How entrepreneurship can empower women in vulnerable communities

ENTREPRENEURSHIP is a crucial mechanism to empower women by redressing the inequality they face due to social and structural hurdles that limit their economic participation and deny them the benefits of inclusive socio-economic growth.

Aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Monash University Malaysia recently organised the inaugural Women Entrepreneurs in Asia (WEA 2022): Empowering Vulnerable Communities conference.

The two-day conference brought together regional and global international experts, academics, policymakers, authorities and other stakeholders who shared how their initiatives made an impact in their communities by empowering women through entrepreneurship in vulnerable communities, exchanging ideas and promoting effective collaboration in Asia.

In his welcoming remarks, former Monash University Malaysia pro-vice-chancellor and president Prof Andrew Walker said women entrepreneurs in vulnerable communities can open people’s minds in creating pathways at all levels of our society and empower the entire population.

“I have worked in Asia for a long time, and when women get involved, we see a change and enhancement in the quality of civil society with greater diversity and inclusiveness.

Prof Andrew Walker and Monash University Student Association “wom*n” officers (Photo credit: Monash University Malaysia)

“Monash University has released a new strategic document called Impact 2030, and we want the work that we do here to not just be about being academically excellent, but work that positively impacts the societies we operate in.

“It is my great hope that with this conference, we can start some momentum on crucially important issues on empowerment, diversity, and equity in the society we live in,” he added.

Meanwhile, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry director-general Dr Zurina Abdul Hamid said women empowerment is a powerful tool to strengthen societies, communities and organisations through skills, ideas, experiences and resources.

“The idea is not to compete with our male counterparts,” she said. “Supporting each other is paramount and builds a better foundation and better future for generations to come.

“Investing in women and integrating them impacts economic diversification and innovation, reduces poverty and encourages entrepreneurship.

“Empowering women should be seen at various angles and perspectives and every initiative to bring women on board creates a chain reaction for other women,” she added.

Consider gender-responsive components, now!

Malaysia’s largest microcredit organisation, Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM), has risen to the Malaysian Government’s call to consider gender-responsive components in its efforts to reduce poverty through microcredit financing to increase income and asset accumulation among women entrepreneurs.

The organisation strives to provide guidance and training to generate change in its economic status.

Members of the Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia entrepreneur assembly of 2018 (Photo credit: AIM)

Its director of financing, planning and budget Rozita Muhamad shared that its efforts cover 16% of the eligible population in Malaysia and has grown to 341,554 active members with 124 branches nationwide.

Another initiative in Malaysia that has seen change when women get involved is Women of Will, a non-profit organisation focused on using entrepreneurship and leadership tools to empower women in low-income communities and to build women community leaders through training, coaching and knowledge transfer.

Women of Will chief operating officer (COO) Lakshwin Muruga said, “We have reached more than 2,400 women in 26 communities, developed 59 women community leaders, disbursed a total of RM3 mil in business capital, and seen these women increase their income by 31% with 30% being able to exit the poverty line index.

“Despite the pandemic, 96% of these businesses were still running,” she added.

Takeaways from the conference found how communities are thriving through entrepreneurship.

Following this, a panel of experts converged in a Roundtable Discussion to discuss key points that were highlighted over the two-day conference.

Moderated by Bangkok University Thailand assistant professor and Thailand Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) team leader Ulrike Guelich, the session addressed what is the role of entrepreneurship in vulnerable communities and what it takes to support and encourage women entrepreneurs to enter, survive and grow their businesses.

The impact of women entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs are proven to have a positive impact on reducing poverty, job creation and economic development.

(Photo credit: Reuters)

According to the Center for Entrepreneur Development and Research (CEDAR), about 20% of the estimated registered totals of more than 650,000 entrepreneurs are women in Malaysia.

Despite many of them being successful, their actual potentials remain to be tapped.

Many reasons have been offered – ranging from societal perceptions of the traditional roles of women as homemakers, to the lack of equal opportunities made available to women, resulting in a market failure that prevents them from achieving their full potential as successful entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, there have also been claims that women entrepreneurs supposedly lack confidence and stamina, placing more importance on family and work-life balance.

Policymakers must be more empathetic and create a supportive and inclusive business ecosystem, welfare aid and a special financial support scheme, particularly for single mother micro-entrepreneurs to expand their businesses.

There is a call for collaboration between Governments and microfinance institutions that must happen while exposing women entrepreneurs to the law and regulations as well as revising current entrepreneurship laws.

The inaugural virtual conference was co-chaired by Monash University Malaysia Assoc Prof Grace Lee, Dr Koh Geok May and Dr Juliana French; Monash University Assoc Prof Abu Zafar Shahriar and University of Nottingham Malaysia Assoc Prof Hazel Melanie Ramos.

The conference was co-hosted by Monash University Malaysia’s school of business; the Centre for Global Business (CGB); South Asia Research Network (SARN); Division of Organisational and Applied Psychology, University of Nottingham Malaysia; Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS, Indonesia) and the International University – Vietnam National University. – Sept 25, 2022


Monash University Malaysia is the Malaysian campus of Australia’s Monash University and the first foreign university in Malaysia.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


Main photo credit: Women Entrepreneur Network Association Malaysia

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