News

Strengthening women’s economic empowerment in Asia-Pacific by supporting greater gender equality in the selection of suppliers

NIRAS team begins mapping existing practices, preparing recommendations and developing tools to ensure procurement is more gender-responsive

20. Oct 2020

Across the Asia-Pacific region, women’s entrepreneurship is emerging as a critical policy and business priority given its potential contribution to regional and national economic growth. Although about 60% of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) are owned or led by women, the overwhelming majority of these are microenterprises. Gender-specific discrimination, exacerbated by intersecting barriers – such as lack of access to finance – have contributed to the “missing middle” phenomenon, with growth-oriented women-led SMEs struggling to scale up.

At the same time, the sourcing power of larger Asian and multinational companies across the region is tremendous. If women-owned firms could better tap into the procurement processes of these businesses – as well as that of the public sector – their longer term viability and growth would be considerably enhanced.

UN Women and the Asian Development Bank have teamed up to identify entry points for advancing women’s businesses in Asia-Pacific and contracted NIRAS to conduct a regional benchmarking study assessing existing and future opportunities for gender-responsive procurement (GRP). Emerging as a powerful means to connect women’s businesses to markets, GRP enables larger companies to apply a gender-lens to their sourcing footprint, making international trade more gender-equal.

“This is a really cool assignment for us in a new important niche within the broader gender sector,” says Antti Inkinen Director, of NIRAS International Consulting Asia & Pacific. “The work we are doing as implementing partner is key to creating an enabling environment for establishing and maintaining procurement practices that advance gender equality. The fact that the assignment coincides with COVID, which has disproportionately impacted women and women-led enterprises, increases its relevance.”

Building the case, sharing good practice and developing tools

With a particular focus on select countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Viet Nam, and the Philippines, NIRAS is exploring GRP practices and initiatives across Asia-Pacific, and further afield for comparison. Examining key sectors where women-led businesses are concentrated (e.g., agriculture, manufacturing/textile, retail, and tourism), we will dig into the challenges facing both suppliers and private and public sector buyers and pull out positive experiences and key learnings on GRP.

In addition to building the business case for a better gender balance in sourcing of suppliers, the team will develop actionable recommendations on how to increase procurement from women-owned enterprises. One innovative element of the project is a value chain analysis tool to support the implementation of GRP, which will be developed before the assignment concludes in March next year. Designed to be practical and easy to apply, the tool will involve broad consultation and use case studies to promote mutual learning and enable companies to assess current practices and provide guidance for gender-proofed procurement decisions along their supply and value chains in the future. We are optimistic about this assignment’s potential to have a lasting impact, especially through the adoption of the value chain analysis tool as well as the recommendations we will be making to the public and private sectors.