The Untapped Potential of Female Migrant Entrepreneurs

The contribution of migrant entrepreneurs is something that is becoming more widely recognized, as issues surrounding immigration become frequent and topical points for discussion. However, within this contingent, the important contribution of female migrant entrepreneurs is a factor that is sometimes overlooked.

According to data provided by George Mason University, international migrants in America accounted for approximately 3.2 million of all self-employed businessmen and women in 2015. Of this figure, migrant women represented 1.3 million, a dramatic increase from the small group of 180,000 in 1980.


Female entrepreneurs

The European Commission identifies the potential of female visionaries as an ‘under-exploited source of economic growth’ and has launched the Europe 2020 strategy to tackle this.

Many of these women have built rewarding businesses, which allow them to sustain a good living and support their families. However, some female migrant entrepreneurs have gone further to build empires that have made lasting waves across the evolving global landscape.

Jin Sook Chang is one example. Originally from South Korea, she’s the brains behind the $3 billion plus retail giant, Forever 21. Or Peggy Cherng, an American businesswoman from Burma, who co-founded the booming $1.5 billion Chinese restaurant chain Panda Express, along with her husband. But even in their countries of birth, women are showing off their passion for Enterprise.

According to a 2014 report published by the Centre for Entrepreneurs and Due Dil, women in 64 nations overtook UK-born entrepreneurs when it came to setting up and running a business. Taking the top spot with 46.5% was Zimbabwe. This was followed by Singapore (42.9%), China (40.1%) and then Russia (39.0%). Lower income countries, such as Bangladesh and Uganda also had high rates of entrepreneurial women, despite the challenging economic conditions they face.

Often, the reasons for the birth of these ventures are primarily rooted in the need to support and survive, although many more women are now increasingly turning their minds to business, harnessing sheer entrepreneurial spirit.


Breaking down barriers

Female migrant entrepreneur Mila Juliet

Mila Juliet is one of Ria’s agents in Madrid, Spain, and a reference for success in the money transfer business.

With so much talent and entrepreneurial vision spread across the globe, it’s therefore difficult to understand why we don’t see more female migrant entrepreneurs gracing the dynamic business scene.

Contrary to the 29.1% of UK women who have founded a company, 25.9% of migrant women have done the same. Moreover, whilst women-led businesses continue to make valuable contributions to the economy, a publication by the Economic and Social Research Council discovered that women-owned enterprises typically begin with lower levels of resources than businesses led by men. This means that many are forced to accept additional funding at unreasonable terms, driven by their dogged determination to succeed.

In Spain, 27% of Ria’s money transfer agents are women. According to a study using Ria’s data, in collaboration with IE Business school in Madrid, female migrant entrepreneurs show average yields of around 10% above those of the men. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are also more empathetic toward their customers.

A good example is Mila Juliet, a female migrant entrepreneur from Ecuador now based in Spain. She revealed that while she experienced plenty of difficult moments establishing her business, she now runs a stable and thriving company and has become a reference for success in the Spanish money transfer industry.

For Mila, the social aspect of the business is something she values. She explained: “If I see someone who has nothing, I do not charge them, I do not wish to be enriched in this way because this is not enriching, for me it is a social action, I like that.

“They may call me silly because I don’t try to make as much as I could, but I really like the social part. If I had my way, I would have an office to help people with their issues… but you have to make a living.”


Financial and social inclusion 

In order to support the growth of talented female visionaries, global organizations such as Women for Women and Solar Sister provide opportunities to empower and encourage women in business.

Adrianna Tan - successful female entrepreneur

Adrianna Tan, Founder, and CEO of Wobe, is a business woman promoting education and financial inclusion. Photo courtesy of Adrianna Tan.

Whilst Women for Women strives to build a sustainable life and has already provided over 462,000 marginalised women, affected by conflict and war, with access to critical life-changing skills, Solar Sister focuses on ‘eradicat[ing] energy poverty’ in even the most rural communities in Africa, where women invest 90 per cent of their income into family well-being.

Female entrepreneurs are particularly valuable in today’s society for setting up businesses that are often centered around the socially beneficial sectors of health, education and social care. Like Adrianna Tan, a startup founder from Singapore, who established the Gyanada Foundation, an educational non-profit institution in India, alongside Wobe, a Fintech business in Indonesia focused toward financial inclusion. These sectors create the foundation of a healthy and sustainable life for all, also creating new jobs and fulfilling opportunities for the next generation.

Nevertheless, across all sectors of business, the European Commission identifies the potential of female visionaries as an ‘under-exploited source of economic growth.’ To tackle this, they have launched the Europe 2020 Strategy, a plan which aims to ‘revolutionise the culture of entrepreneurship in Europe’ and nurture a positive environment which supports the growth and success of new businesses. And as part of this, the achievement of female migrant entrepreneurs has been a strong focus, as officials not only recognize their essential contribution to society but also the need to help them unlock and realize their business potential.