Empowering women economically can lead a route to sustainable development while reducing gender gaps. Among them is entrepreneurship, enabling women to make a greater contribution to development. Attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for women means increasing women participation in leadership and decision making as well as guaranteeing their rights to productive resources. Goal 5, 8, and 9 in the SDGs indicate the importance of gender equality and small-medium enterprises (SMEs) growth.
A report from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN, shares deeper insights on the significance of women entrepreneurial activity towards the advancement of women economic empowerment in ASEAN countries. Since the commencement of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, the member states face both business opportunities and challenges. Given the 61.3 million women entrepreneurs (9.8 per cent of the total ASEAN population), addressing the issue of women’s vulnerability is crucial for SMEs in the sub-region, particularly those run by women.
Among challenges of women entrepreneurship, lacking financial access is often weighed as the main hindering factor of business continuance. There is a need for diversified and innovative financing model supported by the government, for instance, microfinance with small loans and manageable terms. In addition, an entrepreneurship programme for rural development such as One Village One Product (OVOP) is also expected to enhance the inclusivity of women in the economic livelihood. Measuring the programme effectiveness should not only consider profit and sales volume but also take into account how the programme affects women’s empowerment, capacity improvement, and inter-stakeholders coordination. It is suggested that the programme can empower women both at household and community level.
OVOP is one method to drive sustainable regional development. The programme was initiated in 1979 by Governor Morihiko Hiramatsu in Oita Prefecture, Japan. The needs in modifying population concentration, creating employment opportunities, developing rural industry and mobilizing the activities of rural community encourage the creation of OVOP. The programme aimed to empower the rural community, particularly women and youth, using the bottom-up approach. However, other countries adopting OVOP concept may implement it differently, based on the circumstances in the rural area. For instance, Thailand adjusts the OTOP programme by employing the top-down approach.
There are success stories from several Asia-Pacific countries in which women entrepreneurship is more developed through OVOP programme. For instance, in Armenia, a 26-year-old woman has successfully developed Nairyan Dried Fruits, LLC. an enterprise producing dried fruits with the help of relatives and neighbours in the village. OVOP programme allows the enterprise to improve their production technique, marketing, and participation in business training and food expos. Accordingly, they have expanded contract partners to major supermarkets, hotels in Yerevan and exporters. Their success in creating employment opportunities and making the village famous led the young lady to receive an Armenian Women Entrepreneur Award in 2014.
Another good model is the Farm Women’s Group (FWG) from Chiang Mai, Thailand that was initiated by a wife of potato farmer with her 28 other female- and 2 male- relatives in the area. The FWG focuses on producing potato chips made of locally grown potatoes that have been declined for direct sale. Before joining One Tambon One Product (OTOP) in 2001, FWG was established as a community-based enterprise (CBE) in 1997. It has gradually expanded the production to produce 2,000 bags of potato chips weekly, accounting for approximately THB 1.8 million sales output in 2010. Besides providing jobs for elderly workers in the community (mostly housewives), FWG helped filling the gender gap of working opportunities. The programme has awarded them an OTOP 3-star in the OTOP Product Champion scheme.
Despite its resources, social and capability challenges; women entrepreneurship is one of the means toward sustainable development. It requires government support in policy engagement and greater access to women entrepreneurs’ facilitation.
By Dwi Fitriah Arrisandi, Junior Research Consultant, CAPSA-ESCAP
 United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (2018). Fostering Women Entrepreneurship in ASEAN. United Nations: Bangkok.
 Schumann, F. R., 2016. A Study of One Village One Product (OVOP) and Workforce Development: Lessons for Engaging Rural Communities around the World. Mangilao: University of Guam. <http://bit.ly/2xMD1z1>
 Claymone, Y., 2011. A Study on One Village One Product (OVOP) in Japan and Thailand as an Alternative of Community Development in Indonesia: A Perspective on Japan and Thailand. The International Journal of East Asian Studies 01: 1 – 9. <http://bit.ly/2uTWdYp>
 Japan International Cooperation Agency (N.D). Casebook of One Village One Product (OVOP) Practices in Armenia. Available from https://www.jica.go.jp/armenia/english/office/others/c8h0vm00009se4d9-att/ongoing_02.pdf