World Bank Group pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim says one of the quick­est ways to end poverty is in­creas­ing the ranks of fe­male en­trepreneurs. The U.S. should pay at­ten­tion to the break­throughs hap­pen­ing in the devel­op­ing world

Inc. (USA) - - INNOVATE -

IN THE DEMO­CRATIC Re­pub­lic of the Congo, Kany Mufuta runs a small com­pany that pro­duces flour from cas­sava root. De­mand for her prod­uct is boom­ing, but she doesn’t have the re­sources to buy new equip­ment to ex­pand pro­duc­tion. Kany got a small loan from a pro­gram spon­sored by the World Bank Group, but when she looked for other sources of cap­i­tal, lo­cal banks could of­fer only loans with high in­ter­est rates. With the ad­di­tional cap­i­tal, Kany would be able to reach new cus­tomers, help fill an un­met de­mand for cas­sava root, and cre­ate much-needed jobs in a coun­try with an ex­traor­di­nar­ily high un­em­ploy­ment rate.

Kany’s story res­onates from San Fran­cisco to Shang­hai to Sene­gal. Whether they’re in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of the Congo pro­duc­ing flour from cas­sava root or in North Dakota pro­duc­ing it from wheat, women en­trepreneurs face many of the same road­blocks.

Glob­ally, women- owned en­ti­ties rep­re­sent just over 30 per­cent of for­mal, reg­is­tered busi­nesses. We need to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease that num­ber, since women- owned busi­nesses cre­ate jobs, ul­ti­mately help­ing us reach our goal of end­ing ex­treme poverty that much faster.

In many devel­op­ing coun­tries, women face so­ci­etal norms and laws that block them from own­ing prop­erty or work­ing with­out the per­mis­sion of a male rel­a­tive. But some chal­lenges are global: Too many women don’t have ac­cess to the cap­i­tal or pro­fes­sional net­works nec­es­sary for them to suc­ceed. We’re find­ing new ways to knock down these bar­ri­ers, and the lessons we’re learn­ing in one coun­try can ben­e­fit women in many oth­ers.

We’ve found that pro­grams com­bin­ing credit with train­ing, men­tor­ing, and ac­cess to net­works—build­ing “ecosys­tems”— have a much bet­ter track record help­ing women start and run busi­nesses. We’re find­ing that tra­di­tional man­age­rial train­ing has lim­ited im­pact on the per­for­mance of women-led busi­nesses, while pro­grams fo­cus­ing on softer skills—like per­se­ver­ance, in­no­va­tion, and goal-set­ting—have more pos­i­tive re­sults.

In Togo, we found that per­sonal ini­tia­tive train­ing in­creased women’s busi­ness prof­its by 40 per­cent, com­pared with 5 per­cent for tra­di­tional busi­ness train­ing. Now, we’re ap­ply­ing those lessons to projects in Mex­ico, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Mozam­bique, and Ethiopia. These softer skills are taught through a psy­chol­ogy-based ap­proach, which pro­motes a proac­tive mind­set fo­cus­ing on en­tre­pre­neur­ial be­hav­iors.

As in Sil­i­con Val­ley, projects in Congo and Guinea use in­for­ma­tion, men­tor­ship, and early ex­po­sure to en­cour­age women to en­ter high-per­form­ing, male-dom­i­nated busi­nesses. In­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors in Pak­istan, Nige­ria, and the Mid­dle East are boost­ing fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion by tap­ping into uni­ver­si­ties, women’s groups, and other net­works—just as in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors in ma­jor U.S. cities are do­ing.

Ev­ery pro­gram varies de­pend­ing on lo­cal cir­cum­stances, but it’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to as­sume that lessons from other parts of the world can ap­ply to the United States, and vice versa. Can projects from In­dia be tai­lored for Ap­palachia? Would Togo’s soft-skills ap­proach work in Amer­ica’s Rust Belt? An ex­cit­ing, cross-pol­li­na­tion of global ideas is tak­ing hold as busi­nesses, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, non­prof­its, and other or­ga­ni­za­tions look for ways to break down the bar­ri­ers that hold back women en­trepreneurs.

As we learn more ev­ery day, let’s ac­cel­er­ate our ef­forts to take what works, scale it up, and un­leash the full po­ten­tial of women around the world.

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