Often considered as the backbone of ASEAN economies, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are still facing challenges in their start-up, development and expansion to international market. Women entrepreneurs in the region face even more constraints ranging from lack of access to funds to only being able to access them at less favorable terms; for example, at higher interest rates, a higher share of required collateral for loans, or shorter terms or loan repayment.
A two-day regional conference addressing those issues kicked off yesterday in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Around 150 participants took part in the conference, which began with a review of an academic paper on SME funding mechanisms by Prof. William J. Scheela, an American finance expert from Bemidji State University; and Dr. Janti Gunawan, an international business partnership consultant from Indonesia. The conference included presentations from public and private sector representatives from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam as well as representatives from international organisations such as GIZ, the International Labour Organization, the International Finance Corporation, and USAID.
Conference participants shared good practices, success stories and lessons learned in the implementation of SME funding initiatives and programmes. They prepared an agenda for action in fostering better access to finance for SMEs, especially those owned by women entrepreneurs. The conference also featured a session where banks and microfinance institutions from the subregion gave advice and suggestions on innovative SME finance options.
The conference was organised in collaboration with the Agency for Enterprise Development, Ministry of Planning and Investment in Viet Nam,GIZ, the USAID-Development Credit Authority (DCA) and other local stakeholders such as the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network-Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council, the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), and the Viet Nam Microfinance Working Group.
Organized by the U.S. Government-funded ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (ACTI) project, the regional conference in Hanoi is a platform for information and knowledge sharing, networking and public-private dialogue on SME funding problems and solutions, especially concerning women entrepreneurs. ACTI is a five-year project of USAID and the U.S. Department of State to support ASEAN economic integration.