2005 Press Clippings

21 June 2005

Global Summit of Women To Promote Wider Economic Participation

Women entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, establish networking alliances

Washington — When the 15th annual Global Summit of Women opens in Mexico City on June 23, approximately 900 women leaders from around the world will meet to exchange ideas and strategies on starting and expanding a business enterprise.

The U.S. delegation to the summit will be headed by Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, who will be accompanied by Charlotte Ponticelli, the State Department’s senior coordinator for women’s issues, and several other high-level U.S. officials.

The summit, which runs to June 25, is organized annually by a nonprofit organization headed by an international planning committee of women leaders in business and government.  Mexican President Vicente Fox will speak at the June 23 opening ceremony and Mexican first lady Marta Sahagun de Fox will present the Global Leadership Award — one of three summit-related awards — at a dinner on June 24.

Summit organizers report that delegates from at least 72 countries, representing every region in the world, are expected to attend the Mexico City event.  The United States, through the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will be sponsoring delegates from 10 countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq.  Organizers note that the participation of Afghan women at the 2005 summit has been greeted enthusiastically by the government of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai.

In a newsletter issued June 15 by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad praised the success of Afghan women entrepreneurs, adding: “We are proud of them.  Our delegation will not only share … how much they have accomplished in a few years, but [will] also benefit from this opportunity to interact and expand their networks and horizon.”

According to Dobriansky, the goal of the 2005 Global Summit of Women “is to advance the role of women in the 21st-century economy through technology, networking, and public/private partnerships” involving governments and the private sector.  “In particular, the summit will focus on enabling women to succeed in micro-enterprises,” she said.

The participation of Afghan and Iraqi delegates at the 2005 summit “is an excellent opportunity for these businesswomen to share experiences with their global colleagues and get advice on how to advance their political participation and economic empowerment,” said Dobriansky.  “Encouraging private-sector engagement in this manner complements our other programs, such as the Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.”

Significantly, the summit builds cross-border alliances that help provide fledgling businesswomen with essential contacts and support, while also serving the needs of more established entrepreneurs.  These alliances are complemented by State Department initiatives that assist women entrepreneurs in a variety of ways, said Dobriansky; for example, she cited the Middle East Partnership Initiative’s (MEPI) Business Internship program, “which brings women from across the Arab world to the United States for training and internships in Fortune 500 companies,” and conferences that link American women executives “with partners in the Baltics to share best practices and create new businesses.”

Along with its summit partners, the United States is strongly committed to expanding women’s economic and political clout worldwide, said Dobriansky.  “Through USAID, the U.S. government has … given more than $150 million annually over the past five years for micro-enterprise loans worldwide, 70 percent of which go to women,” she noted.

Ponticelli, interviewed via telephone June 21, explained that the Mexico City summit aims “to build on the core challenges and achievements of women, which are related to the major pillars of U.S. foreign policy: enhancing economic opportunity, building links between democracies, [and] working together towards common goals.”  The summit, she said, will focus on “job creation, trade opportunities, and opening markets,” which are “closely tied to the peace and stability agenda” of the United States.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of economic opportunity as a tool for women’s advancement — and for societal cohesion overall, said Ponticelli.  “Everywhere we go, women tell us that in addition to political leadership opportunities, it’s equally critical to have economic opportunities,” she said.  “Those opportunities, taken together, are a major tool for combating terror and oppression.”

Moreover, “gatherings like the Global Summit of Women are key” to helping women develop the skills and contacts they will need in the business world, Ponticelli said.  And the participation of Afghan and Iraqi women at the 2005 summit is a source of great pride, she added.  “We’re particularly pleased to help field delegations from these two critical countries,” said Ponticelli.  “Afghan women entrepreneurs are literally rebuilding Afghanistan.”

The Afghan delegation includes women who are involved in “a range of businesses, not just the traditional textiles and bakeries, though they are represented, too,” she said.  Ponticelli noted that when she traveled to Afghanistan with first lady Laura Bush in March, she met “one [Afghan woman] who had started her own construction business” and another who had recently bought a cow, which enabled her to supply dairy products to an ice-cream store in Kabul.  “Afghan women are a living example of the power of entrepreneurship,” said Ponticelli.

The 2005 summit “is a very important opportunity for Iraqi women, as well,” she pointed out.  “There are seven women in the [Iraqi] delegation; one was just appointed as head of the Iraqi Business Council.”  That woman, Ponticelli recalled, told her during an earlier meeting that even during the darkest days of Saddam Hussein’s regime, “she never lost sight of her dream of operating a hotel.”

Women in Iraq, she added, are playing an instrumental role in the reconstruction of their country, just like their Afghan sisters.  Thanks to the summit’s emphasis on sharing and developing job skills, best practices, and models of success, “women from other regions can provide Iraqi women with vital support as they go about rebuilding their country,” said Ponticelli.

At the beginning of the summit, the U.S. delegation will meet with delegates from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Latin America — and together, those delegates will examine “what women [entrepreneurs] are doing” in their respective regions, “what kind of help they need, and how they can work together,” she explained.

The summit’s host country changes each, with previous summits taking place in South Korea (2004) and Morocco (2003), among other locales.  “It is very important and helpful that the summit is in Latin America this year,” because “Latin American women have provided tremendous examples” to their counterparts elsewhere, Ponticelli said.  Even though women in Latin America remain committed to achieving greater political representation, they have demonstrated that “economic opportunity is an equally vital track for shaping public policy,” she said.

Summit participants are also mindful of the need to encourage and recruit young women to embark on business careers, said Ponticelli.  “At the Global Women’s Leadership Awards Ceremony, award-winners are always women who play an active and creative role in building the next generation of women leaders,” she said.  She noted that the 2005 summit will hold workshops on micro-enterprise, innovative marketing techniques and leadership development, as part of an ongoing effort to assist the next crop of women entrepreneurs.

Also, “there is a huge representation from the corporate world” at each year’s summit, Ponticelli observed.  For example, major firms such as Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Cisco, Kraft Foods, Daimler Chrysler/U.S., and General Electric will all be participating — and those companies will, collectively, send 208 of their top women executives to the Mexico City summit.  The executives will be heavily involved in summit discussions about training and developing young leaders, helping women employees balance work and family obligations, and how to battle workplace discrimination, said Ponticelli.

She reflected on her own participation at the 2003 summit in Morocco, where she had a chance to meet with women entrepreneurs from Morocco, Egypt, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi.  Ponticelli expressed admiration for the women’s resourcefulness in pursuit of their aspirations; if they were having trouble getting promoted at work, they told her, “their response was often to start their own businesses.”  The women she spoke to “are doing great things,” she said.  “This kind of transregional sharing of experience is very good.”

The 2005 Global Summit of Women will feature the second Women’s Expo (WEXPO), and “WEXPO participants will have an opportunity to showcase their products or services to prospective clients and partners,” says the U.S. State Department.  Summit workshops will explore a variety of themes, such as strategic networking, growing micro-enterprises into mainstream business through trade, electronic commerce and numerous other topics.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

El poder de nuestras mujeres

Mariana Martínez
Columnista, BBC Mundo

El 80% de las microempresas del mundo están dirigidas por mujeres.

Mujer en un mercado callejero en Lagos, Nigeria
El microcrédito es considerado un arma para combatir la pobreza.
Y si pensamos en el microcrédito como un arma para combatir la pobreza, sería acertado decir que las mujeres del mundo tienen en sus manos el poder para generar desarrollo económico y erradicar la miseria de la faz de la Tierra.

La cifra, que se dio a conocer durante la XV Cumbre Global de Mujeres, conocida como el “Davos de las mujeres”, celebrada en México, sorprende pero también muestra que todavía queda mucho por hacer.

Un claro ejemplo es América Latina, donde las mujeres también son microempresarias, pero el acceso al crédito se les dificulta.

Para tener una idea, alcanza con recordar que en México sólo el 15% de las empresas tienen dirección femenina.

Un comportamiento que se repite en la mayoría de los países de la región, como bien lo señaló la presidenta del comité organizador de la Cumbre de Mujeres y del Instituto Mexicano de las Mujeres (Inmujeres), Patricia Espinosa.

Y es justamente por eso que más acceso al crédito fue uno de los mayores reclamos de las ministras y las empresarias de 75 países que participaron en el encuentro.

Según explicó Irene Natividad, presidenta de la Cumbre, la clave para que las mujeres puedan elevar su condición social y, al mismo tiempo, combatir la pobreza en el mundo está en que las pequeñas y medianas empresas dirigidas por mujeres tengan mayor acceso al crédito.

Arma contra la pobreza

¿Pero qué es el microcrédito? ¿Y cómo puede ayudar a reducir e incluso eliminar la pobreza en el mundo?

El microcrédito consiste en el otorgar préstamos de dinero a familias pobres o a pequeños y medianos empresarios, en este caso mujeres, que se utilizan como capital de trabajo o para comenzar un pequeño negocio en los países en vías de desarrollo.

Para entender cómo funciona y por qué es un buen mecanismo para reducir la pobreza, tenga en cuenta que en América Latina las mujeres suman 278 millones y son las más afectadas por la pobreza.
En América Latina las mujeres suman 278 millones y son las más afectadas por la pobreza
Según cálculos del Banco Mundial (BM), más del 50% de ellas pertenecen a los sectores socioeconómicos más pobres de la región.

Ahora imagine que usted es mujer, que no tiene nada de nada, sólo la ropa que lleva puesta, o tal vez algo más realista: usted se acaba de quedar sin trabajo y no cuenta con ningún bien u otro activo para hacer frente a la situación. Y que a eso se le suma que usted es jefe de familia y que tiene unas cuantas bocas que alimentar.

Si usted sólo cuenta con sus manos y un oficio, ¿le sería útil recibir un microcrédito para iniciar un pequeño negocio?

Definitivamente la respuesta es sí. Si usted pudiera abrir su pequeño negocio, lograría ser financieramente independiente. Claro está, siempre y cuando la economía de su país se lo permita y su trabajo como microempresaria sea tenaz.


El problema está en que si no tiene trabajo y quiere ir al banco para pedir un préstamo para empezar un pequeño negocio, seguramente le pedirán un millón de documentos y activos que respalden el crédito -algo que le resultará más que difícil si usted no tiene nada de nada-, entre otras cosas.

Incluso, si usted cuenta con activos necesarios para respaldar su crédito, por ser mujer usted quizás se tope con la desconfianza de los prestamistas que no consideran capaz al sexo femenino de sacar adelante un negocio.

Mujeres en Perú
En América Latina las mujeres tienen dificultades para acceder al crédito.
Algo que, según señaló Espinosa, las mujeres latinoamericanas enfrentan frecuentemente.

Aún cuando lograra superar los obstáculos para obtener el préstamo bancario, se le sumará otro, el trámite burocrático.

Así se trate de un simple puesto de venta de caramelos, una zapatería o una tienda de ropa, necesitará de un sinnúmero de estampillas, sellos y firmas de notarios.

Ambos obstáculos no sólo le impedirán generar los recursos que usted necesita para salir de la pobreza, sino también poner en marcha el motor de la economía en su conjunto.

Por eso, la clave para romper con este círculo vicioso que sólo genera más pobreza está en apostar por las mujeres. Algo que quedó muy claro en la Cumbre de las Mujeres.

Y también hay que exigir a los gobiernos, entidades bancarias y financieras que brinden mayor acceso al crédito a las mujeres, así como también aliviar las exigencias legales y los trámites burocráticos a la hora de abrir un negocio.

Sólo así será posible un mundo con menos pobreza, más igualitario y capaz de generar desarrollo para todos.