• English

Second Forum of Women Entrepreneurs

Geneva, 17-18 March 2003
Opening Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

I would like to welcome participants to the Second UNECE Forum of Women Entrepreneurs. This is a particular pleasure for me as I did not have the opportunity to meet with you at the First Forum in 2001.

Just to recall: the First Forum initiated the UNECE activities supporting women entrepreneurs. The Forum was held in October 2001 and gathered together about 300 participants from 30 countries. Many of them are now present. It has already had a positive impact on building networks at national, sub-regional and regional levels. One such example is the establishment, as a result of the Forum, of the All-Ukrainian Association of Women Entrepreneurs.

The idea of the Forum is to (i) promote a regional dialogue on women's entrepreneurship, (ii) exchange experiences; (iii) forge partnerships among governments and other stakeholders; (iv) facilitate the process of policy convergence based on best practices. But it also builds personal contacts and networks among women's business associations and individual entrepreneurs.

Building partnerships among stakeholders at national level is a key element in efficiently promoting women's entrepreneurship. So far, women's business associations and NGOs have been the main actors promoting women's entrepreneurship. Best practices already exist in a number of countries. We will have presentations of partnerships with governments from the United States of America and Finland as well as municipality initiatives from Provincia di Milano.

The UNECE Forum could also contribute to bridging the gap between women entrepreneurs within a Wider Europe, facilitating contacts between women entrepreneurs from accession and non-accession countries, especially in central Asia and the Caucasus. We will listen to presentations of successful companies which use E.Business.

The Second Forum of Women Entrepreneurs focuses on (1) best practices in improving women's access to financing and (2) E-business. These two themes were decided upon as the most important at the First Forum of Women Entrepreneurs in 2001. As a part of the Second Forum other activities will be organized: the opening of the Exhibition and Informal Networking Sessions and tomorrow at a lunch time meeting of the Presidents of Women Business Associations.

The Forum will also acknowledge best women entrepreneurs. Tomorrow the UNECE Award of Excellent Women Entrepreneurs will be given. These Awards are intended to promote role models for other women in the region and show women's contribution to economic growth and development of SMEs. The Awards will be given in 6 categories.

Entrepreneurship is a key element of growth and development prospects for all countries, and it is most relevant to transition countries. Countries which create good conditions for SME development have higher growth rates and better development prospects. Despite individual successful women, and MANY such women are in this room today, women's entrepreneurial potential remains largely untapped.

A new UNECE publication on women's entrepreneurship points out that in eastern Europe and CIS countries for which we have data, men start their own business usually twice as often as women. This is the case of the Czech Republic where self-employed women have only 9% in total employment as compared to 18% for men.

Longer term trends indicate that during the 1990s the gap between men and women's entrepreneurial activities widened in transition economies. This trend contrasts with trends in developed countries, especially the United States but also the United Kingdom, France and others where women-run companies are the driving force of the SME sector.

The situation of women entrepreneurs differs by country and depends on progress in the process of building a market economy. Accession countries in most cases (if I exclude the agricultural sector) do better than non-accession countries. The very low level of entrepreneurial activities in most countries in central Asia and in the Caucasus is an indicator of slow progress in building market economies.

Women face not only general barriers for SMEs (weak institutional support to SMEs, lack of access to credit) but also gender specific barriers -such as lack of collateral due to uneven sharing of privatisation gains, lack of networks and traditional views on women's role. They have greater difficulty in obtaining credit, finding business partners, getting information on business opportunities.

The gender gap in women's entrepreneurship is bad economic policy for a country. But it should also be seen in the context of United Nations principles of gender equality. UNECE concerns for women's entrepreneurs reflect core United Nations values reflected in the Millennium Declaration and other United Nations documents, especially the Beijing Platform for Action and the agreed conclusions from the Regional Preparatory Meeting on the 2000 Review of the implementation of the Beijing Platform, which was organized by UNECE in January 2000.

A major conclusion in the area of economy relates to increasing employment opportunities through fostering women's access to self-employment and entrepreneurship. This conclusion, adopted by all UNECE member States, is the basis for the UNECE programme on women's entrepreneurship, part of which is the Forum of Women Entrepreneurs.

The UNECE programme aims at collecting data and analysing the situation of women entrepreneurs, raising awareness of issues and problems, and formulating policy recommendations to assist governments in implementing their commitments expressed in the Beijing Declaration in the area of economy.

The key elements of the programme are: The Regional Forum of Women Entrepreneurs, virtual Gallery of Excellent Women Entrepreneurs, on-line network of Women Business Associations, and the Team of Specialists on Women's Entrepreneurship.

The first UNECE publication on trends in women's entrepreneurship and key issues has just been issued and is based on the materials of the First Forum of Women Entrepreneurs and meetings of the Team of Specialists.

It is accompanied by the exhibition presenting women-run companies, business network facilities.

UNECE develops the programmes in cooperation with UNDP, UNIFEM, ILO, other United Nations organizations and international organizations, such as ITU, OECD, as well as sub-regional organizations especially the Central European Initiative (CEI). I would like to welcome representatives of all these organizations. We also develop cooperation with associations of small businesses -such as WASME, which is represented at our Forum today and the International Council of Small Business, where UNECE is a track leader for a conference on women's entrepreneurship (Belfast June 2003).

The cooperation with CEI is especially close-UNECE co-organizes each year a Round Table session on women's entrepreneurship at the CEI Economic Summit, such as in Skopje 2001 and at the forthcoming Summit in Warsaw (November 2003).

In conclusion I would like to wish success in your deliberations and express the wish that the Second Forum of Women Entrepreneurs will be a contribution to further strengthening and widening the economic and social development of our societies.

Thank you.