Women in Southeast Asia’s low-income economies emerge as the world’s most resilient entrepreneurs

21:45 | 26/05/2022 Society

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having a disproportionate impact on women entrepreneurs across the world – especially those in the developing economies – women are demonstrating the resilience to succeed against the odds, according to a recent Mastercard study.

Women in Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, have fared particularly well in making entrepreneurial progress, despite significant social-cultural and infrastructural barriers threatening to impede their growth. Lack of government SME support, poor access to entrepreneurial finances, and a severe lack of education opportunities remain the major constraints to advancing women’s entrepreneurship in Asia’s lower-middle-income economies.

Encompassing 65 economies and 82.4% of the global female labor force, the fifth edition of Mastercard’s Index for Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) examined women’s progress in the global entrepreneurship landscape over the last two years. The findings reveal that despite worldwide efforts to mitigate the pandemic’s effects, women have experienced considerable economic and social implications. As a result, the expected time to overcome the worldwide gender gap may be extended by another 36 years.

women in southeast asias low income economies emerge as the worlds most resilient entrepreneurs

Six economies from the Asia Pacific region have found their place on MIWE 2021’s global leaderboard for being the best places in the world for women entrepreneurs. New Zealand, Australia, and Taiwan have emerged as the regional leaders, propelled by strong scores across all three components that constitute MIWE: women’s advancement outcomes, knowledge assets, and financial access. These economies continue to furnish the conditions required to facilitate women’s access to financial support and services and their ability to start, operate, thrive, and adapt to the market circumstances. In these economies where the entrepreneurial ecosystem is enabling, women were driven by the pursuit of new opportunities emerging from the pandemic, demonstrating a proactive and upbeat entrepreneurial attitude that will be vital in supporting economic recovery and long-term growth.

In Singapore and Taiwan, access to finance ranked higher than anywhere else in the world, while New Zealand topped global rankings for having the most supportive entrepreneurial conditions. On average, high-income economies in Asia Pacific scored higher in providing a dynamic landscape for women entrepreneurs, unhindered by access to finances and opportunities. However, in certain high-income economies, such as Japan, women continue to be underrepresented economically and have a limited presence in the business scene.

MIWE’s 2021 index has also revealed an encouraging trend for women’s entrepreneurship in Southeast Asian economies such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Women in these economies were seen engaging in high levels of entrepreneurship, sometimes at parity with men, even though the environment in which they operate remains entrenched with challenges. The resilience of women in the Philippines is noted to be particularly outstanding. Despite the comparatively lower participation of women in the workforce, the Philippines remained a global leader for the third consecutive year in component A of the report (women’s advancement outcomes) and are just as driven by opportunity as women in highly business conducive environments. Women in the Philipinnes are joined by women in Thailand and Vietnam who also performed strongly in component A, ranking 4 and 11, respectively.

“In Vietnam, the pandemic has had an adverse impact on women’s lives and livelihoods. Yet, women have shown strength and endurance, as well as strong aspirations towards entrepreneurship, with Vietnam having one of the highest female labor-force participation rates (69.3%) in the world. The local women entrepreneurs exhibit will and determination to to overcome obstacles, and are driven by good business opportunities. Mastercard has worked closely with governments and financial institutions to create initiatives and programs to support women-owned businesses, and plans to continue our commitment to empower women entrepreneurs towards Vietnam’s economic recovery,” said Winnie Wong, Country Manager, Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos, Mastercard.

Although MIWE points to the pandemic being particularly taxing on women, fewer than 10% of COVID-19 recovery measures implemented worldwide include gender-sensitive strategies. In economies such as Canada and Argentina, women’s progress has been positively influenced by gender-focused policies implemented to address women’s economic security during the pandemic.

Likewise, in Asia, women entrepreneurs in Thailand, Singapore, and Taiwan have benefited from initiatives aimed at supporting not them directly but small enterprises where they are highly represented. Such correlation proves that government policies that intentionally influence women’s entrepreneurship can meaningfully contribute to a swifter recovery.

As part of Mastercard’s commitment to creating a world where women entrepreneurs are equally represented and supported, the company made a global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025. Empowering women’s entrepreneurship will act as a catalyst for growth and innovation and strengthen the communities surrounding successful women, resulting in a more equitable and long-term global recovery.

Thu Thủy