Our Top Ten Womenabling Events of 2009

To close out the year, the Womenabler Blog would like to offer up what we see as the most interesting and relevant activities that have taken place in the field of women’s enterprise development. So here – in no particular order – are what we see as the ten most noteworthy trends and events of the year:

  1. The feminization of US entrepreneurship policy? With a new administration and a new Congress in 2010, for the first time ever, four of the five key political figures in small business in the United States are women: SBA Administrator Karen Mills, Senate Small Business Committee Chair and Ranking Member Mary Landrieu and Olympia Snowe, and House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez. Might that be one reason why, for the first time in years, there’s been an increase in the budgets for the Women’s Business Center program and the National Women’s Business Council?
  2. The “male” recession. It’s been referred to as a “man-cession,” mostly because of the disproportionate impact it has had on manufacturing and other male-dominated sectors. (One could also say it was caused in large measure by testosterone-fueled behavior in the financial sector.) It remains to be seen, though, whether the recovery will lead to a return to “business as usual,” or if some female common sense will start to be taken more seriously. Right now, it doesn’t look good for the latter scenario.
  3. The growing case for investing in women’s economic empowerment internationally: We’re seeing more and more evidence coming to light showing a broader impact from and greater return on investment in women’s enterprise development compared to gender-blind program support. Right now, the focus is on developing economies and micro-enterprise. Up-market ROI seems more elusive to capture.
  4. Glossy recognition for advances women have made in the workplace in developed economies: The Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation” made a big splash this year by bringing some attention to the progress that women have made in the workforce in the US, largely in spite of lagging public policy. Ernst & Young has also published two glossy reports on women as “groundbreakers” and on the need for more women to “scale up” in business. While all are welcome additions to the knowledge base, women’s entrepreneurship is largely missing from these discussions.
  5. Organizational implosions: Two organizations that have helped to make great strides for women-owned businesses, the Center for Women’s Business Research in the US and Prowess in the UK, each imploded this year – with their founding directors (of 20 and 10 years, respectively) both leaving somewhat less than voluntarily. Here’s hoping that these two valuable womenabling organizations will emerge stronger from their current states of limbo.
  6. Skål to women in Scandinavia: Yet again, when the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report and the UN‘s Gender Empowerment Measure and Human Development Index were published, Nordic countries came out on top, showing women in the region to be closer to men than in any other part of the world in terms of health, education, labor participation and political empowerment. Still, entrepreneurship rates for women lag behind those of men there and elsewhere around the globe, according to the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports.
  7. A new journal for women’s enterprise: 2009 marked the official launch of a new academic journal focused on women’s entrepreneurship issues, the International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship.
  8. A growing focus on people over profits: We’ve noticed more talk of social enterprise this year – businesses that exist to reach goals that go beyond the financial. Some of the sources of that increased attention may be coming from: the Ashoka Fellows program, now in its 28th year; the Skoll Foundation and its World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship; and a new “Social Enterprise Mark” for products and services offered by social enterprises in the UK. May it continue to spread in the new year.
  9. One size does not fit all: 2009 saw the launch of new or expanded women’s business centers in Egypt, Pakistan, and Peru – and a promising effort in the UK to set standards for the essential elements of women-friendly and female-focused business support services (see wbcinternational.org). All efforts recognize that one size does indeed not fit all in terms of supporting enterprise development.
  10. Most noteworthy non-event: In this, the 10th year of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor series of reports on entrepreneurial activity, where was the annual report on women’s enterprise? Missing in action! Let’s hope that 2010 will see the resumption of this important analytical effort.

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