Did you know that women make up the world's largest excluded group in the global economy?
At the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, our aim is to break down those barriers which contribute to this massive inequality. We believe that gender should be no impediment to economic activity. Our work empowers women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies to establish and grow businesses, take up their rightful places in our economies and play a stronger role in our societies.
We think women entrepreneurs are special. And today - on Women's Entrepreneurship Day - I'd like to take a moment to explain why we should be celebrating these unsung heroes of development.
1. Women entrepreneurs succeed - against huge odds.
Setting up a business is never easy, for anyone. But women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging economies face hurdles that, very often, don't exist for many business men and women in the West.
Imagine, for example, being unable to access a basic bank account. Or being unable to take out a loan or even go out to work without your husband's permission.
There are a huge range of legal and cultural barriers which still restrict women's access to the resources, skills and tools which are so crucial to business success. Over one billion women worldwide still do not have access to basic financial services. A recent study by the World Bank of 173 countries found that 90% of these countries had at least one law impeding women's economic activity.
And yet, despite this, women entrepreneurs do succeed, overcoming enormous barriers to realise their dreams of running their own businesses.
One woman I met through one of our projects in India last year was Shantaben. She buys and sells agricultural produce as part of a rural cooperative, and she was one of the women who learned to use a mobile application we developed to enable the women in the cooperative to place orders for stock remotely, via SMS.
It was not an easy process for Shantaben - she was illiterate and faced discouragement from her family. But she did not give up. With much perseverance, she learned to use the application and can now place orders remotely via her mobile phone. With the time and energy saved from travelling Shantaben's sales have increased three-fold, and she is using her extra income to pay her grandson's school fees.
2. Women entrepreneurs are not just business women.
Being an entrepreneur is a full-time job - and more. But women in business the world over face the dual burden of professional work and domestic duties.
Globally, women undertake 75% of all unpaid care work. Care work is absolutely vital to the maintenance of the wellbeing of our societies, and yet it is largely invisible, uncounted and unanalysed in national statistics and policies.
Many of the women entrepreneurs we support are running businesses whilst balancing complex and demanding caring responsibilities. Many have gone into entrepreneurship precisely because they need income to support their families. Take Kartina (pictured above), for example - a single mother and one of the mentees in our Mentoring Women in Business Programme, who set up a home-based hair care business in Kuala Lumpur to provide for her two sons. She told us simply, "One of the reasons I started my business is to survive my family."
3. Women entrepreneurs do wonderful things outside of their businesses.
In developing and emerging markets around the world, women entrepreneurs are creating small businesses, fostering growth and acting as role models to others in their communities.
Research shows that when women earn, they plough 90% of those earnings back into their families. Women entrepreneurs also drive job creation. Worldwide, an estimated 48 million women entrepreneurs and 64 million women business owners employ one or more people.
The women we support pay it forward - women like Aniema, who, after subscribing to our Business Women mobile learning tool, was determined to use what she had learned to help other women. She established the Women Leaders Forum, a group of women from the business and public sectors who provide support to other women in the rural areas surrounding her city in Uyo, Nigeria.
To mark Women's Entrepreneurship Day and celebrate incredible women like Shantaben, Kartina and Aniema, we are launching a social media campaign called #WhoInspiresYou. We will be sharing stories of the amazing women entrepreneurs we work with, and we are inviting everyone to get involved and tell us which woman entrepreneurs inspire them.
Please join the conversation and shine a light on the incredible women entrepreneurs who are making a difference in communities around the world today.