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New care entrepreneurship programme to boost women’s economic empowerment in the Asia-Pacific

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The Gender-Inclusive Care Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Program (GICEEP) has been launched in the Asia-Pacific region, to help women turn the persistent and disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work into business opportunities and pathways towards full economic participation. Women-led business and women-benefitting enterprises in the care economy are encouraged to apply and join a 10-month business acceleration programme.

The programme is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Visa Foundation, and implemented in partnership with Bopinc, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and the Swiss Association For Entrepreneurship In Emerging Markets (SAFEEM) and will be working with governments, investors, employers and other support organizations.

“We are thrilled to see this programme develop solutions that turn unpaid care into work opportunities for women in the care economy,” said Katja Freiwald of the UN Women’s regional office. “It will be a continuation of UN Women’s Care Entrepreneurship Accelerator, incorporating important learnings, to address one of the most persistent barriers to women’s equal labour-force participation.”

The acceleration programme will provide business training, mentorship, access to networks and finance, and inclusive and gender-responsive business-building practices, with a focus on inclusive and sustainable business models in the care sector.

Care enterprises are ones that involve paid care work across a variety of models and services, such as care for children, the elderly or the disabled, and digital-enabled care enterprises, on-demand, in-person or centre-based services for families or corporations.

The acceleration programme aims to increase affordability, access and quality of care services, using region-specific innovative solutions for families, like on-demand and flexible provision and pilot community-based care models. This, in turn, will help provide solutions for families, especially women, who are often prevented from pursuing economic opportunities because of the limited availability of care services for children, the elderly, people with disabilities and other care needs.

“The programme aims to make high-quality care services more accessible, affordable and inclusive while empowering women and driving economic growth,” said Anurag Maloo of SAFEEM. “We’re proud to partner with some of the brightest minds in the industry, and we can’t wait to make a real difference together.”

“Visa Foundation is deeply committed to driving inclusive economic growth globally,” said Graham Macmillan, President of Visa Foundation, “and is proud to support the GICEEP, which we believe will advance gender-diverse businesses in the care economy while improving the livelihoods of women and their communities.”

“This partnership is a powerful demonstration of the importance of bringing diverse actors together to address long-standing, complex and systemic challenges, the root causes of gender inequality, such as the burden of unpaid care work,” said Erin Tansey, Sustainable and Inclusive Economies Director at the IDRC. “It is aligned to ongoing IDRC work in this space, which shows that with evidence and purpose, entrepreneurship and investment can be part of the solution”.

“We are proud to be part of this programme,” said Lotte-Marie Brouwer, Women’s Entrepreneurship Lead of Bopinc. “This will help us design specific solutions for small-scale businesses serving low-income consumers, for example, with our partner Dharma Life who is already working on driving impact in their communities through rural entrepreneurship.”

Women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work – four times more than men in Asia and the Pacific, according to UN Women – is a significant barrier to their empowerment. This has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reversed progress on gender equality and deepened the care economy crisis.

In response, the private and public sectors need to take action, as outlined in UN Women’s Think Piece: Innovation in Childcare to Advance Women’s Economic Empowerment. While the public sector must invest in comprehensive care systems, the private sector can also play a crucial role by pursuing entrepreneurship and livelihood opportunities in the care economy.

The GICEEP initiative will focus on three pillars: (1) creating base-of-the-pyramid solutions for care entrepreneurship; (2) implementing a gender-inclusive care impact accelerator for small and medium-sized enterprises in Asia-Pacific; and (3) facilitating knowledge exchange to promote inclusive care entrepreneurship.

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