Rural women from a range of backgrounds aspire to start and grow enterprises but face socio-cultural barriers to success.
Associate Professor Naomi Birdthistle from the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation has joined colleagues in a research project titled Enterprising Women in Rural Regions to identify promising ways forward to overcome these barriers. Naomi said:
“The aim of the project is to enable rural women to create and grow successful economic and social enterprises to benefit their communities and regions”.
The project brings together ‘enterprising women’ (few identify as ‘entrepreneurs’), regional development organisations, enterprise support providers, policy makers, and academics from the disciplines of anthropology, business entrepreneurship, and the interdisciplinary fields of regional studies and gender studies.
Enterprising Women in Rural Regions embeds impact in all stages of the project design. It was initiated from end user need: a local organisation was seeking ways to support women entrepreneurs in North West Tasmania. Similar conversations between researchers and policy makers in Sarawak, and between researchers and community service providers in Victoria, revealed opportunity for cross-region collaboration. Data are collected through workshops with enterprising women, service providers and policy organisations, desktop research, and key informant interviews.
The project team recently received a commended award under the Emerald Interdisciplinary Impact Grant 2019 for the project. This year-long project, led by Professor Robyn Eversole from the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology, had team members from Tasmania (University of Tasmania and Switch Tasmania) and Sarawak Malaysia (Swinburne University Sarawak) and Melbourne (Good Shepherd Microfinance). The research conducted in Sarawak was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the ASEAN grant scheme and by the Collier Foundation, which funded the Tasmania and Victoria work.
Outcomes from the project to date include:
- The creation of a new peer-support organisation by and for enterprising women in Tasmania: Ignite North West Women, and a new program of events by and for women entrepreneurs.
- Establishment of Sarawak Women’s Aspirations Group (SWAG), and a RM$15 million investment by the Sarawak government for a ‘one stop shop’ to respond to needs identified by the research team.
- Increased policy investment in women’s entrepreneurship in Australia, evidenced in Federal Government $18 million commitment to a new ‘Boosting Female Founders’ program for 2020, with a proposed focus on rural women
- Academic publications, including a book chapter in a major international series on women’s entrepreneurship.