GES 2017: Pearls of Wisdom from the City of Pearls

By at 8 December, 2017, 11:21 am

Members of the U.S. delegation to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Hyderabad, India, November 28-30, 2018.

By Kristie Arslan-

Last week I made the long journey from my small business in Alexandria, Virginia to the “city of pearls” and entrepreneurship hub of India – Hyderabad, capital of Telangana state – as part of the U.S. delegation at the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES2017).   The theme of this year’s Summit was Women First, Prosperity for All, and much of the conversation centered around how to support women entrepreneurs across the globe.  As a women entrepreneur and a long-time small business advocate, this was a topic near and dear to my heart.

To put it succinctly, my GES2017 experience was enlightening and inspiring.  As a business owner, we are so busy getting through the day, planning for month ahead, and worrying about our bottom line that we forget to look outside our business or sector and engage with others.  The insight that comes from those experiences can change the trajectory of your business and at times, your personal goals.

I’d like to share some of the pearls of wisdom I acquired at GES2017 in hopes that they may resonate with all of the entrepreneurs out there that did not have the opportunity to participate in this amazing experience, but first I’d like to set the stage.

While most of us are familiar with the rich cultural history of India through their food, fashion, and Bollywood entertainment, what you may not know is that India is a country on the precipice of a huge economic boon.  India has the largest prospective workforce on the planet due to its population estimated at 1.34 billion, based on the most recent UN data. In fact 1 of every 6 people on Earth live in India.  The country has doubled in size in just 40 years, and is expected to unseat China as the world’s most populated country in the next couple decades. More interestingly it is also getting younger with more than 65 percent of the population under 35 years of age.

Yet, despite its size, there is one area in which India is falling behind and that is with women in the workforce.  In over two decades preceding 2013, female labor force participation in India fell from 34.8% to 27%, according to an April 2017 World Bank report.  To have one of the world’s largest countries, leaving women behind is issue of great concern and was a key part of the discussion at GES2017.

Pearl of Wisdom #1:  The Three C’s to Building Strong Women Entrepreneurs – Confidence, Capacity, and Capital

One of the standout quotes from GES2017, was during a plenary session entitled, Be the Change: Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership.   Cherie Blair, of the Cherie Blair Foundation, and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair remarked that “too many women are told what they can’t do, not what they can do.”

The esteemed panel, which included Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, highlighted the critical importance of the three “c’s” to helping women become successful entrepreneurs – confidence, capacity and capital.

We all have our days as a business owner of feeling not prepared enough, not smart enough, not experienced enough.  However, on a global scale there are many societal norms, that make it even more challenging for women to obtain the confidence necessary to take the risk of starting their own business.  Thus, creating support systems and mentorship programs to help women gain the confidence they need from startup through management to growth is vital to helping women entrepreneurs succeed.

Capacity refers to the know-how and business education needed to make key business decisions.  Across the world, women don’t have access to the same educational resources as their male counterparts and often they have more of the responsibility to handle family care.  Thus, in addition to improved access to business education for women, we also need to get creative with how, where and when we provide education.  The U.S.’s Women Business Center program is a great example of a business resource providing business education and counseling that understands the unique needs of women.

Finally, accessing capital is challenging for women whether you are in an industrialized nation like the U.S. or a developing one like India.  We need more women making lending and investing decisions.  We need more successful women entrepreneurs to become investors.  We need local, state and national governments to encourage investment in women.  And we need women entrepreneurs to be ready, willing and able to make the pitch for the money they need to launch or grow their business, rather than solely bootstrapping their ventures.  Only when we move towards the above will we see more funding getting in the hands of women business owners and larger growth of women-owned firms.

Pearl of Wisdom #2: For Every Person That Sees Opportunity, There is Another That Sees Change.

Let’s face it…our economies are changing quickly.  At GES2017, we talked quite a bit about how innovation, efficiency and new technology can come at a price.  And for every person that sees opportunity, there is another that sees change and that can be scary.

One of the biggest challenges of governments across the globe is figuring out how to effectively transition legacy industries in areas like energy, agriculture, and manufacturing into the new economy while being mindful of the jobs and lives impacted.  India is facing this challenge as are we in the U.S.

What role do entrepreneurs play?  What can be done to revitalize communities left behind by our evolving economy? How do we prepare the workforce for the changes that will come and the jobs of tomorrow?  These are all large questions that the U.S. isn’t alone in grappling with.  I think it is important that entrepreneurs have a seat at the table as we try to solve these global challenges that arise from the new economy.

Pearl of Wisdom #3:  Opportunity + Idea + Community = Impact

The sheer size of India combined with key skillsets in math, engineering, computer science and coding are making India very attractive to technology companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon and more.  Also, the fact that currently only 2% of commerce in India is occurring online, creates a vast opportunity within the country for prospective entrepreneurs and investors.

Yet, what seems to be the secret sauce to the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit in India is a unique combination of a high rate of technological expansion & adoption, aggressive efforts by the Indian government to foster entrepreneurship through an array of key initiatives such as Startup India, Digital India, etc. and the great need to solve critical problems within the country relating to infrastructure, education, poverty alleviation and workforce development.

Every single Indian entrepreneur I had the opportunity to meet at GES2017, had a larger mission to their business that addressed a need in their community and country.  Whether their business was in the tech sector, healthcare sector, a product or service – they each seemed to understand the bigger picture of the impact their business could have in their communities.

While social entrepreneurship thrives in the U.S., our ecosystem puts a significant focus on entrepreneurship as a path to success and financial wealth.   I am guilty as charged as a small business owner who often focuses much of my time looking at revenue and not enough on impact.

A lesson we can learn here in the U.S. from our partners in India is to put a higher value on impact of businesses – big and small-  on their communities, and also do more to create public – private partnerships to encourage entrepreneurial solutions to problems we face.  This may reignite the entrepreneurial spark in our country, and help us address some of the millions of “missing” businesses due to the lack of startups.

Final Thoughts

The hospitality, generosity and welcoming spirit of our hosts in Hyderabad, India for the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit will not be forgotten by me and many others.  The interactions with amazing business owners and experiencing a country that is primed for growth and doing so much to support entrepreneurship has energized me as I now move forward in my business.

As the leader of our U.S. delegation remarked:

“In this “City of Pearls” the greatest treasure is YOU – the dreamers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders who never give up – never abandon your aspirations – and always strive for a better tomorrow.” – Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President

Kristie Arslan serves as Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, and is co-owner of Popped! Republic in Alexandria, VA.  She was a member of the U.S. delegation to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit.


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