Association of Business Women and Top Managers (AFAFCI), Romania | Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) | Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI)

Association of Business Women and Top Managers (AFAFCI), Romania

Femina VIP

The problem:
The project aimed at changing the attitude of discouragement and insulation that characterizes the women in the local community, increasing their will to participate in the society’s dynamics, changing the mentality regarding women’s place and role in the contemporary society, and promoting women’s capacity to respond to present challenges.

The practice:
The project encompassed five editions, and it was designed as a competition ending with an awards gala for the “Femina Vip” Trophy and other awards. The candidates, women from the local community active in different fields, would fill in a sign-up form, attach other relevant documents attesting their results, and submit them for evaluation. The juries for each category, made of representatives from relevant institutions of that field of activity, would select the top three candidates. All the winners were awarded at a celebration gala. The “Femina Vip” Trophy winner was selected from the first place winners in each category. The winners and their results were promoted in the media (newspaper articles, TV and radio shows), by means of a partnership with all relevant actors in the community (local bodies of government, relevant institutions, media, sponsors). The project was popularized in the media (clips, ads), through press conferences, and informing campaigns and caravans. The necessary funds for each edition were obtained from sponsors.

Why and how the Association of Business Women and Top Managers developed this practice:
The award “Femina Vip” was meant to celebrate women who, through work, passion, perseverance, and talent, have remarkably contributed to the development of the local community. Sensing the need for female role models in the community, the association designed the project in order to bring together all the important actors in a partnership for the benefit of the community. Delegates of the association contacted the local government, relevant institutions, sponsors, and local media for the partnership. The members of the association, local businesswomen and managers, volunteered in this project and in all stages of completion.

Steps and tips for implementing the practice:
An edition has a year long time frame. There should be a partnership agreement between the initiator and various community actors: local authorities, relevant institutions for each selected field of activity, sponsors and media. The project should be announced in a press conference and advertised in the local media, so that possible candidates can learn about it. The candidates, women from the local community active in different fields, should be able to download the sign-up guide and the organizing regulations from the project website, or get them from the initiator’s headquarters. After filling in the form, the candidates should submit it before the deadline. The juries for each field of activity should be formed of representatives of the partners in the agreement to ensure transparency. After consulting the submitted forms, the juries will decide on the top three places. The trophy jury will select the trophy winner from the first place winners of each category. The project should end with an awards gala where all the winners receive diplomas (and optional checks or presents). The gala should continue with a cocktail party as an opportunity to network and socialize. The winners should be promoted in the local community as role models and their remarkable results should be made known.

Results of the practice and applications:
A total of 52 candidates from Brasov County participated in the first edition of “Femina Vip”, from which 12 were nominees. The awards gala took place on December 14, 2001. In the second edition, 54 candidates participated, from which 18 were nominees. The awards gala took place on December 13, 2002. The third edition launched at the beginning of 2004 gathering a larger number of candidates, thus becoming a tradition for the community. A total of 83 candidates from Brasov County participated, from which 21 were nominees. The third awards gala took place on April 16, 2004. The three editions of “Femina Vip” have outlined the creative potential and the team spirit of the women in Brasov County. Moreover, the event proved to be a partnership model between the members of the civil society and the local authorities that advocate for this initiative. The awards gala for the fourth edition took place on October 28, 2005. The monitoring of the 88 candidates was done by specialized juries that at the deadline of the sign up period (September 25th) nominated the candidates with special achievements in the following fields: economic, social, administration, health, education, culture, sports. The fifth edition of the project took place on November 30, 2007, at the Opera House in Brasov. It brought together over 400 people consisting of 76 candidates, sponsors, media, representatives from the local government, important institutions and organizations in Brasov County, and various guests from the whole country. In total, 353 candidates participated in the five editions of the project.

Lessons from the experience:
The attitude of discouragement and insulation that characterizes most of the women in the local community can be changed, their will to participate in the society’s dynamics can be increased, the mentality regarding women’s place and role in the contemporary society can be updated, and women’s capacity to respond to present challenges should be promoted. The respect towards women’s potential can be imposed only by direct competition and such an approach can open new horizons for the society. Moreover, the project is an expression of equal opportunities for the benefit of the society. Women are a potential economic, social and political power that is not yet fully explored. Every community should highlight their feminine role models for the benefit of the present and upcoming generations.

Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW)

Girls' Day Serbia 2012

The problem:
Young women in Serbia are generally well educated and do well in school. However, girls still tend to gravitate disproportionately toward the "typically female" professions, thus leading to an underused pool of talent, missed opportunities for more lucrative career paths, and future economic security for themselves and their families.

The practice:
Girls' Day 2012 was envisioned as a pilot to be used as a basis for organizing Girls' Days in following years and to correspond with similar events already implemented in several European countries.

On April 26, five-hundred 7th and 8th grade girls visited women-owned or managed companies in traditionally "male" fields such as computers/IT, engineering, and science. During the day each girl has a fruitful and stimulating experience that combines mentor shadowing and learning-by-doing opportunities. The girls participate in activities that are typical of the businesswoman's everyday responsibilities with the aim of providing real encounters that will spark interest in the respective field. While the public event took place on one day, ABW spend several months beforehand preparing the girls, teachers, and businesswomen who opened their offices to the visits. Following the event ABW conducted a one month evaluation period in order to see the real impacts and make necessary adjustments for following years.

Why and How ABW developed this practice:
Recent research and practive have demonstrated that the education of girls and employment of women are critical to economic development, active civil society, and good governance. Girls' Day was developed with the aim to 1) achieve gender equality in education and 2) contribute to the improvement of the economic status of women. These are two of the six priority areas for Serbia's National Action Plan for Implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Position of Women and Promotion of Gender Equality, which was adopted in August 2010.

Steps or tips for implementing the practice:
It is crucial to have the active involvement of the target group, their educators, local authorities and private sector volunteers. Furthermore, the girls and their mentors can provide the "human interest" stories to attract widespread media coverage at both the local and national levels which can serve as a backdrop against the very real issues of gender equality and economic opportunities in Serbia.

Essential Steps
  • Layout the criteria for selection and identify towns and companies that are interested in participating.
  • Draft a working plan for promoting the event through local/national media and print materials
  • Send invitation letters to all participants (schools and companies) with recommendations and guidelines of behavior
  • Host a briefing session with students, school representatives, and companies to review the aims and objectives of the event as well as their individual responsibilities
  • Hold press conferences or similar public events the day of the event to draw more attention.

In addition to representing the first time young girls in Serbia had the opportunity to visit companies and learn about daily operations in non-typical female professions, Girls' Day introduced the opportunity for schools to develop relationships with local companies and business leaders. Combined with the links that have been made with local business associations and chambers of commerce, the way for continued cooperation beyond this project has been paved.

According to written evaluations administered to the participants of Girls' Day events:
  • Approximately 500 young women from 62 schools in 23 towns visited 58 women-owned or managed companies throughout the country.
  • 70% confirm their interest raised for math, science, engineering and ICT as a personal career option.
  • 100% of the participating businesswomen assess the action as positive and are interested in its continuation in the upcoming years
  • Media coverage exceeded our expectations - over 60 announcements in print, TV, digital media, radio

Lessons learned and challenges faced:
A major challenge was ensuring the participation of schools and companies. We decided to transform these challenges into success factors by working with our members who are interested in corporate social responsibility and with local coordinators who assisted with the identification, recruitment and selection of schools and companies who would be most engaged to the Girls’ Day concept. This dual approach paid off; over half of the participating businesswomen were members of ABW, and there was a 100% response rate to the letters of invitation, i.e. no companies refused to participate. Further relevant lessons learned include:
  • Training sessions for school officials, teachers, pupils, and businesswomen enhanced the Girls’ Day experience for all.
  • Social media was key (Facebook page, Youtube videos) and will continue existing communication and PR about this and future events.
  • Matching the pupils with businesswomen from their local communities was essential for the Girls’ Day visits and, more importantly, for the sustainability of the project’s impact.

Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI)

Engaging Women Entrepreneurs in Policy Advocacy

The problem:
In Bangladesh when a woman wanted to grow her business beyond micro and wanted to enter the formal market by taking bank loans, it was becoming impossible because of collateral and high rate of interest. Banks used to refuse to give loans and policy makers were not aware and serious about this issue.

The practice:
The key intention of this practice was to identify the right allies at the policy level and advocating with the policy makers to formulate laws and regulations that encourage more women to enter and grow into the SME sector. Meeting with policy makers was an effective process to bring the locally insoluble common issues of women entrepreneurs to the respective central authority and make them responsive towards undertaking positive steps for better solutions. In order to address the issues of creating easier access of women entrepreneurs to finance, BWCCI conducted massive advocacy with policy makers and implementers. Regular meetings, dialogues with policy makers by the advocacy team and sharing the crucial issues of women entrepreneurship development, BWCCI felt a need to incorporate a separate policy so that banks and financial institutions can provide easy access to credit support to women entrepreneurs which was also endorsed by the policy makers. In this respect, BWCCI advocated with the central management of the Bank as well as the Bangladesh Bank through focus group discussions, seminars, workshops, issue brief submission, advocacy meetings, etc. As a result, Bangladesh Bank issued circulars one by one for the convenience of women entrepreneurs which were duly influenced by BWCCI project activities.

Why and how the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry developed this practice:
BWCCI conducted research on a situation analysis of women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. Based on the findings access to finance was the burning issue for the women entrepreneurs’ development.

Under the dynamic leadership of the president, the BWCCI team implemented the practices in the following ways:
  • Analyzed the situation and researched the existing policies. Identified key policymakers as well as stakeholders.
  • Developed a Women’s National Business Agenda
  • Organized workshops, seminars, roundtable meetings on the issue
  • Assessed the current practices by banks once several circulars were issued by Bangladesh Bank regarding easy access to finance for women entrepreneurs.

Steps and tips for implementing the practice:
Women in Bangladesh are marginalized and find themselves without a voice in the democratic process facing many barriers to entry when attempting to start and grow business, including cultural and social taboos, regulatory obstacles. In order to address these problems, BWCCI worked with CIPE across the country bringing all women together to advocate for specific needs. In this process, BWCCI by building a coalition initiated the Women’s National Business Agenda (WNBA) in its 2008 project with CIPE.

The WNBA identified a) social barriers b) capacity building and training and c) financial barriers. Although Bangladesh Bank issued a circular in 2007 regarding easy access to finance for women entrepreneurs, bankers did not implement the same. In this respect, BWCCI continued advocacy activities through maintaining interpersonal relationships with key policymakers and identifying the right ally which is Bangladesh Bank to achieve the ultimate goal. With this end in view, the following steps were followed:
  • Organized project orientation meetings with board and staff
  • Organized project orientation meetings with general members
  • Organized project launching ceremony
  • Conducted advocacy meetings with the policymakers and key public institutions
  • Organized coalition meetings
  • Organized press workshops
  • Organized divisional and national seminars/workshops
  • Organized roundtable meetings on the Budget
  • Organized focus group discussions. Visited with advocacy team to different banks including Bangladesh Bank Governor
  • Produced situation analysis report
  • Assessed the current practices adopted by schedule commercial banks and non-banking financial institutions identified by Bangladesh Bank to comply with the women friendly business environment in Bangladesh.

Results of the practice and applications:
The actual results of the practice are:
  • The policy makers participated actively in the advocacy events;
  • The policy makers were influenced and committed based on the demand of project beneficiaries;
  • Relevant Government authorities became responsive and understand the need and urgency of the access to credit for women entrepreneurs;
  • Bangladesh Bank issued circulars under the refinancing scheme for women entrepreneurs:
    • ACSPD Circular No. 06, dated 05/05/08- Of total SME refinance fund, 15% must compulsorily be allocated to women entrepreneurs;
    • ACSPD Circular No. 01, dated 07/02/07- Interest rate will be maximum 10% (Bank rate+5%);
    • ACSPD Circular No. 02, dated 02/03/09- Refinance claim by Banks & NBFIs to BB will be considered if 10% of their total SME loan is disbursed to women entrepreneurs;
    • All Banks & NBFIs have been directed to set up a Women Entrepreneur's Dedicated Desk and they can disburse up to Tk. 25.00 Lac (35,000 US$) against personal guarantee without collateral security;
    • SME Credit Policy & Program has been announced on March 25, 2010.

The Banks and the NBFIs are currently responding favorably to the Government initiatives towards channeling more funds to the SME sector as conduits for employment generation and poverty alleviation. Many banks have developed new products and services only targeting women entrepreneurs. As of June 2009, the share of SME loans to total outstanding bank loans stood at nearly 22%, rising from 10.9% in June 2006 and registering an annual average yearly growth of 26% during the three year periods.

Lessons from the experience:
  • Identifying key persons/players is important for making the advocacy effort successful;
  • Continuous collective initiatives and advocacy intervention are very helpful in bringing positive changes in the intended areas;
  • Regular formal and informal discussions are very effective ways to reach the target audience like policymakers;
  • Positive image of an organization can be used as a vital influential tool to persuade policymakers in making decisions;
  • Having continuous and good relations with policymakers is an effective tool to involve them in achieving the target;
  • Mutual understanding between initiators and policymakers brings success effectively.

Engaging Women Entrepreneurs in Anti-corruption Reform Efforts

The Problem​:
Since women often face social, cultural, political and institutional discrimination, it is likely that women will face even more repression in a corruption-ridden society. In Bangladesh, corruption is one of the key impediments to the empowerment of women and one of the central barriers that obstructs the growth of women entrepreneurship.

The practice:
BWCCI initiated this program in order to identify the right allies at the policy level and further advocate the formulation of laws and regulations that would help generate a women-friendly business environment free of corruption. Meeting with policy makers was an effective process to bring the locally insoluble common issues of women entrepreneurs to the respective central authority and make them responsive towards undertaking steps for better solutions. By conducting regular meetings with women entrepreneurs and policy makers BWCCI effectively created a new platform from which both parties are able to share and discuss crucial issues of developing women's entrepreneurship. Through the process, female entrepreneurs developed good relationships with bankers, trade license providers, the National Board of Revenue, and journalists. Together the women entrepreneurs and relevant stakeholders were able to discover the roots and depth of corruption in Bangladeshi systems and have come forward to reduce corruption in the business environment.

In addition to hosting discussions and building relationships, BWCCI built awareness and understanding of business related issues among women entrepreneurs. By holding budget workshops, advocacy training sessions, and seminars on various issues, BWCCI instructed women on how to identify if they are receiving the services to which they are entitled. They also instituted an anti-corruption hotline that women can when they feel they are being denied services because of corruption.

How and Why BWCCI developed this practice:
Women in Bangladesh are often marginalized and find themselves without a voice in the democratic process. Because of this they face many barriers to entry when attempting to start and grow a business including cultural and social taboos, regulatory obstacles, and lack of capacity to advocate effectively for change. Still being courageous, when some of them step into the arena of business, corruption holds them back. In 2010, BWCCI conducted a study on “The Impact of Corruption on Women Entrepreneurs" that showed areas of significant corruption faced by women entrepreneurs are:
  • Trade license (37%)
  • Tax ID Number (33%)
  • Utility Payment (25%)
  • Access to credit (20%)
  • VAT payment (16%).

Realizing how corruption is having a negative impact on women entrepreneurs, BWCCI has undertaken a project named “Engaging Women Entrepreneurs in Anti-Corruption Reform Efforts” in collaboration with USAID-PROGATI since 2009 to provide women entrepreneurs with the skills and information necessary to avoid corruption and advocate for new policies required to prevent corruption.

Steps and tips for implementing the practice:
  • Analyze the current practices of service providers and research existing policies
  • Identify the key policy makers and stakeholders who have influence over policies that need to be addressed
  • Create smaller working groups with different stakeholders to concentrate on specific issues
  • Ensure there is oversight when it comes to implementing the commitments made by different policy makers

  • The Finance Minister committed to establishing women dedicated desks at National Board of Revenue offices and fulfilled his promise
  • Several city mayors committed to providing oversight to stamp out corruption in the processing of trade licenses resulting in a reduction in the number of incidents
  • The Tax Commissioner of all districts opined to assist directly in processing VAT/tax without corruption
  • Members of parliament have given commitment to raise their voice in line with proposals from BWCCI
  • All banks and NBFIs have been directed to establish "Women Entrepreneur's Dedicated Desks" to help women with loan processing and other banking issues.

Lessons learned and challenges faced:
  • Identifying key persons/players is vital to making the advocacy effort successful
  • Continuous collective initiatives are are very helpful in bringing positive changes in the intended areas
  • Maintaining a positive image is a vital tool in persuading policy makers
  • Ensuring mutual understanding between initiators and policy makers brings success

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