The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) yesterday launched ‘Women Entrepreneurs Act’, or ‘WE Act’, a project to empower young women in Cambodia’s urban centres and support their business ventures.
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The programme will run for five years and will be managed by NGO Pact Cambodia.
Speaking at the launch at the Great Duke Hotel in Phnom Penh, Veena Reddy, USAID acting mission director, said WE Act aims to harness the unbounded entrepreneurial potential of Cambodia’s young businesswomen and help them find partnerships, provide key resources, and give them strategic advice.
The programme also aims to engage with associations that can help magnify the voices of women entrepreneurs in civic life and channel their interests in the policy arena.
“Our efforts have concentrated on strengthening the eco-system for female entrepreneurs, from reforming the policy framework to allow women to compete on equal footing with their male counterparts, to providing access to finance and venture capital.
“It includes mentoring and coaching by businessmen and women, integration with business associations, business incubation, and a host of other elements.”
She said the programme aims to create a supportive ecosystem for women entrepreneurs.
“Our reasons are simple. First, women play an increasingly vital role in Cambodia’s growing economy. Expanding women-owned enterprises and helping women realise their business potential is – I think we can all agree – a priority.
“A second reason USAID supports women entrepreneurs in Cambodia and elsewhere is that women play a key role in bridging inequality gaps in society,” she said.
The National Institute of Statistics reported that over 60 percent of Cambodian businesses are owned by women. More than two-thirds of those women-owned businesses are small businesses, with only one or two employees. Women’s share of business ownership drops significantly for larger businesses – which employ 100 or more people.
Women entrepreneurs own and manage most enterprises but their businesses tend to remain small and face challenges to growth, the report suggests.
“If women entrepreneurs have a supportive entrepreneurship ecosystem, Cambodia will begin to see a dramatic and positive change in the pattern of ownership in the next decade. This will mean more thriving, women-owned medium and large businesses strengthening the involvement of women in Cambodia’s economic and civic life,” Ms Veena said.
WE Act will also work with young women in secondary schools and will engage them in activities that promote entrepreneurship skills.
Dr. Soeur Socheata, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, said, “We want the students to know how to develop their own businesses according to their potential. We want to inspire them to learn entrepreneurship and life skills as noted in the National Strategic Development Plan of the Royal Government of Cambodia, in line with the ministry’s policies and strategies.
“We hope that this new generation of entrepreneurs will be able to contribute to Cambodia’s economy through the jobs created by their ventures,” she added.
Sabine Joukes, Pact Cambodia country director and WE Act’s chief of party, said the programme launch marks the start of a new approach to empowering women.
“We will work with partners who are already extending services to young women entrepreneurs, and together, as a system, we aim to lift up all women entrepreneurs in their endeavor toward growth and success.”