Women’s Entrepreneurship Awards: Impact and Lessons Learned
For nearly a decade, the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation (P4I) program has partnered with the private sector to deliver innovative products and services to smallholder farmers around the globe. Recognizing the important role female business owners play in emerging markets, and the fact that there remain systemic gender gaps in business performance when comparing female-owned businesses to their male-owned counterparts, P4I launched a series of women’s entrepreneurship awards starting in 2018. These awards paired five female-owned enterprises with business development service (BDS) providers to deliver tailored, hands-on assistance to improve their capacity, scale their operations and support long-term growth. This study seeks to understand the impact of these awards on the supported businesses, as well as capture key lessons learned from supporting female entrepreneurs through business development support.
While analyzing traditional business metrics was difficult given the diverse nature of the female entrepreneurs’ businesses, the impact of COVID-19 and the limited time that elapsed since the awards, this study found tangible improvements in the way the supported entrepreneurs operated and thought about their businesses. Overall, the supported entrepreneurs enthusiastically implemented the advice they received, which lead to an improvement in business operations and capabilities. The awards also resulted in the improved leadership capacity of the awardees, which helped them to better run their businesses and manage their teams. Finally, this study found that the supported female entrepreneurs were given the tools they needed to think more strategically about their businesses and to adapt and transition to new growth strategies as a result of P4I support.
P4I’s approach to supporting female entrepreneurs evolved over program implementation, highlighting important lessons learned for any project or donor looking to successfully engage female-owned businesses and BDS providers in emerging markets. This study outlines key takeaways, including:
- Offering a variety of tailored service options to female entrepreneurs will help to reach female-led businesses at a range of growth stages who face unique constraints and needs.
- There is a growth stage “sweet spot” when supporting female-owned businesses, where their needs can realistically be addressed through short-term, award-facilitated services.
- When selecting BDS providers, local presence and context is key.
- Hands-on diagnostics and support build trust and ownership throughout the award process.
- Incorporating opportunities for cocreation will ensure that business development services successfully meet the challenges faced by female-led businesses.
- Pairing business development support with direct financial support can scale and maximize impact.
As donors and development practitioners continue to look for ways to “even the playing field” and more successfully and profitably engage female-owned businesses in agricultural-led growth, the results and lessons learned outlined in this study provide insights that can guide discussions on how to structure support to female entrepreneurs to access the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.