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Ambivalence About the Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index Report

When a report on female entrepreneurs lit up my Twitter feed last, I was excited. The fact that the research occurred and the report, Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI), is published means that more attention is being given to the role of women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the developing world. But I also have concerns.
My professional emphasis is on private-sector development (PSD), an approach to poverty reduction and economic growth in developing countries through private enterprise. In this role, I focus on technology and innovation as enablers. As someone who straddles the R&D, business and international development worlds, I bring a unique perspective to the field. In my experience, businesspeople and PSD practitioners don’t talk to each other enough. Similarly, too often, researchers do not sufficiently take into account development considerations. And so, from that vantage point, in my next few posts, I plan to share my thoughts on what falls in the cracks between these spaces.
My first blog post questions whether the GEDI report appropriately defines female entrepreneurship based upon their impactful development outcomes. Subsequent posts discuss:

  • The limitations of looking at entrepreneurship through the lens of the 1 percent of Venture Capital (VC) funded start-ups.
  • The need for greater granularity in looking at entrepreneurship in order to better understand the needs and contributions of the missing middle.
  • How innovativeness needs to be redefined to avoid high-tech bias in favor of sustainability.

Does the GEDI Report Overlook Grassroots Innovator Entrepreneurs?
The GEDI report focuses on “high-potential, female entrepreneurs: women business owners who own and operate businesses that are ‘innovative, market expanding, and export oriented.’” This definition strikes the wrong chord with me. It overlooks important grassroots innovator-entrepreneurs.

The GEDI definition has me thinking of a workshop I recently attended on Business Model Innovation at the Base of the Economic Pyramid at the London School of Economics (LSE). The base of the economic pyramid (BOP) is defined as the 4 billion people who live on the equivalent of less than $2 per day.
The concept of the economic opportunity at the BOP was popularized through the work of the late C. K. Prahalad. The LSE program coursework touched on social enterprise aimed at addressing poverty alleviation. The difference between social enterprise and charity is that the former is supposed to be sustainable, operating as a profitable business (although not with the mandate of maximizing profit).
The poorest of the poor in the least developed economies benefit from business model innovations, such as microfinance, pioneered by Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Group in Bangladesh. The most famous example of microfinance, is the (now passé) “telephone ladies,” entrepreneurs who lifted themselves out of dire poverty by providing telecommunications services for their villages metered in seconds, enabled by the cellular telephone revolution. Would the “telephone ladies” qualify as “high-potential female entrepreneurs” under the GEDI definition?

Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute. (2013). The Gender Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI). Washington: GEDI.

 

 

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