A partnership to promote women’s equality and empowerment

Women workers in the informal sector took a hard hit during the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis. In September 2020, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women (UN Women) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released data indicating that the global pandemic will push 47 million women into poverty by 2021. The data suggest a widening of the gap between men and women as the latter are especially vulnerable to layoffs and loss of livelihoods.

According to UN Women, women do 2.6 times more volunteer care and domestic work than men. Not only have they suffered the worst impacts in the economic sectors, but domestic violence against women have also increased around the world. Advocating that women and girls must have equal rights and opportunities, women's equality and empowerment have been included in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The move is integral to all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development.

Associate Professor Grace Lee Hooi Yean stated that entrepreneurship is a crucial mechanism to redress this inequality and the associated impediments to inclusive and sustainable development. In 2018, she conducted a nationwide survey covering 1300 individuals, asking them: "Why would it not be feasible for you to be self-employed within the next five years?". More than 60 per cent of the women interviewed stated "not having enough capital" as one of their main obstacles, where over 40 per cent cited the lack of entrepreneurial skills. Digital technology adoption rate among microentrepreneurs in the country is still low, especially in rural communities.

On 12 April 2021, Monash University Malaysia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia (AIM). Dr Lee stated that her team would be working closely with AIM to develop a business entrepreneurship training program tailored to rural communities. The team will measure the program's effectiveness as findings will have important implications for entrepreneurship research, microfinance practitioners, and policymakers working toward women's empowerment.

The findings would also help policymakers adopt a more inclusive approach in their policy formulation. Building on the findings through surveys, interviews and field experiments, domestic and regional policy development and coordination could better address gender-specific entrepreneurship needs in creating an enabling environment for women's economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.

YBhg Tuan Mohd Najib bin Haji Mohd Noor, Deputy Chairman of Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia stated that the collaboration is a vital step towards empowering the Sahabat AIM through entrepreneurship. "The university's efforts to align its work with the challenges and needs of the communities and the nation is truly respectable. Monash University Malaysia has proven to be a leader in education and research excellence in the region. I am confident that this collaboration will contribute to the economy by lifting more people out of poverty and improving Malaysia's quality of life," he shared.

The collaboration further aims to increase women micro-entrepreneurs participation in the e-commerce/marketplace by studying the major challenges they face in adopting digital technology. The initiative will provide training for AIM team members involved in the project and promote joint projects and activities in the fields of interest to AIM and Monash Malaysia.

As an anthropologist, President and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Monash University Malaysia, Professor Andrew Walker has spent time working in rural Thailand, especially in remote villages, on rural development and empowerment issues. "Giving people access to entrepreneurial skills will lift people out of poverty and promote social, economic communities and political development. This collaboration enables us to undertake research that significantly impacts the communities in Malaysia and other countries in the region. We want to do research that will improve people's conditions. Working with organisations like AIM will ensure our researchers make a difference in the world," Professor Walker stated.

The School of Business' Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hub (eiHub) will actively participate in the projects initiated by the collaboration between the university and AIM. A team of multidisciplinary experts in economics, finance, marketing, management, social science and psychology, and the economics department in Monash Australia will also be part of the projects initiated by the partnership.

The MoU signing process took place virtually and was signed by AIM Chief Operating Officer (COO) Mohamed Shamir Bin Abdul Aziz and Professor Andrew Walker. Witnessing the event was Izwandy bin Che Jan, AIM Chief Legal Officer, Efendi Omar, AIM Director of Entrepreneurship Development Division, Norsharizal Mashahrin, AIM Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Professor Grace and Monash University Malaysia Head of School (School of Business), Professor Pervaiz K Ahmed.