By Liviana Zorzi, Project Specialist on Transparency & Accountability, UNDP Bangkok Regional Hub
“FairBiz – Promoting a fair business environment in ASEAN”, the regional UNDP initiative created in partnership with the UK Government ASEAN Economic Reform Programme, focuses on addressing one of the main obstacles to sustainable development and prosperity in the region: corruption.
The collaboration with young entrepreneurs and women business leaders of the region has been an exciting and insightful journey, through Fair Biz Diversity & Inclusion and Youth & Entrepreneurship platforms.
Women and youth are among the groups most affected by corruption. In the survey “The impact of corruption: perspective from millennial voices” (World Economic Forum PACI and UNODC, 2015), 72% of young respondents said corruption was holding their country back and causing lost opportunities for their generation. More than 50% felt they did not have tools needed to fight corruption in their community.
According to Transparency International (2020), women are prevented from succeeding in their workplace or businesses due to corruption, nepotism, and domination of senior level positions by male networks, coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability. Data also shows that female-owned businesses earn 23% less in profits than their male counterparts because bribes and informal payments affect female entrepreneurs more than male entrepreneurs (World Bank, 2019). Many forms of corruption have a disproportionately negative impact on women’s empowerment, leadership, and participation.
The impact of corruption on young entrepreneurs and female-led businesses has negative repercussions on the economies of ASEAN countries at large, especially in the covid-19 recovery efforts.
At the same time, and precisely because they know very well how corruption undermines progress towards a prosperous and sustainable future, women and young leaders can also be powerful agents of change. They can contribute to a new narrative and to a new way of doing business, as demonstrated through the FairBiz experience.
In March 2021, FairBiz conducted in Thailand a survey of 150 women-led companies. Corruption and bribery ranked as the second most critical challenges for their growth. In response to this, it partnered with the Federation of Business Professional Women of Thailand (FBPW) to set up the pilot initiative “Women Leadership in Business Integrity”.
Young female business leaders co-designed the initiative to raise awareness about the detrimental impact of the “ethics deficit” in business. Discrimination, gender pay gap, exclusion from business opportunities, bullying, and harassment are all examples of integrity flaws that hamper a company, and impact the lives of employees and their communities (UNDP, 2021). FBPW leaders say the pandemic’s silver lining was that it offered them the opportunity to redefine their business, with integrity.
In Indonesia, UNDP Fairbiz, the National Public Procurement Agency of Indonesia and Alliance for Integrity, created a training and action programme “She-Bid” – focused specifically on training women-led companies on business integrity to enhance capacity in bidding for public tenders. This was part of an effort to support gender responsive procurement and ensure that more women have access to government contracts.
These experiences illustrate that by coming together, women and young leaders can make their voice heard as a community, and demand for more transparency and accountability.