United Nations Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum, Asia-Pacific
Day 1 | 7 June
Inclusive Entrepreneurship for Impact: The role of MSMEs in advancing business and human rights in the Asia-Pacific
As sustainability and ESG have gained prominence as necessary frameworks for resilient and competitive business operations in the Asia-Pacific, the past five years have also seen accelerated commitments from the private sector in the Asia-Pacific to take action on gender equality and women’s empowerment. From 2019-2023, the number of companies in the region becoming signatories to the UN Women and UN Global Compact Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) grew from just below 600 to more than 1,600. In other words, more companies joined in four years than in the previous nine year since the WEPs was established in 2010. However, as stated in UN Women’s 2022 Trends and Opportunities to advance Gender Equality in Business in Asia and the Pacific report, more work is needed to translate commitments into intentional and measurable actions to deliver on gender equality.
While larger corporations and multi-nationals often have dedicated resources and capacity to develop and implement policies and practices to implement for example the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and advancing other frameworks such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), businesses of all size and sector have a role to play. With overall commitment to the WEPs growing, the number of MSMEs signing on has equally increased. Micro, small and medium sized enterprises (companies with 200 or fewer employees) now account for more than 50% of WEPs Signatories in the Asia-Pacific.
MSMEs form the backbone of the Asia-Pacific economy, accounting for 96% of all businesses and two out of three private sector jobs in the region. They are crucial to create a responsible and inclusive economy.
Approximately 60% of MSMEs are owned by women, but the majority are informal microenterprises and struggle to scale up or survive due to gender-specific challenges in accessing finance, technology, business skills and training. Women’s businesses also struggle to access markets needed for business growth and expansion. This is due to a combination of factors, such as their smaller size, position within value and supply chains, and prevailing gender inequalities such as lower access to and proficiency in technology, unconscious bias among investors and limited networking opportunities.
Coordinated, multi-stakeholder action and resources are needed to support women-owned/led MSMEs and unlock their potential to drive inclusive growth. Beyond targeted support to women-owned/led MSMEs, there is also a need to support MSMEs more widely to become inclusive enterprises that advance gender-responsive business conduct and see themselves as responsible parties and contributors to inclusive growth and development to deliver on the SDGs. Alongside the G20 India ‘High Level taskfore to strengthen Gender-Diverse MSMEs in APAC’ was set up and identified 3 key priorities that need to be addressed: ‘Access to Finance and Markets, Digital Inclusion and Transformation and Climate Risk and Adaption. This taskforce is embracing a multi-stakeholder approach to look at these systemic issues.
Larger corporates across industries have a role to play here, for example they can support by increasing action on implementing the WEPs, especially WEPs Principle 5: Enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices. One particular action is to diversify their supply chains through initiatives like gender-responsive procurement (GRP), defined as “The sustainable selection of services, goods, or civil works that considers the impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment.” GRP promotes the principles of buying from women-owned/led businesses (WOBs) to enable their equitable access to markets and buying from gender-responsive enterprises (GREs) in order to create more gender-responsive value chains.
About the session
Supporting women-owned/led, gender-diverse and inclusive businesses to access finance, markets, networks and technical assistance, as well as promoting gender-responsive conduct among the wider MSME landscape, is vital to creating an overall inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem. This session will bring together social enterprises and impact businesses, corporates, investors, and key ecosystem players, inclusive of corporates, investors and others to share insights on the challenges, opportunities and benefits on creating an enabling environment for an inclusive and diverse economy and positioning MSMEs as equal players in advancing the Business and Human Rights agenda through inclusive entrepreneurship and gender-responsive business conduct. The session will share best practices and leave participants with clear recommendations and next steps on what’s needed to support diverse MSMEs to deliver on this potential.
This multi-stakeholder session will bring together entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, and international organizations with the following objectives:
Build an understanding and raise awareness about the importance of gender-inclusive entrepreneurship for delivering on the Business and Human Rights Agenda
Gather insights into the challenges and barriers that especially women-owned/led MSMEs face and the support they need to grow
Raise awareness of what’s needed and what mechanisms currently exist to increase financing for women-owned/led MSMEs
Share examples and best practices of gender-inclusive entrepreneurship for impact
Panelists will reflect on the following questions in relation to the Asia-Pacific region:
What role can impact enterprises, women-owned/led and gender-inclusive MSMEs play in advancing the Business and Human Rights agenda and accelerating sustainable economic growth?
What role do corporates play in advancing / supporting diverse MSMEs?
What needs to be done to drive more capital into the hands of especially women-owned and-led, gender-inclusive and other impact enterprises?