July 9, 2020
Insights on Gender and Entrepreneurship

What is the scenario for women entrepreneurs in Brazil? What are the difficulties that organizations and companies inside and outside the impact ecosystem face when led by women? To bring light on possible ways to debate such issues, based on data, contexts, and case studies, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) launched a knowledge brief entitled Bringing a Gender Lens to Supporting Small and Growing Businesses: Insights from Brazil (2020). The study was carried out by ANDE and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) with support from British Council’s Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies (DICE) program.

In an exclusive interview with Aupa, ANDE Brazil chapter manager Cecilia Zanotti comments on the organization’s actions and the importance of having more women leaders in the business world.

ANDE Brazil Chapter Manager Cecilia Zanotti

“We need more women in leadership positions,” says Cecilia. “In ANDE’s case, the Managing Director, who also doubles up as the acting Executive Director, is a woman. And if we hire a woman as the [incoming] Executive Director then the two top positions in the organization will be occupied by women.”

ANDE Brazil plans to hire black women in its expansion plan, since, although the team in Brazil is 100% female (formed by two women), none is black. “ANDE’s global team consists of 43 people in total: 32 are women (74%) and 14 are black (32%). Of these, 8 are women (18% of the total) while 6 are men,” Cecilia explains.

AUPA: Women entrepreneurs still face a series of obstacles, like few women in leadership positions in companies and organizations, in addition to the fact that few women entrepreneurs have access to capital and credit. When you add in race/ethnicity, this number is even smaller. Which ANDE actions, taken from the study, might contribute to changing this scenario?

Cecilia Zanotti: ANDE is leading an ANDE Gender Equality Initiative (AGEI) project in 2020, funded by the United States Agency for Development (USAID) and the Visa Foundation. This project takes place simultaneously in eight countries — Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, India and Thailand — basically countries where ANDE has an office. The study that we did with IDS gave us data and clarity on the four main gender challenges in supporting entrepreneurship, which include understanding unconscious biases; recognizing intersectionality; connecting women entrepreneurs to investors; and attracting and retaining women in entrepreneurship support programs. It is through understanding these challenges that the search for solutions starts.

The AGEI project seeks to build supportive entrepreneurial ecosystems in emerging markets that are responsive to the ways in which women have been subject to gender bias and institutional exclusion.

As we seek to find solutions to the gender inequality in the entrepreneurial ecosystem we will interview relevant actors in July and conduct a series of virtual meetings with a specific group of organizations, with guidance from MIT D-Lab.

In addition, ANDE will host an international event in August, which is a result of a partnership between ANDE offices in Brazil, India, and South Africa. We will present cases studies supporting entrepreneurship from organizations that have managed to apply a gender lens to their internal and external strategies. The aim here is to share how these organizations built improvements in their fight against gender inequalities and to provoke thoughts and reflection among the participants on what stage their organizations are within the World Health Organization’s gender scale and the steps they can take to improve.

AUPA: Within entrepreneurship, there are also socioeconomic challenges. How can the social impact ecosystem have a better contribution, so that women entrepreneurs at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid become protagonists and agents that promote structural changes — and not just beneficiaries?

Cecilia Zanotti: One way to do this is to guarantee spaces for participation. When we talk about women at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid in Brazil, we are necessarily talking about race. Therefore, considering black women in the process is fundamental. We need to proactively identify and invite participation from black women. Hiring female and black consultants, as well as female and black collaborators is a good place to start.

Virtual events can also enhance participation, as we heard from Jiselle Steele of Social Starters, a speaker at ANDE’s webinar on the knowledge brief. Jiselle reported an increase from peripheral women in their program after they moved to the virtual environment, as it required less time dedication than the face-to-face format and they did not have to spend money on transport.

Another way to do this is to establish partnerships for program development. In other words, the leaders and organizations representing this profile can run programs together with other organizations, and not just beneficiaries. A successful example of a partnership like this is the creation of the Articulator of Social Impact Business inside the Periphery (ANIP), a partnership between ArtemisiaA Banca, and the Center for Entrepreneurship and New Business at Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGVcenn). The organizations that work in the peripheries, founded or managed by leaders from the peripheries, have great knowledge and experiences in articulation, mobilization, in addition to using channels and forms of communication that connect with the entrepreneurs from the peripheries.

AUPA: Regarding the structural barrier highlighted in the ANDE knowledge brief: How can territories contribute to the development of a gender equal ecosystem considering the inequalities that exist in Brazil?

Cecilia Zanotti: Brazil occupies the seventh position in the world ranking of income inequality as reported by UNDP (Human Development Report 2019 with data from 2017). This is disheartening.

To be an entrepreneur as a woman, black person, and someone born on the periphery of a large city, with no money for transportation or in a class A or B neighborhood, compared to someone who may have learned English in a private school or in a college abroad, are completely different realities.

Thinking about territories means thinking about transportation, food, support for women who are responsible for taking care of children or the elderly in the family, infrastructure, internet access, and all the social issues that influence the lives of women in these locations.

Thinking about who was born and lives in a class A or B neighborhood and wants to support entrepreneurship, I understand that it is worth individual actions to support and invest in initiatives, companies, and organizations founded or led by women. For those who are white, like me, studying and learning how to fight and deal with male chauvinism and racism is important. There are many books, movies, and videos on YouTube that might be helpful. We need to learn about the anti-racist fight, whiteness, colorism, intersectionality, the importance of electing white and black women who support female entrepreneurship, equal pay for men and women, and so on.

On the other hand, companies and organizations need to evaluate their employees’ profile and compare them with data from the population. If there is a large disparity in representation, rethink internal processes, offer training on unconscious biases, ensure representation in leadership and council positions, apply a gender lens when planning programs, and think about the organization’s strategy and goals.

At the ecosystem level, we need to support organizations that are leading these themes, participate in collective discussions that aim to transform the current situation, and unite the private and public sectors and civil society — through organizations like ANDE, UN Women, the Movimento Mulher 360, and the Rede Mulher Empreendedora, for example.

AUPA: Many believe that the future of the social impact development will come from investments previously placed on the stock market. In the survey, you mention the importance of more women becoming investors. How then can we attract them to impact investments and businesses led by other women?

Cecilia Zanotti: Proactively create financial and non-financial programs that aim to attract impact businesses led by women. We Impact is a good example.

Invite women investors or groups of women investors to participate in the program, as well as improve communication about impact businesses led by women, so they can be seen and known by women investors. We also need to generate more knowledge, such as the ANDE knowledge brief, and programs to end this gap. A good example that comes to mind is ANDE’s Advancing Women Empowerment Fund (AWEF), which seeks to identify the best strategies to get investment capital into the hands of women entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Eight organizations have already been selected to address the lack of funding for Small and Growing Businesses led by women in South and Southeast Asia. The fund will distribute $1.2 million in funding over two years through one-year grants of up to $150,000 to entrepreneurial support organizations.

Besides that, it is necessary to keep offering training on unconscious biases to investors, including women. An example of the presence of women investors is Sitawi’s collective lending platform, where around 40% of investors are women.

AUPA: The knowledge brief highlights the role of intermediaries in addressing credit access and investments gaps. What are some of the ways that intermediaries can address these gaps?

Cecilia Zanotti: According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the difference in financing for women in the small and growing businesses sector in emerging countries is estimated at $320 billion. There is therefore need for different financial products focusing on companies other than those that fit the Silicon Valley or Wall Street profile, with more suitable investment ticket sizes or more flexible payment terms. Providing loans between $5,000 and $50,000 is particularly important, as many traditional and impact investors consider it too small to guarantee the transaction costs involved or risky duties for returns. Creating solutions for this challenge, like using combined financing alternatives such as blended finance solutions focusing on women entrepreneurs, could be a viable way of addressing the existing financing gaps.

See the original interview in Portuguese via Aupa.