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Networking for economic empowerment
Photograph: Jakov Simović
Networking for economic empowerment
Unlike their male counterparts, women social entrepreneurs usually struggle to find each other. Having a more experienced professional guide you through the process of starting a business can be life-changing, but unfortunately most women are not able to have that kind of support. But there are initiatives out there that want to change this – who are they and why is this important?
Networks for women’s economic empowerment
There are many international networks devoted to joining together women for economic empowerment. The largest is probably the Women Empower platform, created by UN Women. Although it started with a conference in 2011, since then it has grown into “a global movement with more than half a million viewers and over 18,500+ passionate and ambitious women and men from the private sector, civil society, academia, governments and international organizations more than 198 countries. Empower Women has also cultivated a global network of 410+ dynamic, influential Champions for women’s economic empowerment from over 70 countries”.
Through the Women Empower platform community, it is possible to reach individuals and organizations devoted to transform policies and societies in order to make women’s economic empowerment a reality. Anyone can join the movement and take advantage of the opportunities and events it provides, as well as access to over 2,500 resources, a global network of change agents, a discussion forum and worldwide recognition. Women Empower members can also participate in the Global Champions Programme.
Besides We Empower, there are also other networks for economic empowerment which are more focused on supporting women social entrepreneurs. Based in the UK, Oguntê referrers to the women they support as “impact women”. They created the #ImpactWomenNetwork, which connects women entrepreneurs from all over the world. The goal of this mapping is to “to build a network of 1 million women in social enterprises by 2020 and foster peer-to-peer support, to change people’s world.” There are 85 countries represented is this network and 511 contributors. Oguntê also publishes a quarterly online micro-magazine and a blog featuring the changemakers of their network.
Launched in 2014, there is also the Asian Women Social Entrepreneurs Network. Their main focuses are research, training, advocacy, business support and networking, which translated into two specific goals: “Provide effective communication channels for capacity building through exchanges and sharing among current and future social entrepreneurs; Create and advocate for supportive ecosystem for women social entrepreneurs”. The Asian Women Social Entrepreneurs Network has over 100 members in 12 countries, mainly in South-East Asia.
For younger women, there is also the Young Women Social Entrepreneurs, a global network of women change-makers. So far, there are six volunteer-led chapters in the United States and one in Kenya and another in Mexico, but anyone can ask to start a chapter in their own country. The goal is to provide “training, access to resources, networking opportunities, and support” to all members of the network.
There are also many international networks that do not distinguish between traditional entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. In Europe, for example, the WEgate plataform – European Gateway for Women Entrepreneurship, is for all women who run or want to run a business. Inside the platform, there is a member-only section for organizations or individuals who want to join the WEgate community. Although WEgate is not an organization, it does hold networking events and provides women with information about starting and running their business. WEgate describes itself as “a one-stop shop for female entrepreneurship, bringing together not only women entrepreneurs, but also their mentors, policy-makers and all relevant stakeholders and supporters”.
In Serbia, there is the Association of Business Women in Serbia, which provides Serbian women entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, visibility and a lobbying plataform. Their objetives are the following: “increase the number of women start-ups; raise awareness and reinforce the visibility of women business owners; encourage existing woman-owned companies to expand their businesses; provide a forum where women entrepreneurs can exchange ideas and increase their business contacts; influence the development of public policies which are favorable for SMEs; strengthen local, regional, and international ties among women entrepreneurs through the exchange of experiences and ideas; promote social responsibility and a high standard of ethics in business”. The Association of Business Women in Serbia is also a member of the International Business Women Club, which can benefit women entreprises through promotion, networking and business events.
Why networking matters
In many of the studies tackling women entrepreneurship, lack of networking and mentoring is referred to as one of the main obstacles for women entrepreneurs. Because of entrenched gender stereotypes and the lack of visible female leadership, many women do not even know how female leadership is supposed to look like, much less how to emulate it. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to work through all the obstacles that plague women entrepreneurs (lack of access to finance, for example), but successful women leaders can share strategies of how to overcome them and make it easier for women starting a business.
Thinking with a global perspective, networks that can put in contact women from different regions of the world are also important. Through this kind of networking, women in countries with less funding opportunities might be aware of international funding mechanisms that may support them. It is also a way for local businesses to become global, as a diverse network can help business leaders to tailor their approach to various countries’ markets.
Also, although the problems and obstacles faced by women all over the world are very complex, they are also more or less the same everywhere. This way, sharing best practices and previous mistakes can help women who run social enterprises avoid the pitfalls of the ones who came before them.
Finally, women’s networks allow them to become a united front in lobbying and advocacy. If we want to change systematic policies and rules that hinder women’s economic empowerment, we must come together and fight for a common goal. That is why it is so important for us to know each other and collaborate.
This text was produced in the framework of the project "Support to Priority Actions for Gender Equality in Serbia", implemented by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) with funding from the European Union. The views contained in the text are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women, the United Nations or any of its affiliated organizations. The project is part of the initiative for supporting women entrepreneurship, women in rural areas, decreasing labor market and employment discrimination, encouraging dialogue on the importance of economic empowerment of women and exchange of knowledge and information among women entrepreneurs.