A different viewpoint on female entrepreneurship

A different viewpoint on female entrepreneurship

The modern eyes of the world have always been laser-focused on a specific type of entrepreneurship. It is usually in the tech space, more often than not clustered around the US fertile ecosystem or in hyper-connected, super developed cities worldwide. 

We often conveniently forget what entrepreneurship is. More than just creating a business, it is about reshaping the world by solving big problems. And lately, the entrepreneurial world has often overlooked issues that technology cannot resolve. 

Mentions of the word entrepreneurship over the past decades:

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

One of these big problems is female inclusion in the world of business, or even better, in the world of entrepreneurship in poorer countries with little or absent technological breakthroughs.

Entrepreneurship outside of the technological domain

Empowering women is one of the most efficient ways to lift families out of poverty and develop communities. However, the problems female entrepreneurs face are often part of the local culture, which makes them paralysing. This type of problem involves gender-based violence. No amount of venture capital can adequately resolve it. Also, it is crucial to notice that these problems are more common in countries venture capital has virtually no interest in.

The poorer the country, the more pivotal is the role of entrepreneurship of a different kind to overcome barriers and lift people out of poverty.

Taking Tanzania as an example, the lack of formal employment makes entrepreneurship essential for survival. There are very few formal jobs. And even fewer available to women; men occupy 82% of management positions in the country.

Source: Tanzania Local Enterprise Development Project Overview Dec 2019

In this context, entrepreneurship is essential not only for development but also for survival.

Tanzanian women have to fight discrimination, lack of access to funding and navigate a very complex legislative environment to succeed in business.  Whilst they are at it, they solve problems of the same calibre as startups in Silicon Valley but of an entirely different nature.

Most of them engage in the lower value chains; for instance, the handcrafts market. This segment is often overlooked even though it has the potential to solve environmental and social problems with natural materials and ancient craftsmanship.

These female entrepreneurs are highly skilled in their craft. They also produce everyday items more sustainably to the environment whilst providing a more enriching experience to the makers.  

They make baskets, clothes, accessories and homeware with natural materials responsibly sourced. This alone, undoubtedly, has the potential to solve big environmental problems. Female artisans replace harmful materials such as plastic with dried-up grass. They also find natural, non-toxic ways to tan leather. Moreover, they hand weave with organic cotton and recycled grain sacks.

What the world cannot yet see is that the process of making products is as important as the final product itself. Production methods and materials can be entrepreneurial in nature and have the potential to resolve inequality and environmental problems in one big scoop. The world needs to place a higher value on craftsmanship and its ability to use and sustainably reshape natural materials.

We need to consider that some of the solutions to big human problems may not lie ahead, somewhere in the future with the next big technological development.

A few solutions might be in the past when we look back. The solution might be replacing plastic with sustainable materials, using and amplifying the reach and impact of ancient women craftmanship. Because craftsmanship is not only creative; it is essentially entrepreneurial.  

If you are interested in learning more about female entrepreneurship in developing countries, you can refer to this study published by the International Labour Organisation.

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