Singapore is synonymous with unparalleled, inclusive growth in Asia. The city-state ranks the highest among its Asian peers in the UN Human Development Index. The underdeveloped and developing economies in its vicinity have a lot to learn and replicate from the island country that gained independence from the imperialist rulers in 1963 but emerged as a regional powerhouse in a short period.
Much has been attained since then, and the nation is well-regarded in the international community for its phenomenal economic growth and high standards of living. Besides Singapore’s banking institutions that have enabled it to become a global financial hub and other large industries, the role of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the progress of Singapore’s socio-economic landscape cannot be downplayed.These enterprises contribute half the gross domestic product (GDP) of Singapore and the employment opportunities they create in this course sustains much of domestic consumption and socio-political harmony. However, when we look at gender parity, the real situation is alarming.
Findings from the ‘Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index 2019’
A look at the recently released Dell Women Entrepreneur Cities Index gives an insight into how Singapore places trust in women entrepreneurs and rolls out the red carpet for them.
The study conducted by IHS Markit reveals how major cities in countries across the world attract and back their women. Today, when economists and financial analysts have reached a consensus that much of 21st century development depends on the role and participation of women, this study must find many takers.
The top 20 places have been occupied by non-Asian cities, with San Francisco Bay Area topping the chart, followed by New York and other North American and European cities. The silver lining for Asia is that Singapore has landed the 21st place in the Index, with a few other Asian cities including Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, and New Delhi also joining ranks, albeit at lower levels.
Notably, the survey has ranked cities based on multiple parameters, such as:3
- Access to Capital
- Technological Advancement
- Cultural Aspects
The study vindicates Singapore’s pledge towards supporting women-led enterprises; however, it also reveals the bias against women prevalent in most of Asia. Significant economies, including China, Japan, and India may have posted substantial GDP numbers, but their cities have not fared well in terms of empowering women entrepreneurs.
Singapore saves face, but the rankings are relative, not absolute, and hence, it can say that Singapore has a lot to achieve concerning facilitating women who possess all the capabilities. They are equal to and in many cases, higher than their male counterparts and await only some affirmative actions from their government to demonstrate their actual worth.
Let’s find out what the survey speaks about Singapore’s women entrepreneurs and what can be the most appropriate future course of action.
Twenty cities ahead of Singapore in Women Entrepreneur Cities Index 2019 call for the attention of the state. One must also note that the city-state’s ranking on the capital parameter is 25, and some points are genuinely an eye-opener. There are very few female founders, and access to crowdfunding is minimal for women entrepreneurs. However, cities above Singapore in the ranking fared well in terms of venture capital funding to women promoters; the saving grace is that Singapore is improving on this count, however, not with the expected pace. Gender pay parity also remains a concern in Singapore, and boards of companies are short of women members.
At an event hosted by IFC’s Country Manager for Singapore, Rana Karadsheh, Josephine Teo, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State, mentions:
There’s been good progress but it’s clearly uneven and many women continue to operate in difficult circumstances.
Women are still at a disadvantage when compared to their male courterparts, despite corporate polices framed to achieve gender parity.
The findings inexplicitly reveal that though MSMEs are the backbone of Singapore’s exports, and much of the economic prosperity relies on the sector. Further gains can be expected only once competent women entrepreneurs find it easy to execute their dreams and put creativity and vision to use.
The Case for Promoting Women Entrepreneurship
The world is striving hard to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and there are many ‘goals’ that have a direct bearing on the cause of women. For instance, the 5th target entails ‘gender equality,’ the 8th target talks of ‘full and productive employment and decent work for all’ and the 10th target talks of ‘reducing inequalities’.
While all these goals have to be construed in the broader sense and inequalities pertaining to faith, class and race have all to be eradicated, it is the inequality with respect to gender that can be attained expeditiously with only a few policy measures. Prejudice concerning faith, class, and race is more often than not deep-rooted and the rise of right-wing, inward-looking and ultra-nationalist political parties across the world, both in developing as well as developed countries, is delaying meaningful progress in this regard.
By contrast, eliminating gender inequality is natural and brings with it significant economic sense. The best part is that there are no vested interests of politicians that can come in the way of this policy action. Economies take a blow of some 15 percent of GDP due to gender gaps, as per United Nations report. For UN members like Singapore, progress in this facet is comparatively stress-free as it is not among those 104 economies (out of total 189) where laws stop women from participating in particular job sectors.
Can an economy like Singapore benefit enormously by promoting women entrepreneurs?
Yes, it will, because it has already made strides on such fundamental issues like having laws for preventing sexual harassment at the workplace (almost 60 economies across the globe still don’t have one). The liberal mindset of the general public doesn’t place any obstacle in the way of women stepping out of their homes and setting up new enterprises (sadly, husbands in 18 economies can still stop their wives from working).
Why it’s Accessible and Attainable for Singapore
China is on its way to dislodge the United States and become world’s largest economy. Asian economies will lead the global economic growth in the 21st century. Singapore may not have the capacity to become the world’s largest economy, owing to its limited land and natural resources. However, Singapore can surely outshine North American and European cities in the upcoming editions of Women Entrepreneur Cities Index on almost all parameters, especially access to capital.
Singapore has topped in OECD’s education rankings, the students have outperformed all in PISA and TIMSS, the unemployment rate is the lowest among developed economies, and Singapore sets an ambitious but achievable target for countries with extremely high population density. Yields, once women are given ample space to spread their wings, will be unprecedented, unlimited.
Singapore has virtually all the means needed to attain UN Sustainable Development Goals, and with many goals out of total 17 related directly or indirectly with the women cause, we know where the emphasis must be.
Lastly, it may be needless to mention some of the shining examples of women-led enterprises but those defying all odds and emerging as winners deserve appreciation. The list is not exhaustive and we are sure it can never be. From Krystal Choo (founder of Wander, a platform that connects like-minded people) and Ayesha Khanna (co-founder of artificial intelligence startup, ADDO) to Soo Boon Koh (Founder & Managing Director – iGlobe Group, Venture Capital Company) and Danielle Warner (founder of insurance intermediary, Expat Insurance), the list takes immense pride in all the names that shattered the glass ceiling and surpassed their male peers. With the focus on further lifting the spirits of entrepreneurship in the women of Singapore, the government can soon make it to the top of the Women Entrepreneur Cities Index 2019.