With the objective of learning from the rich experiences and lessons that other countries have gained from small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) export assistance programs, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada presents a new research report series, “Going Global.” To read the entire report, please jump to the blue download tab at the end of this piece.
Globally, women own and operate around one-third of all private companies and are the fastest-growing segment of the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) market. These trends also hold true for Australia. However, the Australian government recognizes that complacency at that these levels of female ownership leave a potentially important source of export growth untapped. The government believes that by highlighting the successes of female leaders in international business, and by assisting women in businesses that are not yet active globally, it may boost the nation’s economic potential.
In December 2010, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), along with state and territory governments, began an initiative called Women in Global Business (WIGB). The goal of this nationwide initiative is to help female-led businesses engage in trade and investment activities. WIGB is fully integrated into the country’s export promotion strategy as it is jointly funded by Austrade and state and territory governments, and delivered in partnership with Australia’s state and territory governments. Overall, WIGB aims to create greater economic benefits and more jobs for women by offering them a central source of information and resources, support, and connection. In detail, it seeks to (1) increase the participation of women in international trade and investment; (2) build a network of women involved in international trade and investment across Australia; (3) encourage, support, and advance the involvement of women in international business; (4) raise the profile of Australian businesswomen involved in international trade; and (5) connect Australian women to international networks to create global business opportunities. WIGB pursues these goals through a number of activities on the national and local level, such as providing information including case studies and research conducted by universities, facilitating mentorship programs, organizing national and international events and a speaker series, and building networks for active exchanges. WIGB has a broad reach in international markets and collaborates with allied organizations globally for the benefit of its membership.
OBJECTIVES OF THE PROGRAM
WIGB is not restricted to any specific industries; it is an initiative to help Australian women to enter the global business world regardless of industry or target market. The main objective of WIGB is to increase the participation of women in international trade and investment. Generally, the program also aims to:
Bring together women involved in international trade and investment across Australia and its trading partners and to help them develop sustainable businesses;
Encourage, support, and advance the involvement of women in international business success;
Raise the profile of Australian businesswomen involved in international trade within the local and international business community; and
Connect Australian women to international networks to create business opportunities.
The main activities of WIGB include:
- A mentoring program;
- Ongoing skills- and capability-building workshops;
- An annual speaker series;
- An active social media presence; and
- International engagement, such as chapters and events abroad.
Of particular interest in this regard is the WIGB mentorship program, one of the initiative’s most important activities. According to WIGB, mentees can expect professional development, networking and introductions, personal growth, skills development, and business growth from participation in the program.
Most recently, WIGB has added a scholarship program, the Beryl Wilson Austrade Scholarship for Women in International Business. Recipients of the scholarship receive financial support during the final year of a master’s degree by pursuing coursework in international business or a master of business administration with an international business specialization.
The international outreach program of WIGB also deserves specific mention. WIGB has built a number of successful alliances and initiatives in countries including Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, and Vietnam, among others. WIGB works to empower women in those regions and is thereby building transnational networks of women in international trade.
In 2009, the Australian federal government, through Austrade and state and territory governments, signed a letter of intent and agreed to become joint partners in establishing WIGB. Based on this mandate, a national program manager – a senior executive with leadership experience in the public sector in Australia and a track record of successful entrepreneurship internationally – developed the mentorship and scholarship programs in consultation with a steering committee comprising representatives from each jurisdiction.
In order to qualify as a mentee for the 10-month mentorship program, participants must be female, over 18 years of age and a business owner in Australia. The participant’s business must be over three years old and export-ready, as measured by an export-readiness assessment test provided by Austrade. Mentees also must agree to a code of conduct and pay a A$385 fee. Mentors, in return, must have a minimum of three years’ experience in exports, and must volunteer to commit at least one mentorship hour per month for 10 months. Mentors are not compensated for their time, and must also sign a code of conduct. Mentor and mentee are matched by WIGB after registering through the website. Mentee businesses are assessed in terms of export readiness prior to joining the program. They are reassessed at the completion of the program to measure and document the progress across a number of key factors.
In order to qualify for the Beryl Wilson Austrade Scholarship, applicants must be female, Australian citizens, enrolled full time in the final year of a master’s degree by pursuing coursework in international business or a master of business administration with an international business specialization, and fluent in an Asian language. The scholarship is awarded to the applicant showing the greatest merit, as demonstrated by academic achievement in previous studies, Asian language capability, leadership and/or community service achievements, and potential for future success in international business. The award recipient will hold the scholarship for one year and must achieve an average distinction grade for each unit of study during the term of the scholarship. The award recipient is also required to sign a contract with the Commonwealth of Australia declaring that she will comply with the conditions of the scholarship.
OUTCOMES ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE PROGRAM
In the first few years of operation, WIGB has experienced rapid growth and achieved a number of milestones, including:
- A membership base of over 3,500 stakeholders – 42% of women exporters are WIGB members;
- More than 4,500 e-newsletter subscriptions;
- Over 2,400 attendees to the national speaker series roadshow (evaluations from participants indicate that they highly value these events and are motivated by seeing women role models, resulting in a greater preparedness to commence exporting);
- Five 10-month national mentoring programs for over 100 alumni;
- A national series of capability-building workshops;
- More than 12,000 social media connections (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube);
- Over 150 alliances with domestic women’s organizations and multiple alliances with international women’s organizations;
- Five inbound missions and four outbound missions; and
- A number of international events and presentations to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forums and other organizations.
Ongoing surveys (2013, 2015) of participants conducted by the University of Melbourne have also documented positive outcomes of the WIGB program along a number of key dimensions:
- The appetite among Australian women to expand business internationally is robust, strong, and likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
- There is a large, active group of women-owned businesses operating across a wide range of foreign markets. These are predominantly young SMEs that internationalized in the last six years.
- Over one-quarter (29%) of women-owned organizations earn more than 50% of their sales revenue internationally.
- Baby boomers make up the largest demographic (54% are over 50 years of age).
- WIGB participants are very well educated (over 70% hold a bachelor degree or higher).
- Almost half (44%) of survey participants speak a foreign language.
- A large majority (72%) of total respondents indicated that they would like to have a business mentor, but only 41% of respondents currently have a mentor.
- There is strong evidence of the positive impact of mentoring in building confidence and there is an appetite for more access to mentors. Women with a mentor reported lower perceived levels of barriers to internationalization.
- There is a clear role for greater information-sharing, networking support, publicity around global success stories, and specifically targeted policy.
- The national speaker series was rated the most useful offering provided by WIGB, followed by domestic networking opportunities and other WIGB events.
- In terms of online offerings, the WIGB newsletter was considered by members to be the most useful tool.
- Success stories have strong potential to close knowledge gaps, build confidence, and serve as examples of how to overcome challenges.
APPLICATION TO CANADA
Women make up almost 50% of the workforce in Canada, and about 30% of senior management positions are filled by women. Many of them work in companies that do business globally, and some are even involved in international trade themselves. A focus on the promoting careers for women in international business makes absolute sense. This has already – to some extent – been recognized by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service with its Business Women in International Trade (BWIT) program. However, compared with Australia’s WIGB initiative, BWIT has a rather limited portfolio of services for women. These are:
- Organizing women-focused trade missions to foreign markets where delegates have unique access to corporations that want to buy specifically from women;
- Providing tailored products to assist women entrepreneurs like the BWIT LinkedIn group, the BWIT Newsletter, a monthly BWIT News email, and the women-owned specialized directory of the Canadian Company Capabilities database; and
- Conducting referrals to other service providers within the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem.
In Toronto, there is also the Organization of Women in International Trade, which focuses on two areas: awards (Woman Exporter of the Year Award, Joanna Townsend Excellence Award for Leadership in International Trade, Student of International Trade Award) and events on select topics in international trade.
Export Development Canada or the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service could partner with existing institutions with broader reach such as the Canadian Women’s Business Network, Canadian Small Business Women, Women Business Enterprises Canada, or Women of Influence in order to design and implement a nationwide campaign that has both the depth and the broad reach of the Australian WIGB, particularly with regard to mentoring programs, women-focused events, and international networking opportunities.
Australian Trade and Investment Commission (2016). https://www.austrade.gov.au/Australian/How-Austrade-can-help/Trade-services/women-in-global-business.
Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2016). Australia’s aid for trade investments – Empowerment of women, http://dfat.gov.au/aid/topics/development-issues/aid-for-trade/Pages/australias-aid-for-trade-investments.aspx.
Commonwealth National Women’s Machineries Meeting. 2014. Australia’s country report on the Women in Global Business Initiative.
Gundlach, S. and Sammartino, A. (2013). Australia’s underestimated resource: Women doing business globally 2013. University of Melbourne and Women in Global Business.
Sammartino, S. and S. Gundlach. 2015. Women, global trade and what it takes to succeed. University of Melbourne and Women in Global Business.
Women in Global Business (2016). http://www.wigb.gov.au
Women in Global Business Facebook Page (2016). https://www.facebook.com/womeninglobalbusiness/
Women in Global Business LinkedIn Group (2016). https://www.linkedin.com/groups/3903403/profile