As entrepreneurs, women are more risk-averse relative to men. However, that does not mean they lack business ambition. On the contrary, women are often willing to go the extra mile compared to their male counterparts to get the job done. Numerous researches proved that the gender difference disappears with business maturity, but we still have an enormous gender gap at the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey. So, how can we encourage women and help them amplify their business ambitions? The answer might be: support from a community of peers.
Such transition is especially excruciating for women in patriarchal cultures, like Kosovo. While boys are thought to be solid and rigid leaders, girls are advised to obey, serve and be followers. Such roles imposed at an early age define power and compassion and influence our future lives. Due to experiences from their early years, women systematically underestimate their ability to take the lead in business, mainly because they sense a lack of power and resources.
In transition countries, women are often reluctant to be entrepreneurs, and they make this step only when they have no other choices. As O'Donnell says in her research on "The contribution of networking to small firm marketing," one of the key reasons women start a business is dissatisfaction with their current career track. On top of that, women experience both push and pull factors in becoming entrepreneurs: a push factor is an obvious need to provide an income for the family, while a pull factor drives them to desire independence, self-fulfillment, and achievement in the labour market.
Keeping women active in the workforce and encouraging entrepreneurship as a career choice helps change mindsets and boost the local economy. In Kosovo, recent data (2021) shows that only 15.9% of women work, while 11% of enterprises are owned by women. These statistics are devastating and point to two key challenges which must be overcome for the Kosovo economy to become competitive enough to generate income and wealth for the whole population. To improve it, it is crucial for women in Kosovo to identify and engage with other female entrepreneurs, join communities of like-minded women to discuss, learn, collaborate and do business together. Continuous dialogue is key to the cooperation and improvement of women's position in Kosovo's economy and society.
An excellent example of a peer-driven community is Women Entrepreneurs Kosovo (WEK). Founded in 2020, with the support of the Swiss Entrepreneurship Program (Swiss EP), WEK puts its members first and in the driving seat of their development. WEK has already implemented three programs run by international experts (on Marketing, Sales, and Business Planning) tailor-made for the female business founders. The bottom-up approach of Swiss EP, responding to the demand from the community they support, helped women entrepreneurs connect more closely and have a genuine impact on their business. The community members referred to each other's businesses and even made business deals within the group. For Think-B Agency, the Business Planning training run by Barbara Fischer led to a short-term contract on the Swiss market. Nerdy Creative changed the sales strategy in response to new learnings in the Sales Program run by Patrick Collins.
Data collected by the Swiss EP team in Kosovo shows a brighter picture than the one we see within the overall business landscape of Kosovo. For example, the share of women-led businesses among entrepreneurs supported by Swiss EP is an extraordinary 58%. And all the capital mobilised by supported entrepreneurs is linked to women entrepreneurs —450,000 EUR of investments.
Even if they encompass a small sample of women (only 20 women entrepreneurs are in the WEK group), their efforts lead us to a few conclusions:
So, to get back to our original question: how can a community of peers amplify women's business ambition? The answer is with continuous exchange, tailor-made support, and peer empowerment, just like WEK does.