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Investing in Women: Why Female Entrepreneurship Will Recharge Our Global Economy

I was born my parents’ only child and a girl—not the preferred gender in those days in India. My father’s response? He treated me like a boy. He pushed me to be outspoken, and to not let anything hold me back. And while I didn’t always like it, I look at it now as a boot camp for a professional career in development.

Across the world, women still face many instances of gender discrimination, large and small. Picture this, a moment that women universally will recognize: we are in a meeting dominated by men—be it for our careers, our communities, or our families. We have insights or perspectives to offer, but we are given only nodding consideration or skipped over entirely. Most often this is done without malice. It means, though, we have to put in extra effort to be heard. Often, we have to add a dose of fervor to our arguments, and risk being labeled shrill.

And yet through my work across Asia and Africa, over and over I have seen that women are key cogs that keep the machinery of their societies, their nations, and their economies running. The mother who keeps her family intact during crises. The health worker going door-to-door in rural areas during a pandemic. The 6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women and who, according to a recent study from the S&P Global Market Intelligence, often out-perform their male counterparts

So as we look for the ingredients needed to restart our economies post-Covid-19, part of our focus must be on an inclusive economic recovery and traditionally under-resourced women entrepreneurs.

Women-Owned Businesses Outpacing Overall Workforce Growth

The dire situation that all entrepreneurs face cannot be overstated. Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which comprise 90 percent of companies across the globe and more than 50 percent of the world’s total employment, are both heavily exposed to the pandemic disruption and critical to a recovery.

Women-owned businesses are particularly vulnerable for a variety of reasons, and at the same time they have been outpacing overall workforce growth, increasing by 21 percent between 2014 and 2019 as compared to 9 percent overall. In the same period, employment by women-owned businesses rose 8 percent, while for all businesses the increase was 1.8 percent.

Support Women Entrepreneurs with Networks, Policies, Access to Capital

To recover from the global economic disruption, fledgling women-run businesses must be nurtured and provided with supportive networks through organizations like the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME), that let entrepreneurs know they are not alone at this challenging moment and that their dreams are realizable.

GAME created a Futurepreneur Grand Challenge contest to catalyze women entrepreneurs in the Indian city of Bangalore. Radhika Timbadia, among the first winners, received award money in April at a critical moment. The funds helped her bookstore Champaca, less than a year old, survive, and supported her as she pivoted to online sales and began a monthly subscription package of carefully curated titles sent to anywhere in India.

Women entrepreneurs also need strong voices to advocate for policies that provide equal pay for equal work, along with adequate maternity leave. Access to capital for women business owners remains a major problem, so their champions must also call for improved and unbiased monetary and regulatory policies.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, released at the end of 2019, showed that at the current rate of change, the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity won’t close for another 257 years, and that for every dollar a man gets paid, a woman gets paid only 54 cents. We have to do better than that.

Sometimes, as women multi-task caretaking, managing households and running businesses, all they need is a bit of the most basic support. Consider, for example, Ruby Kumari, who lives in India’s Bihar State, where we have been providing access to reliable and quality electricity. Before the Covid-19 struck, she was running a home-based sewing school with 80 students while caring for her ill husband and two children. When Covid-19 hit, she couldn’t quit. She was still her family’s sole source of financial support. So she watched a do-it-yourself video, learned how to make masks, and hired 10 women to work in her new venture.

Covid-19 wrested control of our global narrative this year. But we can take back the pen and rewrite the world’s future by moving to establish greater gender balance and put women entrepreneurs among those at the forefront of recovery. If we do this, we will be supporting not only women, not only individual home-grown businesses, but job creation, community rebirth, and national economies as a whole.

  • Report

    Beijing+25: Accelerating Progress for Women and Girls

    A collaboration of The Rockefeller Foundation and The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
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  • WEDNESDAY 9.16.2020

    The Great Equalizer or Divider: Technology for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment

    As the third episode in the #RFBreakthrough series, “The Great Equalizer or Divider: Technology for Gender Justice and Women’s Empowerment”, The Rockefeller Foundation will co-host a livestream discussion with Vital Voices on how we can use technology as a means to an end to achieve gender equity during the pandemic and beyond.

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