Many benefits are expected to ensue from programs for women. Professor Linda Scott from the University of Oxford addressed the challenges she has observed in trying to design programs and measurements for women’s empowerment at the “Designing Global Measures for Women’s Economic Empowerment” hosted by The World Bank Group Gender Team and SME Finance Forum. Professor Scott has been involved in many impressive efforts to create and evaluate support systems for female entrepreneurs. These experiences have given her a distinguished perspective on the state of affairs in women’s entrepreneurship support.
In her discussion, Professor Scott discussed the challenges of measuring the actual results of programs focused on women’s empowerment. For Scott, thinking critically about women’s entrepreneurship in developing and developed countries holds positive implications for family wellbeing, community viability, and national prosperity. Facilitating women’s entrepreneurship is a tactic for economic development as it produces a “ripple effect” that manifests in a greater trajectory than just focusing on men’s incomes. Scott supports this statement by pointing out that in the community, women invest their earnings in children and the community itself, which then produces a greater and more significant change. Scott also focused on private sector efforts, which includes her work building the measurement system for Walmart’s Empowering Women Together program.
Walmart’s Empowering Women Together holds the intention to assist women entrepreneurs at an early stage in their career development by facilitating a point of entry and access to a broader base of consumers, which is the “Walmart shopper.” The program is still small, in terms of the number of entrepreneurs it is connection and engagement with, but it is working within thirteen countries on four continents, so it has upward mobility potential thus far. These small companies constructed by women entrepreneurs involve a wide range of industries and products, such as jewelry and fashion. Many of the companies are social enterprises that are organized to benefit at-risk employee populations, such as refugees and recovering drug addicts. All these aspects make the system unique as Professor Scott highlights that no one else has attempted to capture the design measures that will work to assess impact and diagnose problems for women-owned businesses in any industry, any place, for any group of women.
Professor Scott’s discussion focused on the need for more attention to be focused upon the restrictions attributable to gender in the planning, management, and evaluation of interventions and particularly the need to recognize national differences in the constraints on women. She touched on the tendency of those who pursue this agenda, to treat women’s entrepreneurship as if it were any regular business venture without taking the time to properly consider the concrete limits that gender norms put on women’s ability to build an enterprise. As Scott pointed out, anyone that wants to make a difference in empowering women must learn to look through a “gender lens”. The primary limits she highlighted were: biased financial systems, restrictive property rights, limits on mobility, and, most significant, the threat of violence.