Remarks to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Women's Entrepreneurship Summit

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Gifu, Japan
October 1, 2010

It is a great pleasure to be here in Gifu for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women's Entrepreneurship Summit and to be here with our Japanese hosts and with all of you--participants from the 21 APEC economies. This is the first-ever APEC high level policy and public-private partnership to recognize the important role women play in driving economic growth and to develop a growth strategy for the region.

The Summit is being jointly hosted by the Japanese and U.S. governments--the APEC Chairs for 2010 and 2011 respectively. I want to salute our Japanese colleagues for their policy commitment to women's entrepreneurship and for their extraordinary efforts--in truly going the extra mile--to support this enterprise. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. I especially want to thank the Ministry for the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as Ambassador Noor of the APEC Secretariat.

I also want to recognize the U.S. delegation--from the White House, USTR and the Small Business Administration--many of whom you will hear from later. I also want to thank Ambassador Roos whose own career has been marked by leadership in innovation and entrepreneurship. The U.S. Embassy in Japan--Ambassador Roos and his dedicated staff--have brought exceptional leadership to the Summit.

We are also fortunate to have so many distinguished representatives from the private sector here with us, and they are making their mark in the regional and global economy. It is fitting that this Summit is being held in conjunction with the APEC SME Ministerial meeting, particularly since women-run SMEs are accelerators of economic growth. I look forward to reporting to them tomorrow on our commitments going forward.

The Asia-Pacific region's economy is among the world's most dynamic. The 21 economies of the region make up nearly 60 percent of total global economic output. The APEC region is already greatly benefiting from women's economic participation--because the gender gap is narrower here than in other regions. Yet, even here, women's economic potential is still largely untapped. And that is why we have gathered in this unprecedented APEC WES Summit. Women's lack of greater economic participation is due largely to obstacles that impede their potential. This untapped potential has been calculated by a UN agency to cost the Asia-Pacific region between $42-46 billion in lost GDP.

We all recognize that if this region is to expand and spread the benefits of globalization and inclusive growth more broadly, women must be an important part of APEC's new growth paradigm. In recent years we have seen many converging studies providing a mass of data that shows that investing in women is smart economics, and that gender equality yields higher growth outcomes and lower poverty. The studies have become so numerous--from the World Bank and the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report to a host of corporate reports as familiar as those by Goldman Sachs and Ernst & Young (and we are fortunate to have representatives from both companies with us).

We are also pleased to have the World Bank's Vice President for the Asia-Pacific region here as well. I would like to call your attention to the World Bank's publication, "Economic Opportunities for Women in East Asia and the Pacific" which spotlights the role of women in promoting economic growth as well as the barriers that still inhibit growth in the region. The study highlights the experiences of several women entrepreneurs, including a few who are here from Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and New Zealand. Amanda Ellis, now the Deputy Secretary for International Development for New Zealand’s Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs, led this project when she was at the World Bank, and she is also here.

The data illustrate how women's economic participation promotes enterprise development at both the micro and SME levels, as well as better business management and returns on the investment. Moreover, women provide a multiplier effect in their economic participation because they invest upwards of 90 percent of their incomes in their families and communities.

The simple fact remains that women's progress is critical to a country's progress and women's economic participation is critical to economic prosperity. This is true for the U.S. economy as well. Women-owned businesses account for $1.2 trillion of U.S. GDP. While women own 30 percent of U.S. businesses and employ 8 million people, only 5 percent of all equity capital investments in the United States go to businesses owned by women and only 3 percent get investments from venture capital.

Today around the world we have many examples of excellent practices and programs that are working to address women's business needs and to help them to remove the barriers that stand in their way. The U.S. government has been growing its efforts at home and around the world; the World Bank's, “Gender Equality Equals Smart Economics" is making a tangible difference; and you will hear from companies like Goldman Sachs about their initiatives.

I am confident that this historic Summit will spark a new seriousness to address these issues and open new avenues for collaboration and progress, as well as structural reforms to increase women's access to education, training and finance. To stem the costs in lost GDP, it is a smart strategy for governments to assist women in overcoming existing legal and policy barriers and for societies to adopt changes in norms that prevent women from full economic participation.

Women still face considerable hurdles when trying to start a new business or expand an existing one beyond a certain revenue mark. Among the biggest are lack of access to training, markets, mentors and networks as well as discriminatory laws and regulations like those which needlessly complicate business entry.

One of the biggest challenges is access to financing. Even where some of the legal and policy barriers are not prominent, lack of access to credit is common in every economy. Closing the gender gap in economic participation is the best prescription for economic growth. With this Summit, we can lay the foundation for post-recession growth, but we cannot tackle that challenge and we will not be as successful as we can be without unleashing women's economic potential.

We look forward to working with all of you in realizing the growth dividend afforded by women-led enterprises and in bringing sustainable economic prosperity to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Thank you and best wishes for a successful Summit.