Supporting Women and Youth Entrepreneurs


The present crisis has made it clear that access to and benefit from entrepreneurship is not equitably distributed. Women and youth entrepreneurs, among other groups such as rural communities and Indigenous peoples, experience distinct barriers to success in entrepreneurship, which then require targeted and informed solutions. These barriers can greatly impact the capacity of entrepreneurs and their MSME in areas such as financing and market access. 

Guiding questions: 

  • What distinct challenges do women and youth face in entrepreneurship? 

  • How can MSMEs, financial institutions, large companies, governments, and civil society work together to ensure the inclusion of women and youth-owned and -led enterprises in post-pandemic economic recovery efforts?


Image1. Importance of mentorship programs 

A vital tool for encouraging women and youth, among other groups, to participate in entrepreneurship is mentorship and upskilling opportunities that are tailored to individuals’ needs. It may be difficult for women and youth to seek opportunities for entrepreneurial skills development, and a tailored mentorship program that matches industry leaders and experienced business owners to mentees can provide the necessary boost they need.  

Mentorship programs provide a unique opportunity for participants to not only build business skills and improve their enterprise’s performance, but also expand their professional networks and boost their confidence as entrepreneurs. Our virtual mentorship program for women entrepreneurs, conducted in collaboration with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, can provide a useful model for what these programs can look like.  

Best practises for these mentorship programs include the following: 

  • A well-researched and intentional matching process to pair prospective mentees and available mentors.  

  • Identification of mentees’ goals and needs, to shape the mentorship experience according to outcomes determined by the mentee and mentor.  

  • If possible, incorporate a virtual model, which allows flexibility for mentees and mentors to conduct meetings and training according to their schedules. If incorporating a virtual model, considerations of access to internet and devices must be included.  

Mentorship programs can also benefit from collaborative partnerships with NGOs, businesses, academic institutions, government actors, and other relevant stakeholders, that already have in-economy mentorship or upskilling programs.  

In addition to mentorship programs, government and business actors must also ensure that women and youth entrepreneurs have access to broader capacity-building opportunities. These should ideally include opportunities for upskilling, building peer and resource networks, and networking with peer and established business leaders. 

Image2. Fostering opportunities, networks and knowledge hubs  

Different government and civil society organizations can take part in fostering opportunities, networks and knowledge hubs for women and youth entrepreneurs and advocate for women’s economic empowerment and closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship in national, regional and international policy platforms. 

From a high-level policy perspective, it is vital that policymakers emphasize principles of inclusion and gender mainstreaming at the core of national innovation agendas and relevant policies and legislation pertaining to MSME capacity building. In doing so, efforts to include and promote women and youth entrepreneurship can become central concerns starting from the inception of MSME policies and programming.  

In turn, it is also crucial to include an intentional gender-lens in post-pandemic recovery policies, to ensure that the needs of women entrepreneurs are integrated in post-COVID-19 recovery packages. These recovery policies must also include specific calls on access to finance and social protection, as well as strong policy and economic packages to support women and youth entrepreneurs.  

High-level policy makers must work with existing grassroots initiatives and efforts to encourage women and youth to participate in entrepreneurship. This can look like collaborations with local partners, funding of partners’ initiatives, and dissemination of the upskilling opportunities offered by these partners. Furthermore, access of women and women entrepreneurs to relevant policy-making platforms and decision-making bodies is critical and both national, regional and international policy fora should engage regularly and directly with women entrepreneurs and their associations.  

For example, previous research has suggested to strengthen cross-Pacific bonds between Canadian and Asia Pacific businesses and entrepreneurs. The implementation of this large goal would require the interplay and collaboration of various bodies: 

  • On a policy level, policymakers must create the conditions to build more active ties between accelerators and incubators in Canada and in other Asia Pacific economies, such as by building favourable exporting conditions and implementing business visas.  

  • Policy makers also have a critical role in advocating for women’s economic empowerment and actively tackling barriers faced by women and youth entrepreneurs – such as limited access to finance and markets, negative stereotypes about women and youth entrepreneurs, discriminatory laws – through policy making both nationally, regionally and through global institutions.  

  • On an education level, universities and colleges can conduct global internships and exchanges for entrepreneurially focused youth, to gain experience abroad.  

  • The business community itself can also provide internship opportunities, in addition to mentorship and upskilling.

Image3. Strengthening existing inclusion and gender-focused initiatives 

In implementing MSME capacity-building activities, it is important that gender and youth-focused efforts start with supporting and building upon existing grassroots efforts by a wide range of stakeholders including private sector, financial institutions, governments, international partners such as the UN and World Bank and civil society. This ensures that work to promote the inclusion of women and youth entrepreneurs is not replicated, but is strengthened in a coordinated and strategic way.  

For example, in Peru, our national surveys were reviewed with relevant government organizations, such as the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, in order to ensure that disaggregated data collection captures issues that are pertinent specifically to Peruvian women entrepreneurs.  

In Indonesia, our researchers consulted with relevant government bodies, including members in the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, to ensure that national survey and research work under the thematic area of “human capital” draws attention to efforts to eliminate violence and issues of sexual harassment in the workplace.   

The benefits of working with existing government, academic, and NGO initiatives, among other potential stakeholder bodies, can include the following: 

  • Ensuring that the landscape of national gender and youth issues is understood before planning and undertaking activities, in order to strengthen existing initiatives and not replicate existing work. Ensure that this work is based on internationally recognized human rights, including women’s rights.  

  • Pre-programming consultation can focus on discussions guided by and for women and youth entrepreneurs, about the existing resources and support networks available for these groups, and how they can be expanded on and complemented by project activities.

Policy actions for supporting women and youth entrepreneurs

  1. Ensure that women and youth entrepreneurs are able to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic through the creation of fiscal support packages designed to support women- and youth-owned enterprises. 

  1. Tackle legal and policy barriers undermining women’s economic empowerment and fuelling the gender gap in entrepreneurship. Support urgent review and repealing of policy and legislation that is discriminating against women entrepreneurs or undermining their business success.  

  1. Ensure women entrepreneurs’ access to finance by increasing their access to government contract opportunities and create gender-inclusive public procurement policies which set aside a percentage of procurement for women-owned enterprises. Furthermore, focus on designing more suitable and accessible investment and financing products for women and youth entrepreneurs and factor women into the design stage of all investment products.  

  1. Take urgent action to eliminate gender stereotypes by supporting, joining and funding campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes and negative social norms.  

  1. Recognize and address unpaid care work – collect data and evidence on unpaid care and domestic work and use the data to devise relevant, gender-sensitive policies in consultation with local women’s rights organizations.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Professional development opportunities: Provide women and youth with targeted digital upskilling opportunities and funding mechanisms tailored for the needs of their businesses. Existing policies towards interventions should become more focused on the skills development and capacity building of women- and youth-led MSMEs, particularly for MSME digitalization. 

  1. Fostering networks for women and youth entrepreneurs: Invest in entrepreneurial support networks for women and youth, mainly to improve women’s participation in the workforce, in leadership positions and in all levels of decision-making. These networks have the potential to help women and youth more effectively use technology, respond to security concerns, gain financial literacy, and take advantage of opportunities for interaction and sharing of best practices, provided there is mentorship and resources invested into these networks. 

  1. Targeted solutions with disaggregated data: Advance women and youth economic empowerment through disaggregated data collection, language accessibility and locally contextualized information, as integral components of policymaking and research projects. 

Relevant Policies

Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+), Government of Canada: A government of Canada initiative to assess how different women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. 

APEC Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy (PPWE): APEC initiative that aims to advance economic integration of women in the APEC region and to coordinate gender activities across other APEC working groups. 

APEC La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth (2019-2030): APEC Roadmap aiming to provide direction and catalyze policy actions across APEC that will drive greater inclusive development and participation of women in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Sustainable Development Goal #5 on Gender Equality: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” 

Canada-Chile Trade and Gender Chapter: An example of gender-based analysis incorporated into a bilateral trade agreement between APEC economies. 

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