It's time for woman to dance

(No.5, Vol.7,Oct-Nov 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Mdm. Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of Socialist Republic of Vietnam at the Ao dai
Exhibition at Hue Museum of Culture

Where is the largest untapped potential for economic growth? In women. Yes, it is right at a time when women, especially those who live in the Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, are free from domestic burdens and may get a chance start their own business.
That, together with other initiatives to activate the participation of women in economic growth, was discussed among delegates of member economies in the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)’s forums on Women and the Economy held in Hue in late September.
Since the first day Vietnam opened its economy for the participation of private sector, not many women have joined and opened their own enterprises. A report by Dr. Michael DiGregorio, country representative of The Asia Foundation in Vietnam, said the country has only 31 per cent of registered businesses owned by women. A majority are small-scale.
Percentages showed in a report delivered by World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) was much lower than DiGregorio’s, which said Vietnam has 95,906 enterprises or 21 per cent of the total businesses registered around the country.
According to IFC criteria, the majority of women-owned enterprises are micro-enterprises, accounting for 57 per cent or 55,049 enterprises. Other 45 per cent or 44,003 enterprises are sorted in the list of small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) while only one per cent or 854 enterprises reach the level of large enterprises.
The IFC criteria said micro-enterprises are those having revenues of less than $100,000 per annum. SMEs have annual revenues between $100,000 and $15 million and large enterprises have annual revenues over $15 million.
DiGregorio said there are a number of barriers preventing women from starting a business. ‘Vietnamese women customarily bear a dual burden of childcare and domestic work that limits their business opportunities,’ he said, adding that some took part in family-run businesses in the role of finance manager.
Other barriers prevent women from starting a business were listed at the forum, including lack of experience and financial insecurity. Some others lack confidence and do not feel quite ready to open their own business, as women have been hampered by housework from learning to use internet technology.
Vietnamese ladies are being encouraged to get more involved in cyber activities to develop digital businesses, which are growing fast around the world. A report said there are 65 million small-and medium-sized enterprises on Facebook alone.
Facebook is among the free and most convenient digital platforms whereby women can create their own community to share experience and get support from each other. Those regional communities are expected to help their members gain broader knowledge in each business sector from exchanging with others in different countries. Louise Williams from US-APEC Technical Assistance to Advance Regional Integration said women should rely on three types of resources: a business network, private sector initiatives and government services.
Experts at the forums also encouraged women to make use of support and advice from experienced entrepreneurs when they start a business. Regional senior director of Southeast Asia Walmart Global Sourcing, Jocelyn Tran, an experienced businesswoman, was nominated as an activator that helps involve more women in the region in business.
She said at her first arrival in a country, she would seek women-owned businesses for her supply chain right after she set up a network with agencies. ‘I targeted female products for women customers’, she said, adding that Walmart is an international market of 260 million customers. Tran prioritised working with women-owned businesses and she learned to understand cultural, social and legal challenges for women in running the businesses involved in her supply chain. She also spent time with each women-owned business to build relationships and make commitments.
According to Williams from US-APEC, five priority areas on which women should focus are capital and assets, access to markets, capacity and skills, leadership and agency, innovation and technology. Experts have encouraged economic sectors, especially banking, to target women’s untapped potential. WEConnect International’s COO Gretta Schettler said women-owned enterprises have untapped potential for the banking sector and the sector should work actively to help women grow their own businesses.
According to Joana Romero, a SME and Gender Finance Specialist of IFC, banks across the world are focusing more on women. Women borrowed capital primarily for investment, purchase and accessing new markets, she said.
Obviously, banks could have more women using credit cards or accessing loans to set up businesses. DiGregorio of The Asia Foundation said banks should enable women to make cashless bank-bank transfers as well as to develop a simple, easy to use mobile banking platform.
Other experts encouraged banks to invest in training staff on the gender dimension of banking. At the same time, the banking sector should recognize women-owned businesses as a strategic segment and raise awareness of banks of the opportunities from women SMEs.
At the leadership level, Vietnamese Vice President Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh hailed the Asian-Pacific economies’ attempt to dismantle barriers preventing women entrepreneurs from owning businesses for the target of women owning half of the regional enterprises by 2030.
‘Each economy should build up institutions and laws on gender equality to promote women’s empowerment. Enterprises should also map out strategy and policies on how to encourage the involvement of women in finance, economy and society,’ she said.
Both men and women working in public and private sectors should understand the capability and power of businesswomen, and do more to help them contribute to the national economy and society.
APEC has about 600 million women in its labour force. Over 60 per cent of them work in the formal sector and another 40 per cent in the informal sector. They contribute up to $89 billion to APEC every year.
According to Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Dao Hong Lan, the full potential of women in APEC has yet to be tapped. ‘Bright prospects for the global economic growth and the booming information technology revolution will bring more chances and favourable conditions for the female workforce and women-owned businesses in APEC.’
Experts at the forum agreed that women’s empowerment must be a highlight in activities among APEC member economies. Empowering women means enabling them to work equally in all sectors and at the local, national, regional and global level.
The recommendations adopted at the APEC forums in Hue would be submitted to APEC leaders at the APEC Summit that will be held in Danang in November this year.
This means that the economic ballroom prepared for APEC women is ready for them to dance, making their potential a practical impetus for economic growth among APEC economies in the next decades.

APEC delegates amused by Hue offer
If it was me as a delegate of APEC forums joining the cultural night held to refresh the participant guests, I would fall in love with the former imperial city of Hue at first look.
Food, music and an elegant ambience were the prominent elements to make such a wonderful night. Hosted by Ton Nu Thi Ninh, an experienced former diplomat of Vietnam and a Hue native, the night showcased the quintessence of Vietnamese music, clothing and food.
The well-organised programme went smoothly under the hand of the charming master of ceremony Trac Thuy Mieu, who also has half of her blood originating from Hue as her father was born here.
‘Culture could be the base for economic growth, especially in tourism and entertainment. Culture and economy have a bond and women play a key role in preserving cultural values and developing the economy,’ Ninh said in the elegant, soft voice of a local.
‘The forums here highlight women’s empowerment; thus, this evening we promote the theme,’ she continued.
The first dish served was rolls made of paper cake and Hue’s specialty Thanh tra grapefruit, a specialty that once only kings consumed. The other courses included Hue special soup and a type of cake held by royal chefs only.
According to each dish served, a music performance followed. First was the performance of ca Hue singing and conical hat dance, followed by ca tru, hat xam, and chau van singing. All are Vietnamese typical melodies. A show of Vietnamese national costume ao dai was accompanied, showcasing the designed featuring Hue ancient architectural patterns. Notably, the food served was all vegetarian and prepared by artisan Ho Thi Hoang Anh, the only one who possesses the vegetarian recipes that developed to serve kings.
The guests were lucky as both Ninh and Mieu have very good English, sending them deeper in understanding the theme of the night as well as conveying messages in food and the melodies.
Undoubtedly, the guests were refreshed and enjoyed the outdoor ambiance aside poetic Huong (Perfume) River and the colonial style buildings.

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