Female Entrepreneurship Creates Tailwind for Economic Growth: Interview with Sandhya Devanathan, Country Head of Facebook Singapore

 40% of Pages on Facebook are women-owned, and women-owned Pages have grown more than 60% year-on-year. In Singapore, there has been a 60% increase in the number of new women-owned small to medium business Pages on Facebook in the last year.

-1 in 2 women want to start their own business

-Potential to create 42,700 new businesses and support 178,000 additional jobs Facebook remains committed to #SheMeansBusiness

According to a press release by Facebook, Singapore is missing out on a potential boost to the economy by not addressing the challenges facing women who want to start a business.

The study, conducted by Development Economics and YouGov on behalf of Facebook, reveals that one in two women:

[1] in Singapore would like to start a business. If just 14 percent [2] were empowered to start a business today, it would not only boost economic growth, but help to build 42,700 new businesses, and create 178,000 additional jobs – all by the end of 2021.

However, women entrepreneurs still face specific, persistent barriers, from access to finance to self-belief to readiness to set up their own business. In Singapore, women respondents identified their worry about personal financial security (42 percent) as the main barrier to starting their own business. Facebook’s research showed that the lack of access to finance (39 percent), and the level of readiness to start a business (41 percent) [3] are the other key barriers; coming in more strongly for women aged between 18 and 24 and holding them back from taking the leap.

Interestingly, small businesses on Facebook tell a different story – 40% of Pages on Facebook are women-owned, and women-owned Pages have grown more than 60% year-on-year.

In Singapore, there has been a 60% increase in the number of new women-owned small to medium business Pages on Facebook in the last year.

Singapore is well positioned on a global landscape for women-owned businesses to thrive and is an exceptional example to Asia of the great contribution women bring to the economic growth of a nation.

Sandhya Devanathan, country head for Facebook Singapore said: “Small businesses already make a huge contribution to Asia’s economies. 97 percent of businesses are Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) and employ over half of the region’s workforce. If we were to harness the still largely untapped potential of women’s entrepreneurship and provide them greater support, it could lead to more jobs being created, economic growth and more diverse and representative small business communities.”

“At Facebook, we are committed to creating an environment that supports women entrepreneurs; working to close the gap on the untapped opportunity for millions of women; and to welcome a new era in women’s entrepreneurship for Asia. We remain committed and invested in our #SheMeansBusiness initiative, and will continue to work with our key partners and experts to create learning and skills opportunities to support women entrepreneurs as we strive to create a level playing field for their businesses to thrive.”

Encouraging women entrepreneurs to take the next step is possible by offering support and advice financially (64 percent). Aside from that, women surveyed said they are likely to benefit from the following:

-Support and advice on understanding, reaching and attracting customers (54 percent)

-Network/ community of support and advice (49 percent)

-Practical support including business and digital skills workshops (47 percent)76 percent of women surveyed also agree that having access to the right digital tools and support would help them get their business off the ground. That is why Facebook is partnering with organisations who have expertise in this area, to provide advice, knowledge and tools to help give more women across the country the practical support they say they need including:

On International Women’s Day, Facebook reaffirmed its commitment to the women entrepreneurs of Asia. Playing host to women entrepreneurs and small business owners in Singapore, guest were invited to the participate in a panel session involving Tan Peck Ying, Co- founder, the pslove company, Natalya Twohill, Founder, Kiddet, Sharon Neo, Founder, Digital Influence Lab and Eileen Chan, Co-founder, BOLT.

As part of this special day, Facebook created 24-Hours of Live conversations of inspiring voices around the world, including key leadership, public figures and communities. The ultimate goal being to inspire and impart knowledge through these conversations. Using Facebook Live, each person that participates will have the potential to reach new audiences through a digital pre- promotion campaign, and Facebook’s global event schedule will direct viewers to the participating Pages.

Join the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/girlsintechsg.

Access the resources, tools and get inspired at shemeansbusiness.fb.com.

Through a series of workshops, training sessions and online resources, #SheMeansBusiness hope to arm women entrepreneurs with the knowledge, connections, skills and technology required to build and grow their business online.

 LadyBoss spoke to Sandhya Devanathan, Country Head of Facebook Singapore on the #SheMeansBusiness movement and how Facebook aims to be the bridge between technology and women entrepreneurs. 

“Real appetite” for #SheMeansBusiness

Globally, 65 million Facebook pages on Facebook are owned by small businesses – of which a whopping 40% operated by women entrepreneurs. In APAC, Facebook see a 90% increase and in South East Asia specifically in Singapore, Facebook see a 60% increase in women entrepreneurs on Facebook. Sandhya noted that “going mobile and mobile first” is a strategy for small businesses to thrive.

Knowing the challenges that women entrepreneur face from the research, Sandhya Devanathan noted that “Facebook is the place for women who wants to grow their business, but many times you (women entrepreneurs) don’t have the resources and the support to do that and that’s what we hope to do with the program”. She added that Facebook is keen on helping small companies, “not just large companies, Facebook wants to help women become successful entrepreneurs”.

When asked how the movement spread around the world, Sandhya said, “It has done really well in terms of the scope and the breath that what we have achieved. But more than that, it has built a network of women entrepreneurs and support system that we hope to keep investing in women to start their own business and grow and scale it.” The movement has spread globally especially during International Women’s Day. In short, 8000 women entrepreneurs have been involved in #SheMeansBusiness in 15 different markets with more than 50,ooo trained online.

“We think about the mission of Facebook and that’s something I feel passionately about. We want to make the world more open and connected and we want to give people a part to share – empowering communities economically as well, and women are central to that. It fits very nicely with our mission and we see many women-led initiatives”, Sandhya commented on how #SheMeansBusiness is inline with Facebook’s mission to get people connected.

Bright future for women entrepreneurs in Asia 

“The future is super bright! South East Asia (SEA) is where there is great fast growing economies, terrific demographic dividends. The conditions are right for women to do well in SEA. I see a lot of emerging trends that are SEA-led,” said Sandhya.

One example is Instagram commerce in Indonesia where people setting up shops and selling products, is happening in SEA and we do not see the same trend happening in China and U.S. She added “I see a groundswell of entrepreneurship in the region using digital platform.”

“We find that this is a thriving community of women who are starting their businesses on Facebook and the underlying trend of the world going mobile is very much at play here and Facebook is at the fore front of the mobile first revolution,” said Sandhya.

Digital is a great equaliser to help women succeed using digital tools, business resources and networking that is at play to support women is the purpose of #SheMeansBusiness. That being said, it would raise the standards of women entrepreneurship in Asia to the next level.

Role models to nurture a generation of women entrepreneurs 

So, how can women be inspired to take on the path of being an entrepreneur?

Sandhya replied, “More role modelling. We need women who become successful women entrepreneurs to talk about their journey, challenges and opportunities. If you look at what’s happening on the funding side, there is more access to financial resources than there was before.”

She added, “Having small medium businesses run by women is good for society … shining the light on success stories and having role models for young girls to look up to something for the young to aspire to.”

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