Despite the enormous spotlight held up against gender inequality through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the total female entrepreneurial activity is less than 10 percent in Asia today. Building on the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a new set of 17 goals aimed at bringing about inclusive development. SDG’s gender equality goal highlights the themes of discrimination, exploitation, and unequal access to opportunity.  At Shujog ACTS, we believe that expanding social finance is critical to addressing these themes. To achieve inclusive and equitable growth, women need to be lifted out of the informal economy and into formal employment. Entrepreneurship is the key to this shift.

At the moment, there are several global accelerator programs working to level the playing field between female and male entrepreneurs. These organizations recruit female-led businesses and provide much needed mentorship, seed funding and technical assistance. But to transform female-focused enterprises into leading businesses that shape local economies and inspire more women to start their own businesses, we need to shift our emphasis to addressing barriers to scale, namely, business development support that prepares Impact Enterprises (IEs) to access financing for expansion.

Shujog ACTS  is an innovative technical assistance program that was set up to cement the transition between seed stage and growth stage enterprises, with a special focus on scaling IEs in Asia, where female entrepreneurship is lagging behind other developing regions. The Program aims to enlist IEs where the majority of beneficiaries and/or stakeholders are women. It provides a tailored module that educates and prepares entrepreneurs to secure investments. By providing IEs with a blend of subsidies and advance payments, ACTS is unique in reducing the reliance of IEs on traditional grant funding to grow and expand. Women-focused enterprises are eligible for additional subsidized consulting help to address their operational, marketing and strategic needs. The program simultaneously works to build a vibrant ecosystem to support social finance by enlisting consulting firms to provide services focused on an emerging clientele: IEs, especially those run by women.

To date, ACTS has engaged 8 firms and we expect to increase our network to over 10 entities in 2016. ACTS has worked with 22 high-impact IEs across Asia, a third of which are run by women, in critical development sectors such as energy, agriculture, and livelihood development. Two women focused SEs have secured US$500,000 in growth capital. With access to investment capital, these IEs will grow to impact over 70,000 of beneficiaries, many of whom are marginalized or low-income women.

Another key element of the Program’s offering is a fully subsidized impact assessment. Shujog’s impact assessment enables IEs to understand the social and environmental impact they create, while establishing a transparent and reliable tool to measure that impact. This well-received service offering by Shujog has been utilized by IEs throughout Asia and is highly valued by investors and donors. Impact data collected through the impact assessment is disaggregated by gender and also captures gender relevant social impact, such as economic empowerment and social capital. By providing this complimentary service, the program tracks gender-based results at both the enterprise and local community level.

As recently noted by Echoing Green, a global impact accelerator: “Along the spectrum of “investment-readiness,” social entrepreneurs may identify themselves as investment-ready while feedback from investors indicates that earlier-stage support is still needed to secure investment. As a result, emerging leaders in social enterprise aren’t getting funded, and their innovative business models won’t become tomorrow’s examples of the impact investing market’s success.” Facilities like ACTS are necessary if we want to see more women-run businesses have an impact on their communities, shape the future of their local economies and accelerate sustainable economic development at a pace needed to meet the next set of SDGs.

 

Taila Mueller
Shujog ACTS