> Posted by Adriana Magdas

This weekend I watched a TEDx Talk, “Women Entrepreneurs: Example not Exception,” by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a reporter turned business woman and writer. Lemmon discusses women’s success stories as entrepreneurs in developing countries and their lack of access to financial services (beyond microcredit) and other resources that would allow them to grow their businesses at a faster pace and on a larger scale.

Gayle highlights women entrepreneurs who were resilient in situations of poverty and conflict. These women pursued business opportunities that produced a raft of benefits. The businesses allowed the women to care for multiple family members, support and develop local economies and earn income that increased their power and the respect granted them by men in an otherwise unequal society. These examples of empowerment and increased economic well being are exactly what microfinance aims to produce.

But I wonder if many or most women who are currently clients of microfinance are able to use their businesses to such great advantage. Are these women operating at the peak of their potential? Could they develop their businesses more efficiently if they had access to larger loans and a wider array of financial products? How much would they benefit from increased financial capability and access to trustworthy business networks that would provide them with training, resources and peer support?

It is impossible to address these questions without taking into account the underlying gender inequality in many developing countries, where poor women are less educated than men and face limited independence and professional/business opportunity. But perhaps gender equality and entrepreneurial opportunity are mutually reinforcing – increased incomes and professional achievements for women promote gender equality, while increased gender equality results in more freedom and business opportunity for women – and progress on both fronts is essential to seeing substantial results, sooner.

Access to a range of quality financial products and educational resources are elements that will enable women who are currently clients of microfinance to expand their professional and personal opportunities. Many of these women could be entrepreneurs on a scale beyond that supported by microfinance and they should be enabled to do so through increased equality, education, access to finance and opportunity. This is very ambitious but something we should work towards, because as Gayle wisely states in her talk: “Women make up fifty percent of the population, and they should no longer be treated as a special interest group.”

Image credit: guijarrodesign.com

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