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Women entrepreneurs think of social gains

NETWORK OF ASEAN BUSINESSWOMEN DISCUSS CHALLENGES

A WOMEN'S social entrepreneur network is expanding in Southeast Asia as delegates come together to share their experiences working in industry, discussing the challenges they face both as entrepreneurs and as women.

Social entrepreneurs, we should note, take into account not only profit and return but |positive returns to society.

The Asian Women Social Entrepreneurs Seminar hosted last week by the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW) aimed to create a larger network for growing social entrepreneurs to change issues such as health, education, and services.

Delegates from five Mekong countries - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam - presented case studies about the overall "ecosystem" in their countries as well as challenges they faced.

Good opportunities for social entrepreneurship exist in Thailand and Vietnam, but Myanmar's landscape still does not have such support.

The overall Thai "ecosystem" towards social entrepreneurship has been positive despite being a new phenomenon.

Both the government and private sector leaders have created systems to support and grow social enterprises such as the 'Thai Social Enterprise Office' and the 'One Thailand Fund,' according to Sunit Shrestha from Change Fusion.

Organisations and enterprises also vary in size - including large ones like Mae Fah Luang Foundation and Doi Tung Development Project - and new start-ups or enterprises evolved from community businesses.

Likewise the Vietnamese ecosystem appears to be supportive of social entrepreneurs.

"Cooperatives and community organizations [have been] working on developing the |markets for underprivileged and disadvantaged groups," according to senior programme officer of the Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP), Nguyen Thi Hai Thanh.

Backing from World Bank, ADB

"[This is interesting because] it is in line with many NGOs or big organisations in Vietnam. ADB and the World bank are also working on a number of schemes to support developing markets for the poor," she added.

Similarly, social enterprises have received support from |government agencies - policymakers are also involved in advising companies and the government in law making.

However, these social enterprises still face challenges in substantiating the credibility of their businesses.

Meanwhile, in Myanmar, many assume their work is |largely commercial and only |looking for profit.

"The concept of entrepreneurial women playing a role in development in Myanmar was unusual," said Kyi Kyi Nguien, co-founder of Craft Myanmar.

"Sometimes, social entrepreneurs are seen as individuals who have political ambitions," she said.

Furthermore, apart from a general lack of awareness and financial resources about social entrepreneurship, women involved in business often face social prejudices.

Nguyen names gender inequality as a major challenge female social entrepreneurs.

"You might be treated as inferior to your male colleagues because you have family obligations and a number of social mandates," she said.

Laos representative Borivon Phafong, from the Business Women's Association, said women entrepreneurs tended to think more about the society over themselves.

"For example they would think about [their] salary [last], while thinking about their employees first," she said.

With information shared at the forum, Duong Chanmetta Champavieng from the Royal University of Phnom Penh hoped to incorporate the experiences from other countries into her institution.

"Because of the cultural norm and the lack of access to education and market information, so the aim of our institution is to decrease those weaknesses and have the women [participate in] more activities in social enterprises in Cambodia," she said.


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