By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The US government has teamed with its Bahamian counterpart to launch its Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) initiative locally in a bid to narrow another element of the gender gap.
Stephanie Bowers, the US Embassy's charge d'affaires, said The Bahamas was just one of 26 pilot countries selected for a White House-led initiative designed to empower women to achieve their full economic potential.
She added that its success would help "increase prosperity and stability for all societies around the world", and added: "The US Embassy, working hand-in-hand with the Bahamian government, prioritises economic diversification not only to ensure a stable and prosperous Bahamas, but also to provide opportunities for people in all corners of Bahamian society.
"Harnessing the full participation of women in the Bahamian economy, and particularly women entrepreneurs, is critical to fulfilling this mission. Knowing that what women entrepreneurs need the most is advocacy, mentoring and financing, we believe the AWE curriculum will unleash the talent and creativity of women across The Bahamas and enable them to make meaningful impact on Bahamian prosperity."
Highlighting the tie-up between the Small Business Development Centre (SBDC) and the Embassy, Ms Bowers said: "The SBDC has been a vital partner of the Embassy in working with the Women's Investment Group, which was founded through an embassy initiative, providing members training and assistance in writing business plans that can win financing.
"The SBDC is also a cooperative partner on AWE having provided a matching grant of $10,000 in seed money to all participants who will compete to launch or expand their businesses."
K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, said the launch supported the government's ambition "to invest in Bahamian women, and to support our local community of entrepreneurs.
"In these two areas we share a common cause," he added. "As a developing nation, the economic and social importance of female entrepreneurship is undeniable. Global studies show women invest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their families, compared to just 30 or 40 percent of men."
Davinia Grant, executive director of the SBDC, said the typical 30 percent income disparity between men and women created a further obstacle for women entrepreneurs when seeking financing for a start-up or existing business.
Revealing the attitude of many banks and other established lenders, she added: "If you're a start up it's almost a 'no', and if you are an existing business then it's how long have you been operating, what sort of savings do you have, what's you cash flow like, what's the strength of your company.
"In general, banks in The Bahamas have not been funding on the strength of the business itself. They funded a lot [based on] the past, before SBDC, on the strength of the individual. So a lot of their portfolios, the credit is still assessed based on you as an individual. With that being the premise it's a challenge because, as you may or may not know, the income disparity between men and women in The Bahamas is about 30 percent."
Ms Grant continued: "According to the United Nations Human Development Index, a 2018 report, men in The Bahamas earn about $31,000 on average and women earn $22,000. So if you are being assessed for credit based on your income and the strength of your financial balance sheet; your financial statements as an individual, your net worth; if men are earning 30 percent more, naturally you can assume that men are going to get access to funding a little bit faster.
"With that said, the International Finance Corporation, a group under the World Bank, says that 70 percent of women owned SMEs, small to medium-sized enterprises in the formal sector of developing countries, are underserved by financial institutions. That's 70 percent in developing countries."
Ms Grant added: "Another stat that's very interesting: Women owned start-ups, and this one is based on a US-based start-up accelerator, Boston Consulting Group, women-owned start-ups generate ten percent more in cumulative revenue over five years. For every dollar invested in a woman-owned or co-owned start up, 78 cents is generated. The same thing for men, 31 cents is generated.
"Huge difference. This may not be Bahamas data at the moment, but based on the international stats there is evidence to show that when you invest in women, especially in developing countries or developing communities, there is a disparity between the economic impact produced between men and women."