Annabelle Roberts

Creating Opportunities: Study to give an in-depth look at women-led businesses, and how to support them

Women-led small and growing enterprises are vital for economic development globally. Research indicates that women spend a greater share of their income on education and health for the family than men, and are more likely to invest back to their communities. However, women entrepreneurs face cultural barriers, such as the demands of balancing family responsibilities with business requirements, as well as a limited access to finance and skills, which require a combination of efforts to overcome. These efforts go beyond financial support and capacity development to include support from families and communities, encouraging messages from the media, supportive and relatable role models, access to networks, mentors and coaches, as well as soft skill development for pitching, negotiating and time management. Fostering an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs is a viable strategy for lifting families and communities out of poverty.

Despite the social and economic benefits of women’s entrepreneurship, women still face cultural, social and economic constraints that in turn affect their abilities to successfully start and scale their businesses. Women experience limited access to opportunities such as education and fewer networks and mentors to support them due to gender inequality. For example, only 22 percent of women entrepreneurs in Mexico have access to bank accounts, an essential financial service for high-potential entrepreneurs. Additionally, social norms and negative stereotypes restrict the vision of women entrepreneurs, leading them to have lower aspirations for business growth than men. This panorama raises questions about how the ecosystem can create a more facilitating environment to support women entrepreneurs.

Led by Value for Women and funded by the Banorte Foundation and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE,) the Creating Opportunities: Strengthening the Ecosystem for Women Entrepreneurs in Mexico project is about to release an exploratory study on what constitutes an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in Mexico. The study aims to better equip an ecosystem of actors to support women entrepreneurs in Mexico through collaboration and innovation.

In 2013, the ANDE chapter in Mexico formed a women’s working group because members wanted to build the capacity of the ecosystem for inclusion of women in the small and growing business sector. The group decided to do this through knowledge building and sharing, exchanging good practices and developing common language and goals for change, as well as developing ideas for actions and future projects. The study is part of this motivation to understand the realities, barriers and opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Mexico – and includes talking with women directly.

The working group includes a variety of ecosystem actors dedicated to increasing the visibility of the issue of gender in the sector, such as Agora Partnerships, Crea, Endeavor Mexico, Fundación Banorte, New Ventures Mexico, Oxfam Mexico, Oxfam America, Value for Women, Venture Institute, Vital Voices Mexico and WeConnect International Mexico.

Research for the Creating Opportunities project includes a review of relevant literature, nine focus group discussions with 50 women entrepreneurs from Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexico City, as well as a questionnaire completed by 126 women entrepreneurs. Project results are categorized into three stages. The study provides an analysis of the enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in Mexico, in order to provide ecosystem actors with insights for their services and programs, and develop practical solutions for supporting more women-led businesses.

The study will be released in October, in both English and Spanish. So far, results have confirmed that women face barriers in unlocking the capital they need to grow, and that many of the businesses under study financed their growth through personal savings, family and friends in early stages.

Another preliminary finding is that an overwhelming number of participants in the study have enterprises with a positive social or environmental impact. Several women participants in the study voiced how they are motivated by a desire to contribute to positive social change and the overall development of the country, and create opportunities for other women. This presents an opportunity for the impact investment sector to redefine how they are looking at potential investees and to consider adding a gender lens to their investment practices.

The soon-to-be released study will inform other collaborative initiatives within the ecosystem. These include activities such as:

• Gender sensitivity training focused on building awareness of investors, capacity developers and other ecosystem actors on the barriers and what women entrepreneurs need to compete on a level playing field in Mexico and beyond;

• Benchmarking and sharing of best practices in access to finance, inclusion to value chains and capacity development;

• Recommendations for public policies in Mexico; and

• Standardizing and aggregating gendered data collection across the ecosystem.

The final report will present findings as well as recommendations for diverse actors in the ecosystem. The Creating Opportunities project will provide ways that the diversity of ecosystem actors can create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in Mexico, and support women´s entrepreneurial journey and in fully realizing their potential.

For more information visit the Value for Women website. Email if you are interested in receiving the final report.

Annabelle Roberts is an intern at Value for Women.

business development, impact investing, skill development