The Women's Entrepreneurship Summit (WES), which took place last Friday, represents the first-ever Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) high-level policy and public-private partnership to recognize the important role women play in driving economic growth. The Summit was jointly hosted by the Japanese and U.S. governments -- the APEC Chairs for 2010 and 2011, respectively. In attendance was a talented group of women from across 21 APEC economies, including a venture capitalist from Japan, a second-hand clothing entrepreneur and women's rights activist from Papua New Guinea, and a beauty queen turned media mogul from Malaysia.
The Asia Pacific region's economy is among the world's most dynamic. The 21 economies of the region make up nearly 60 percent of total global economic output. The APEC region is already greatly benefiting from women's economic participation, because the gender gap is narrower here than in other regions. Yet, even here, women's economic potential is still largely untapped. And that is why we have gathered in this unprecedented APEC WES Summit. Women's lack of economic participation is due to a variety of obstacles -- obstacles that a UN agency has calculated cost the Asia-Pacific region between USD 42-46 billion a year in lost GDP.
We all recognize that if the APEC region is to expand and spread the benefits of globalization and inclusive growth more broadly, women must be an important part of the new growth paradigm. In recent years, studies confirm that investing in women is "smart economics," and that gender equality yields higher growth outcomes and lower poverty. The World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report, as well as reports by Goldman Sachs, the World Bank, and Ernst & Young all illustrate how women's economic participation promotes enterprise development at the micro and small and medium enterprise (SME) levels, as well as better business management and returns on investment.
Women's progress is critical to a country's progress, and women's economic participation is critical to economic prosperity. Moreover, women provide a multiplier effect in their economic participation because they invest upwards of 90 percent of their incomes back into their families and communities.
Women still face considerable hurdles when trying to start a new business or expand an existing one beyond a certain revenue mark. Among the biggest are lack of access to training, markets, mentors and networks, as well as the presence of discriminatory laws and regulations such as those that needlessly complicate business entry.
One of the biggest challenges is access to financing. Even where some of the legal and policy barriers are not prominent, lack of access to credit is common in every economy.
Closing the gender gap in economic participation is the best prescription for economic growth. With this Summit, we hope to have established the foundation for post-recession growth, but we cannot tackle that challenge -- and we will not be as successful as we could be -- without unleashing women's economic potential. I am confident that this historic Summit will spark a new commitment to addressing these issues, will open new avenues for collaboration and progress, and will launch structural reforms to increase women's access to education, training, and finance.
For more resources about women in business and about the Summit, please visit their website.