Leveling the Playing Field for Underserved Women Entrepreneurs:
“Empowering Migrant Women as Entrepreneurs in China” Case Study
The steady growth of women's entrepreneurship has become an important driving force for China's urbanization, rural revitalization, supply-side reform and sustainable economic and social development. As an important economic and social phenomenon in the reform and development process of contemporary China, women's entrepreneurship has received support from the government, civil society organizations, and enterprises at different levels, including through policy, financial, and technological support.
Between 2013 and 2018, The Asia Foundation provided an entrepreneurship support series for migrant women in Shanghai and Kunshan through the “Empowering Migrant Women as Entrepreneurs in China Program.” This case study, jointly developed by China Global Philanthropy Institute and The Asia Foundation, conceptualizes the support model and summarizes the programming experience through program document review and stakeholder interviews.
We hope this study can provide reference for organizations working on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship support for underserved women. We also hope our experience can encourage the participation of a broader stakeholders in the creation of a supportive ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship.
With financial support from the GSRD Foundation, the GE Foundation, and individual donors, The Asia Foundation implemented the “Empowering Migrant Women as Entrepreneurs in China Program" from 2013 to early 2018. The program was delivered in two phases, with the first phase from 2013 to 2016 and the second phase from 2016 to 2018. The local implementing partners were Shanghai Charity Education Training Centre, Shanghai CNST Institute of Continuing Education, and Kunshan Zhuoyue Consultancy Centre for Public Welfare Organizations.
The target beneficiaries of the program were women entrepreneurs who have settled in the cities but had no local household registration (“Hukou”), including women who aspired to start businesses or those with start-up businesses. The project aimed to inspire the entrepreneurship spirit of the beneficiaries, and help them acquire entrepreneurial skills and expand their social networks.
The majority of beneficiaries had educational levels no higher than junior high/vocational school—lower than the average education level of women entrepreneurs in China. Tailored to the needs of the target beneficiaries and taking into account their relatively low formal education levels, the project developed a 64-hour entrepreneurship curriculum with comprehensive and basic business skills. With a mandatory 64-hour business skill training, the program also provided a series of follow-on value-added support based on the needs of the beneficiaries. Graphic 1 below describes different components in the model.
Graphic 1: Entrepreneurship Support Model
A total of 556 migrant women graduated from the program. As a pre-requisite for graduation from the training, all beneficiaries completed a business plan which put their training knowledge into practice. Upon conclusion of the first phase, 11% of the trainees started their own businesses and 26% prepared to start businesses. These figures increased to 16% and 39% respectively under the second phase of the program.
The local implementing partners also benefitted from the program by refining their internal governance structure, enhancing project management ability, and diversifying their networks. Beyond the program period, the implementing partners continue to provide quality services for the entrepreneurship endeavors of underserved populations in their communities, sustaining the impact of the program.
Empowerment as the goal and entrepreneurship as the means. The goal of this program was to improve the livelihoods and socio-economic well-being of Chinese migrant women. Therefore, compared to more business growth oriented services, such as commercial business skill trainings and traditional business school, the Foundation’s programs were committed to the economic empowerment of underserved women. To this end, the programs were designed with gender-sensitivity, incorporating topics related to gendered challenges for women in businesses and introduced culturally-informed strategies to tackle these challenges. Compared to salaried jobs with standard working hours, running a business often requires a flexible schedule, sometimes taking up evening and weekend time. Given that women are still the main bearers of household chores and child care in China, the trainers introduced and stressed the importance of skills for participants to seek support from their husbands for family duties, such as effective and non-conflict spousal communication. The impact evaluation stressed equally the beneficiaries’ business performance and personal development.
2. Local ownership. Partnering with organizations with deep understanding of the local context and networks was key to the success of the program. The implementing partner in Shanghai, Shanghai Charity Education Training Centre, had been working on entrepreneurship support for disadvantaged population for around 20 years, and the implementing partner in Kunshan, Kunshan Zhuoyue Consultancy Centre for Public Welfare Organizations, is one of the leading organizations providing consultative and incubation services for many government-subsided programs. Their knowledge of the local context ensured that the program design reflected the real needs of the communities.
3. The follow-on activities in Shanghai focused on hands-on instruction, such as business coaching, considering the low education level and the lack of business experience of Shanghai beneficiaries. In Kunshan, the beneficiaries were younger and better educated, with more participants having business experience prior to the program. Additionally, Kunshan is a hub of e-commerce in the Yangtze River Delta region. Therefore, Kunshan follow-on support focused on thematic sessions introducing innovative business models, in particular e-commerce and different forms of online businesses. Implementing partners with local knowledge can also make full use of resources of the communities. In Kunshan, the program included sessions on policy briefing as government bodies there had more supporting policies for businesses owned by migrants.
5. Considering the rapid development of China and the time gap of initial project design and official launch, there was a needs assessment at the beginning of each project to ensure the previous design still reflected the needs of the community. The needs assessments were led by the local implementing partner and implemented in diversified forms, such as through beneficiary survey and key informant interviews.
6. Public-private partnership (PPP) in creating a supportive ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship. The public-private partnership was proven effective in promoting a supportive business environment for women and ensures the sustainability of program impact. The programs in Shanghai and Kunshan all leveraged a broad network of stakeholders, including women’s federations and women’s business owner associations, community administrations, vocational schools and enterprises, and provided diversified resources for women entrepreneurs. The women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses were also motivated agents that took increasing leadership in their communities after attending the program and were willing to provide resources to alumni and other women entrepreneurs. Graphic 2 below describes a broad and diversified range of stakeholders interacting under the program.
Graphic 2: PPP in creating supportive ecosystem for women entrepreneurship
As an immediate step for the dissemination of the support model, the Foundation is partnering with Chongqing Society of Women Talents (CSWT) to adapt the support model developed under the case for returned migrant women in Chongqing. The Foundation has also received a new award from the Moody’s Foundation to adapt the support model to accelerate the growth of micro-and-small businesses owned by migrant women in Shanghai. The Foundation and CGPI will monitor the adaptation experience and incorporate them in a refined version of the case study.