Friday, April 29, 2011

Why Women Entrepreneurs Should Go Global In China

It all started with a conversation I had over lunch with my African entrepreneur friend, just before his flight back to South Africa to conduct business. “I just worry that it’s easier for the Chinese government to do business in other countries than it is for individual entrepreneurs to do business in China.” This from a guy who has transacted business in Hong Kong.
He was referring to recent conversation amongst global entrepreneurs and the blogosphere regarding what has sometimes been referred to as the “Chinese Invasion.”
There have been talks surrounding China’s expansion into South America, and also allegations of unfair business ventures in Africa, where according to some economists, China “hoards African resources.”
I immediately thought of Internet mogul, Google.  Google caught its fair share of misfortunes when it branched to China about five years ago. In a country where dot-coms had no successful track records, the Internet guru’s ambition to go global in China was met with setbacks; mostly due to government regulations.

My first question to him, “what about women entrepreneurs with plans to go global? What do you think about the local business climate there for female entrepreneurs stepping out into the global Chinese market?”
His response: a mere shrug.
Chinese entrepreneurial success is frequently highlighted in America:  Entrepreneurs You Meet In China, Young Chinese Entrepreneurs To Watch, China’s Young Entrepreneurs Abroad. But what about the non-Chinese entrepreneurs wanting to partake in the success?
It’s estimated that by 2015, there will be 500 million people under 30 in China, and these young people are starting businesses. According to Fortune magazine, China has the highest number of the world’s richest people under age 40.
Last year it was reported by Credit Suisse that the income of their 20-somethings grew by 34% in three years. So I decided to learn more about women doing business in China.
I was immediately drawn to a statement made at the 2010 Business Mulan Annual Conference hosted by China Entrepreneur Magazine. Li Yifei, chairwoman of Vivaki (a part of the Publicis Groupe Greater China) was quoted suggesting that women entrepreneurs in China would be better off choosing the sectors in which they have a “natural advantage.” Media, advertising and fashion were a few mentioned.
What does this female natural advantage mean? If anything, the statement sounded condescending. I was a little distressed at this type of message being sent out, that in order to succeed at business in China, women should flock to a certain field.
While these industries are worthwhile, it is insulting to imply that women can only start or run a certain kind of business. I kept delving into the issue and ran across this: profiles of the richest self-made women in the world. And the article states that 11 of the top self-made women are from China! Bingo!
And no, these women are not targeting sectors where they have a “natural advantage.” They are running technology, manufacturing and professional services businesses. China also has  micro-financing initiatives to help women-owned start-up companies.
The Tianjin Women’s Business Incubator is one provider of such financing. The Tianjin Initiative is backed by the city government, Australia (although I’m not sure how Australia was included) and the United Nations Development Program. Program officials state that the program has helped over 10,000 women start-up businesses.
Another astounding piece of statistical data: at the Global Summit of Women in Beijing, it was reported that there are more women entrepreneurs in China than the entire United States population at 300 million. Perhaps there is a reason to ponder the growth plans of China after all.
The country has an increasing rate of young entrepreneurs (who are studying  American business giants like Bill Gates and Michael Dell), its women entrepreneur base is increasing at a fast pace, and they’re quickly developing initiatives to foster more entrepreneurship.
Women Doing Business in China: I was still pondering the question: what about non-Chinese women wanting to do business in China? Then I ran across an  important initiative that showcases China’s plan for women in business. This U.S. and China collaboration: The US-China Women’s Leadership Exchange and Dialogue (Women-LEAD). Just recently announced by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and China State Councilor Liu, the initiative will seek to expand the dialogue between Chinese and American programs that seek to empower women and foster cross-country women business development.
It’s official! The “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits” is coming together. And you know what that means. Watch out for China! My only hope is that the opportunities available for Chinese female entrepreneurs doing business in America or abroad will also be the same available for American or foreign female entrepreneurs going global in China.

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