Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2011
Want to Drive Global Economic Growth? Invest in Women as Entrepreneurs
Panelists discussed the fascinating relationship between gender issues and women’s economic empowerment at an event co-hosted by Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, held April 15 at Sage Hall as part of Entrepreneurship@Cornell’s annual conference. “Want to Drive Global Economic Growth? Invest in Women as Entrepreneurs” shed light on the potential of women business leaders as an economic driving force in developing countries.The three panelists — Archana Shah, Kim Azzarelli, JD ’97 and Louise Hurlbut, MBA ’79 — brought their diverse academic, professional, and cultural backgrounds to the table as they discussed the role of microfinance in impacting women entrepreneurs, women’s legal and economic empowerment, and women in the green economy, respectively.
Shelly Porges ’74, MPS ’77, a senior advisor and Franklin Fellow at the U.S. Department of State’s Global Women’s Business Initiative, served as the moderator for this panel.
“Is there an investment opportunity that is bigger than China and India combined?” Porges began the discussion. “If you look at the women of the world and the untapped potential that they represent, we can come to understand that this is a vast opportunity for economic development.”
First to speak was Shah, senior executive director in the emerging markets derivative sales group at Morgan Stanley. Shah is also co-chair of the New York chapter for Women Advancing Microfinance (WAM), an international organization with 13 chapters worldwide, which supports gender issues and women’s economic empowerment.
Shah noted that gender equality is key to a country’s progress, because it yields higher growth outcomes, while lowering poverty levels. Her interest lies specifically in microfinance as a way to increase access to credit among women entrepreneurs in the formal and informal sectors.
“When you invest in an entrepreneur, for every one dollar invested, you get twelve dollars in the economy,” Shah said. “Women tend to invest [back] into the household; they invest in the next generation. So you also get the leverage effect of having a future generation that is potentially going to benefit from any investment that they make.”
Shah also detailed differences in problems faced by female entrepreneurs versus their male counterparts. While women have “double or triple burdens,” because they are concerned not only with their business, but also their household and their families, men’s primary focus is on investing in their business enterprise, and ultimately, they have greater access to credit.
These investment-related problems, along with limitations from cultural norms and attitudes, may be the reason for the gap between the types of businesses women and men own and the number of economic opportunities available to them.
Azzarelli recently accepted the position of vice president of new business ventures and managing director of Women in the World at the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. Azzarelli has combined her experience in law, business, philanthropy, and now media to broaden the scope on the issue of empowering women in a unique way.
Azzarelli noted that, “There are 200 million women entrepreneurs. Most are entrepreneurs out of necessity instead of opportunity… So, if we really want to get to the proverbial white space in the concept of the women’s market, we need to think differently about women.”
Azzarelli also addressed the topic of women’s legal empowerment and the legal obstacles many women face — such as lack of property rights, inheritance rights, and domestic violence. She talked about her work with the Avon Center for Women in Justice. Azzarelli recently co-authored an article with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on how women judges can be an important tool for empowerment.
Like many topics involving complicated issues, such as gender equality and gender empowerment, this panel on investing in women entrepreneurs evolved into an intriguing dialogue between the speakers, Cornell professors, and Johnson students in attendance.
Shelly Porges closed the discussion with a final remark that reemphasized the value of reaching women through an economic solution.
“For a woman to protect herself from violence, often economics is the leading factor.” Porges said. “When a woman is successful economically, it gives her both the confidence and the credibility to be a decision-maker, a factor in her society, and ultimately a voice in her society and a change in her community. It helps lift women to a place for them to be actors in other arenas, too.”