Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Economies: Evaluating Business Environments in Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand
It is increasingly recognized that women's full and equal participation in business has important repercussions for domestic and regional economies. Asia-Pacific Economic Coooperation (APEC) has made women's economic inclusion a top priority. To that end, APEC commissioned a research study designed and implemented by The Asia Foundation to increase understanding of the factors that encourage or deter access to trade and growth for women-run or owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs), in three Southeast Asia APEC economies -- Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. SMEs are critical engines for growth for economies and for the region. Often viewed as the core of economic development in Asian economies, SMEs comprise the majority of businesses in the region and are a significant source of employment. In Malaysia, women's SMEs are growing at a rate of almost 10% annually. In the Philippines and Thailand, women already account for a significant portion of SMEs.
Depsite this positive trend, women SME owners and exporters face distince challenges that constrain women in starting and expanding businesses. Because of the high potential of growth of women-owned SMEs in the APEC region and the critical role they can play in accelerating development and trade, there is an important role for regional and economy-level policy reforms that will foster women-friendly business environments where women-owned SMEs can thrive.
The research for this project aimed to illuminate the complex array of factors affecting women in business through a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. It also examined a range of factors that affect women's ability to start and grow SMEs including:
- Barriers in accessing finance
- Business management and operational challenges, including employee hiring and training
- The lack of access to critical information on key issues such as land titling
- The impact of social support systems for businesswomen including childcare, education and family background
- The role of safety and security
- The importance of networking
- The role of family for women in starting and growing businesses
- The role of government in promoting or deterring women in business, and
- The role of regional organizations, such as APEC, in expanding the growth and trade capacity of women's SMEs.
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