2014 – Year of Women Social Entrepreneurs

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The International Women’s Day is quickly approaching and it seems kind of obvious to post something related to it on the blog… I would like to dedicate this post to the subject of women and social entrepreneurship, starting to highlight that Woman2Woman Networking has chosen ‘Women and Social Entrepreneurship’ as the theme of this year. ‘Year’, exactly, because women’s advancement and empowerment cannot be achieved in a single day only, contrariwise it requires a constant effort in the form of advocacy work and training of women and men around the planet.

In a way I feel privileged to live in this era… I learned in my career and later on experienced it in life that crisis is always synonymous of opportunity, and looking at the current state of the world it seems that there are out there many opportunities just waiting to be seen and understood. These opportunities must be explored and enhanced by women and men of all ages and everywhere. For instance the failure of capitalism, that seems to be self-evident at this stage, creates a gap that can be filled in with much more human and social concerned systems which also cares for nature and environment.

This brings us up to the social entrepreneurship field where many thousands of people are already active and leading sustainable processes of change that not only generate profits but above all generate social and human value.

And what is the role of women in social entrepreneurship? Women appear as both active players and subjects of social entrepreneurship initiatives. But seriously, women want to be players more than ‘just’ subjects of these kind of initiatives. It is enough of micro-loans to support women economical independence, not that they are not important, but the point is that they are not enough. Have you ever noticed that the concept of ‘micro’ is systematically associated to women? Women want to be creators of change, not kept trapped into ‘micro-initiatives’ that they are taught to appreciate and value, because equality needs time… And therefore women wait. Moreover very often these micro-loan opportunities are just subtle ways to exploring women’s equality movements to still enrich banks and make the feminist movement part of capitalistic exploitation. If you’re interested to know more about this topic I invite you to read the article of Lilijana Burcar entitled ‘Capitalist agendas of co-optation that feminism must avoid to remain a socially engaged force’*.

Therefore ‘women as players of social entrepreneurship’ is the proposal of W2WN for this year 2014. I am convinced women have a lot to say on this regard and they must be encouraged more and more to start up their own social entrepreneurship initiatives. Women constitute half of the world population and therefore they have the right to have a say on what is going on. Moreover, they have competences and values that must become part of the social entrepreneurship movement. And talking about competences I would like to stress the importance of leadership as an essential component of the social entrepreneur profile.

What about women and leadership? Gender stereotypes tell us that these two dimensions are not positively related, as women are often expected to be lead and to be passive. Leadership could not be further from this… The consequences are many and unfortunately these stereotypes generate gender based discrimination in the working sphere, at economic level, and so on. For instance, women who aim to be leaders find themselves without appropriate role models, apart from the masculine one, and thus they also lack the relevant skills.

Whenever women adopt the masculine leadership models they often find themselves in difficult situations. Evidence shows that women managers are less likable than their male counterparts and they are often seen as aggressive.

Another interesting aspect that is worth mention is the way women see themselves. As the social expectations on women are interiorised they tend to feel it difficult to project themselves on the entrepreneurship field and lack the self-confidence to jump in.

In such a male dominated field, as in many other, women need to struggle to find a place and a personal way of being and doing. These contextual factors are not of less importance as for instance women who aim to adopt an alternative leading style may find it difficult to be respected and to create a spot for themselves. And it is exactly for all these reasons that it is crucial to have more women social entrepreneurs. Their active influence in the sector is certainly a move towards the necessary change we need nowadays. Being aware of the various aspects just mentioned, as well as other not described here, is a first step towards a more active participation of women in the social entrepreneurship field. Another one is to identify positive role models to follow that differ from the traditional (masculine) model. Awareness must be followed by training and practice aimed to acquire the relevant competences.

There are already many women out there who are fantastic leaders and social entrepreneurs. Their actions and initiatives are at the cornerstone of women’s rights, because human rights are for all and it is a right of women to choose who and how they want to be, as it is a right to live in a better world, that certainly women have the competences and the power to build!

* Burcar, Lilijana. “Capitalist agendas of co-optation that feminism must avoid to remain a socially engaged force.” Democracy in Crisis: The Dynamics of Civil Protest and Civil Resistance. Bert Preiss & Claudia Brunner. Viena: LIT, 2013, 111-134.

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