I established the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in 2008 with the sole purpose of empowering women entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries. Through our leading global programmes and advocacy work, we give women access to the skills and knowledge they need to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions, and help create an ecosystem that enables that.
These women have, however, have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pre-existing barriers to business which they face are compounded by the virus and its knock-on effects: a lack of access to finance, lack of networks and mentors, competing gendered priorities such as providing care and domestic labour, and many more intersecting issues will increase if gender-sensitive strategies are not put in place to counter them.
We’ve been surveying the women in our programmes to understand its impacts on themselves and their businesses, and looking at how we can both adapt our offer and advocate on their behalf to ensure they are supported through this — so their businesses, livelihoods and families can survive and thrive beyond the crisis.
Our survey found that 97% of the women in our programmes who responded have either had their businesses already been negatively impacted, or believe they soon will be, as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. As we know, this will have severe knock-on effects on their families and their communities.
These women need us now more than ever before. They are pivoting, adapting and re-purposing their businesses in the immediate short term, and are anticipating the need for all of the above in the future, while reporting a strong need for training, support and repeated requests for help with business planning to get through COVID-19 and beyond.
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As the bulk of the Foundation’s programmes are already virtual and tech-based, we are thankfully well placed to adapt quickly to this new environment and help these women to be resilient and get through this crisis. We’re seeing the world coming together through the power of tech like never before — something we’re delighted to already have the infrastructure to facilitate! We’re setting up new online networks, making some of our digital learning resources open sources on our website, and adapting our online platforms to bring women entrepreneurs’ voices and experiences to the front through videos, blogs and podcasts.
We know thanks to research we co-published with Boston Consulting Group last year, that if women had equal opportunities to be entrepreneurs, global GDP could rise by a whopping 5 trillion dollars. This was always an important guiding star for us in terms of convincing the world of all the benefits that closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship could bring; now, during this global economic crisis, these benefits are needed more than ever.
So, when we look to the future, and to rebuilding the global economy, it’s absolutely vital that we recognise that investing in women and in creating a global business ecosystem that is truly gender equal is the greatest opportunity of our time. If putting women at the heart of our response to this pandemic means we see a leap in progress, wouldn’t that be a great thing?
With so much evidence showing all the good that supporting women who own small and medium businesses through this will bring, I truly hope that this incredible good will and generosity can be directed for the benefit of women entrepreneurs, and by extension their families, communities, economies, and the world.
I’ve been touched by the phenomenal outpouring of support and philanthropy from companies, institutions and individuals at this time. With so much evidence showing all the good that supporting women who own small and medium businesses through this will bring, I truly hope that this incredible good will and generosity can be directed for the benefit of women entrepreneurs, and by extension their families, communities, economies, and the world.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A woman entrepreneur. — Featured Photo Credit: Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.