Why the world will #hearhervoice

Female entrepreneurs in emerging markets represent a bold new voice that needs to be heard. These women are creating business out of necessity and –enabled by technology –are disrupting the traditional roles of women, changing the dynamics of rural and urban communities. Their growing presence in developing markets has propelled #hearhervoice from its nascent launch at Cannes Lions 2016 to Spikes Asia and SXSW –and we’re just getting started.

Our industry has seen vast amounts of change driven by technology and the evolution of the digital economy. This conversation, led by research, opens some really important social and business opportunities to lead innovation and development programs, empowering and supporting these women and their communities all over the world. From Facebook’s She Means Business organization, designed to enable female entrepreneurs to Google’s Next Billions Users and Android One initiatives, aimed at opening up the wealth of the internet to everyone –there are exciting programs with huge implications already in development.

We took a step back and asked, what can we do as marketers, and how do we engage the right people to help drive this change, responsibly?

Being based in Asia for so long, I have seen first-hand some of the challenges women in emerging markets face. Stretching from the tangible, such as not having access to internet, to the cultural; not being able to open a bank account unless a male relative is a co-signatory.

With close to 80% of the global middle class living outside of the developed world by 2030, it is imperative we place a greater emphasis on emerging markets. As Dentsu Aegis Network, we need to have a clear position on our role as a business and at the same time, take responsibility as individuals for driving change. #Hearhervoice has become a platform connecting people to drive advocacy and support for an emerging powerhouse of female entrepreneurs.

In 2016, Dentsu Aegis Network commissioned a bespoke research project to better understand these female founders. We interviewed over 2,000 entrepreneurs across five markets in South East Asia and uncovered some powerful insights. 93% of female entrepreneurs we interviewed claim that technology has positively transformed their business opportunity; 83% are now galvanizing their businesses through social media and one third rely on PayPal to mobilise their business transactions. While it was brilliant to see digital technology shifting the traditional paths to success for these women, our research found that female founders are less risk adverse and more self-reliant at the start of their ventures. Subsequently, they are funding the set-up of their own businesses, with as little as 10% applying to professional or financial institutions for their initial investment. 

It was clear that our role could really be influential in providing access and support.

What we do to support female entrepreneurs in emerging markets today, will teach us more about what we can do as women and as marketers, tomorrow. It was this mind-set that led to the inception of The Female Foundry and take #hearhervoice on a global tour. We have now shared our vision for #hearhervoice in Europe at Cannes Lion, the Americas at SXSW, APAC at Spikes Asia and most recently at the Dentsu Aegis Network LATAM summit.

The Female Foundry was officially launched in September 2016. It is a program designed to mentor, develop and find funding for female-led start-ups across South and South East Asia. Dentsu Ventures and four other VCs all served as amazing partners, participating in our capstone event, a Demo Day, where they had the opportunity to hear pitches from qualified candidates looking for Series A funding. This pilot is an industry first for Asia Pacific and has since been adapted into a blueprint for China, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. We are thrilled that Latin America has just announced its adoption of the programme in Q3 this year.

 Our research placed a spotlight not only on what these talented, driven women were already building in their markets, supporting both their families and communities, but also the challenges that confronted them. Our Female Foundry and the #hearhervoice initiative will hopefully help bridge the gap, equipping women with the access and relationships they need to succeed. I couldn’t be more proud that I am part of a team and organization who feel this is a global initiative worth pursuing.

Closing the gender gap could generate 30% in the per capita income of an average Asian economy. This will only change if policy supports the effort to change. 

Diversity drives innovation. Exclusion is divisive and unrewarding across the board. Innovation is the life blood of our industry after all. We should be leading the industry towards a more socially conscious approach to the digital economy, in this case highlighting the role women in emerging markets are set to play. Digital convergence and an emerging generation of female entrepreneurs are changing the shape of traditional businesses and communities. Understanding these women, their motivations and how we can help them will create opportunities and far-reaching social implications.

At Dentsu Aegis Network, 50% of our employees are under 30 with impressive skillsets and a strong appetite to work on socially responsible projects. We have both the capability and resource to help enable these female founders – we have a long way to go, but I feel confident.