Understanding the environment for women-owned SMEs in Thailand

Female SME thailandAs COVID-19 continues, women-owned SMEs in Thailand have been significantly affected by lockdowns and reduced commercial activity.

Kenan Foundation Asia has been supporting SMEs in Thailand for over 25 years. We understand the needs of small entrepreneurs and continue to help entrepreneurs recover from the pandemic and move forward with support from a network of partners from public, private and civil society organizations. In partnership with UN Women, Kenan is currently implementing a 20-month project, which started in August 2020, ‘Promoting Economic Empowerment of Women at Work in Asia ‐ WeEmpowerAsia (WEA) in Thailand.’

One of the project objectives is to increase entrepreneurship and leadership training programs for female entrepreneurs and women-led businesses. To develop practical training and networking activities, Kenan consultants conducted quantitative and qualitative research. The qualitative portion focuses on women entrepreneurs in three sectors—namely, tourism, gem and jewelry, and FinTech—which have a high proportion of women in the supply chain or underrepresented in key roles.

The research found the following problems related to women-owned SMEs in Thailand;

  1. Entrepreneurial barriers in access to finance

A lack of collateral was the most frequently identified (18%) challenge that hindered the ability to access financing among the female entrepreneurs. Traditional financial institutions often require that collateral, such as land, properties, security papers, or deposits be in the borrower’s name. Additionally, unattractive business plans (14%), high interest rates (13%), the complexity of the loan application process (13%) were significant challenges for the women. A small number of respondents (3%) also indicated that funders might be gender-biased, favoring male over female borrowers. Collectively, these barriers have prevented the majority of the respondents from accessing much-needed financing.

  1. Entrepreneurial barriers in networking

Getting support from mentor and advisor networks featured highly on Thai women-owned/led businesses’ needs. At least 18% of the respondents indicated that they were generally less networked with business mentors or advisors, while many also demonstrated a need for increased networking with investors and funding sources (15%) and other businesses within their supply chain (15%). A small minority of respondents reported that some activities, for example, accessing networks at executive levels, were barriers to their business networking. Additionally, a small minority of the women entrepreneurs struggled with low self-confidence or were hindered by their parental role, and a few found networking events uninteresting, affecting their willingness to network.

  1. Soft and hard skills

The Thai female entrepreneurs indicated a strong interest in developing their negotiation skills. More than 32% of the respondents reported that the lack of negotiation skills was one of the most significant obstacles for women-owned/led businesses running a successful business in Thailand. Apart from this, the survey highlighted another four sets of soft skills that women entrepreneurs most commonly lacked: conflict management (21%) and communication (19%).

The women entrepreneurs were eager to learn about digital/ICT, accounting and financial skills, and business plan development. According to the survey, the top three technical skills or competencies with which businesswomen faced challenges were digital/ICT skills (for example, digital marketing and digital technologies) (22%), accounting and finance (19%), and business planning (19%).

Despite the many challenges women-owned SMEs face, many multinationals operating in the fast-moving consumer goods sector (FMCG) have prioritized engaging women-owned businesses as part of their overall business strategies or corporate social responsibility programs.

To respond to this demand, Kenan, under the WeEmpowerAsia project, in partnership with Bopinc, localized the We Rise Toolkit for Entrepreneurs, which provides actionable steps to unlock the power of gender inclusiveness for women-owned businesses.

Kenan also plans to train 200 women-owned SMEs from July to September 2021. The project will support to cover the SMEs’ expenses and create an opportunity to link to the global supply chain of many multinational companies.

Women-owned SMEs looking to join the training are invited to register for the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Awareness Training via www.weempowerasia.kenan-asia.org/register.

Dr. Wichai Limpitikranon serves as a Senior Manager at Kenan, where he provides business consulting services that support and enhance the development of sustainable competitiveness for SMEs and nonprofit organizations in Thailand, Lao PDR, Myanmar, and Vietnam. If you want to share a comment or find out more information about Kenan’s project with the UN, WeEmpowerAsia, please email [email protected]

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