Creating an Ecosystem for more Female Social Entrepreneurs
Our blogpost, Where are the Women?, caused quite a reaction! It obviously struck a nerve and raised a number of questions about gender, social change, and why it matters.
One tweep wondered if we should be concerned about gender—why does it matter if social change is happening? We would argue that for a sector that strives for opportunity, inclusion, and a fair chance for those who may not have it, women do matter—very much. For us, it is a very important issue that we’re paying close attention to—and we’re taking a hard look at our selection process to find where and how more women become part of the fold.
Others wonder if women are less risk-averse than men. One tweep shared a fascinating piece whose thesis lies in the idea that women don’t often seek out rejection. A graduate of MIT Sloan, Chizoba Nnaemeka asks “if we assume entrepreneurship to be a net positive, for society and for the individual, then what do we do to better equip girls, and eventually women for the mindset it requires? for the risk-taking, rejection, and resilience it demands?”
A question that came up multiple times—the number of women Fellows at Echoing Green has decreased, but what about the number of women applicants? The number of women applicants in the past few years has in fact stayed level—the ratio of male to female applicants is nearly fifty-fifty, but female applicants are not becoming Fellows at the same rate of their male counterparts. So, how do we bridge this apparent discrepancy? We have been investigating the causes—perhaps women are not receiving as much support and mentorship. In fact, one of our recent female Fellows was doing her socially impactful work (not considering herself a “social entrepreneur”) and didn’t consider applying for Echoing Green until a mentor strongly encouraged her to do so. So, how do we facilitate strong networks for women to encourage them to take the plunge to launch strong, sustainable social enterprises? In our case, we will work with new Search Partners to help us find high potential women and engage our current female Fellows and Alumni to mentor female applicants through the process. But this can only be the first step.
It’s also important to take a close look at the number of for-profit social enterprises, other evolving business models, and who is using them. Some would argue that, more recently, for-profit and hybrid business models have become “all the rage” for the sector, so it may seem that funders are unknowingly skewing their support towards men—since, at the moment, more men are applying the for-profit model to their ventures. On a cursory glance, we are supporting more for-profit models led by people with MBAs, engineering or technology degrees and within the subset of our applicants with for-profit or hybrid models, women only represented 36 percent.
So should funders support more non-profits to include more women? Or find ways to encourage women explore alternative business models? Neither solution necessarily addresses the root cause of the issue. Rather, when we look closer at the number of women employing for-profit business models vs. non-profit business models, we uncover a broader issue that we believe our sector can address. Given the background of the men who start for-profit, socially impactful enterprises (business or engineering degrees), we need to focus on encouraging more women to enter fields related to science, technology, design, applied math or business. This issue goes much deeper than just encouraging more women to apply for Fellowships.
An obvious but an important point— women are critical to social change. We also know the study after study shows that women in leadership help organizations succeed. Another tweep shared a seriously great post compiling many of these studies and statistics and rightly points out that “there are untapped resources right under our noses for higher performance in our businesses. These resources (are) women.”
Echoing Green will continue to work to increase the number of female Fellows. We urge our sector to explore how we can encourage more women to self-identify as entrepreneurs and social changers; support those innovations that help address the lack of women studying STEM or business subjects; and facilitate those solutions that ultimately develop an ecosystem of mentorship and support that already surrounds men, for women. As a sector what can we do to support women to launch strong, sustainable, and scalable innovations?
Echoing Green Live
May 22, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Fellows in Brief, May 2013
May 23, 2013 at 10:04 PM
echoinggreen: thx! RT @modelcitizen: @echoinggreen leading the charge in funding #socent. My kind of people. :) #openco http://t.co/3eUTPkvmLv
May 18, 2013 at 02:33 PM
How do I apply for a grant?
May 22, 2013 at 04:00 PM
From The New York Times to President Barack Obama to the World Economic Forum, s...