THE INC. LIFE

Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness Empowers Women Across Asia Pacific

This Facebook program has improved many aspects of women’s lives

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 11 Dec 2017

Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness Empowers Women Across Asia Pacific

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

“Another day in a room with incredible women,” read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post last November 9. The Facebook COO had met with women who helped run Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness program in Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Vietnam.

“They help us give women the support and advice they need to start and grow their businesses–women like [one named] Nilamsari, who started with a $400 loan from her sister-in-law and went from selling kebabs on a push cart in Indonesia to opening 1,200 food stands across Asia,” further read Sandberg’s post. 

Launching #SheMeansBusiness

#SheMeansBusiness was launched last March 2016 by Clair Deevy, Head of Community Affairs, Facebook APAC.  

#SheMeansBusiness gives women the opportunity, support, and practical advice that help them turn their ideas into reality, and scale their business. The initiative supports women entrepreneurs through online and offline training, peer networking sessions, and resources to help build their business. They even have a dedicated #SheMeansBusiness microsite, http://shemeansbusiness.fb.com.

“Since the launch, we worked with business leaders, civil society, and the public sector to reach and support women entrepreneurs,” explains Deevy.

She says #SheMeansBusiness has launched in 17 countries, trained more than 42,000 entrepreneurs and over 50,000 online globally. The number of women-owned pages globally on Facebook has grown more than 60% year-on-year. She adds they saw a 94% increase in the new women-owned small to medium business Facebook pages in Asia Pacific in the past year.

In Vietnam, the number of women-owned small business pages grew 2.5 times from last year. In Singapore, there has been a 60% increase in the number of new women-owned small to medium business Pages on Facebook. In Indonesia meanwhile, the number of new women-owned SMB Pages on Facebook grew 167% between 2015 and 2016. In the Philippines, in the last five years (between 2012 and 2016), the number of new women-owned SMB Pages on Facebook has increased more than eight times, with a 121% increase from 2015 to 2016 alone. And in Malaysia, the number of new women-owned SMB Pages on Facebook increased over 112% between 2015 and 2016, and about five times since 2012.

Facing cultural, legal, and financial challenges

“However, women entrepreneurs still face specific, persistent barriers — from cultural to legal, financial to self-confidence — to start and grow their business,” says Deevy.

She cites a Facebook study by Development Economics and YouGov that says women respondents in Singapore identified their worry about personal financial security (42%) as the main barrier to starting their own business, with the lack of access to finance (39%), and the level of readiness to start a business (41%) posing as other key barriers. In Vietnam, the main barriers for women entrepreneurs concern over personal financial security (35%), uncertainty about where to start (35%), the level of readiness (32%) and lack of access to finance (34%).

Deevy explains that this is why they want to celebrate women and give all of them practical support and advice to turn their ideas into reality.

Meeting Sandberg

Gina Romero, partner of #SheMeansBusiness and founder at Connected Women, an organization that helps Filipinas use technology for social mobility, says she found out about #SheMeansBusiness when Facebook contacted her and asked her if she wanted to work with them.

“In my research and years of working with women entrepreneurs, digital marketing is both an opportunity and challenge,” she says. “Either way it’s something they can’t ignore, whether they love it or hate it.”

Romero says having basic training on how to maximize Facebook’s free business tools is a powerful boost for women who have incredible business ideas and, at the same time, need to expand their reach and audience.

Romero, who was at the meeting with Sandberg, says she was struck by how attentive Sandberg was. “She really tried hard to listen, focus on what each of us was saying and dig deeper into the true challenges women entrepreneurs face in our respective countries,” she narrates. “She wanted to hear the stories of the women we work with, how we can impact their lives positively and what more could be done — whether it was at a top level or even making improvements to the platform itself.”

Romero says she walked away from the meeting with nothing but admiration for Sandberg’s quiet confidence, grace, and genuine passion for empowering women.

Crestin Carson, who has a smoothies business called Shake’n Slurp, says Facebook brought her closer to her family.

“I started a business with my sisters four years ago while working abroad, and now we have grown from one store outside a house with just a table, to having over 30 branches all over the Philippines,” she says. Carson adds they are now open to franchising.

Entrepreneur Joyce Lim, says she realized the value of social media marketing. She created Food Lover, an online social media platform where she can help other business owners grow, particularly restaurants and hotels.

“I love how [Sandberg] shares what’s important as a businesswoman. It’s not what I accomplish but how I can help others,” she shares.