportunity with other women entrepreneurs, learning more about start-up oriented marketing and presentation, strategy, and business plans as well as our mentors’ guidance catered towards our specific needs and questions have especially been beneficial to us.”

In April, the online Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo 2021 by SPARK’s partner, UN Women, launched and hundreds of women entrepreneurs from 12 countries joined interactive and co-creation hubs, idea-generation sessions, business-pitching labs, a showcase marketplace of women-owned business ventures, networking and peer-learning opportunities. Now, some entrepreneurs are receiving mentoring support, where they will design, refine and test prototype business plans, and learn how to pitch their business ideas ahead of a competition. On Friday 21st May, they will have the chance to connect with national, multinational and global companies, business investors, mentors and other partners.

Sustainable economies and social development depend on women’s social, political and economic empowerment. Social enterprises have an important role to play in this. By bringing women entrepreneurs together, we encourage coordinated action on gender-based policy, education and access to funding, which help each country to achieve the sustainable development goals.

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