WEI has developed specialist expertise across the enterprise and entrepreneurship agenda. Our role in catalysing women’s entrepreneurship covers a spectrum of activities: support for women-owned/-led enterprises from concept/start-up to operation and scaling up for impact, as well as actions to foster a favourable entrepreneurship ecosystem for women’s enterprise and innovation. Our extended, internationally based team has enabled WEI to build a combined knowledge and know-how across all areas of the enterprise and entrepreneurship agenda, which would be difficult to equal.
The challenges and needs experienced by women entrepreneurs change as their businesses evolve, something we build into our approach to supporting them. Although at times it is useful to segment by sector of activity or by size (micro, small, or medium), our integrative approach overlays this with a tried and tested model that segments according to the evolution of women’s enterprise and entrepreneurship, allowing us to pinpoint needs more effectively. Family businesses are a further segment, which, although they can also evolve in a similar fashion, have the additional family dynamic that is important to take into consideration.
Strategic areas of focus and areas of activity
- Fostering an enterprise culture: It is important to instil a sense of enterprise in young girls and boys from a very early age, ideally through the educational system, by teaching primary and secondary level classes in an enterprising manner. This enhances the confidence of young children, develops their curiosity and proactivity, as well as providing them with tools to “learn to learn“. This involves working with teachers and schools, building their capacity to teach in an enterprising manner and providing them with tools to put this into practice
- Developing enterprising competencies: In secondary and higher-level education, developing enterprise skills in young adults means that they may choose to set up a new venture or be enterprising in a new context. Programmes are designed to nurture enterprise competencies in young people, resulting in an improved knowledge and understanding of how they can create their own futures. Significant outcomes include improved confidence and self-esteem, economic independence, and a transformation from being disengaged or excluded to becoming empowered to make a difference within their local environments – and further.
- Enterprise as a path to economic empowerment: Other groups can also benefit from this approach. For example, entrepreneurship may be an avenue for autistic women who find it difficult to adjust to the corporate world; young graduates may find that they need to develop enterprising competences to complement their degree, either to find the right career or to set themselves up on their own; individuals in transition due to redundancies, women re-entering the world of work after a break as a carer, and women migrants and refugees may benefit from developing these skills as a path to become economically empowered.
Supporting small businesses throughout their life-cycle: WEI has a sound understanding of the constitution of the small business sector, an in-depth knowledge of the characteristics of small business owners of all types, what motivates them and, critically, what barriers they face when setting up and growing a business.
- Helping institutions embrace entrepreneurialism: Working with university leaders to help them introduce and sustain an enterprising approach in the university is an important way to ensure that they remain relevant to society’s evolving needs.
- Developing the ecosystem and enabling environment: The overall legal and regulatory environment, the business support system, the extent to which entrepreneurship is seen in a positive light and successful role models exist, together with sociocultural issues that influence the role of women in society, all work together to influence how easy or difficult it is for a women to set up and grow a successful business. To improve these elements, WEI works with policy makers to assess the degree to which women entrepreneurs are negatively affected by the environment and make appropriate changes. This support may be provided at any point in the policy making cycle. WEI also helps business support organisations to ensure that their programmes and initiatives are gender sensitive, including private sector organisations such as banks and lawyers, who typically look at the world through a corporate lens and may not be conscious of the specific needs of SME and women entrepreneurs in particular.