Low-income women in developing countries rely heavily on commercial, small-scale farm- and home-based microenterprises for their family livelihood. The field of business development services (BDS) attempts to help microentrepreneurs stabilize and grow their businesses by providing them with access to a range of critical services from training to technology, market access, and infrastructure. Best practices in BDS recommend developing commercial, business-to-business service markets as the most sustainable way to reach large numbers of microenterprises. One critique of this “BDS market development approach” is that the approach is not effective at reaching low-income microentrepreneurs. In particular, low-income women microentrepreneurs are perceived
to be largely disconnected from BDS markets due to cultural and social constraints.
The BDS Working Group of the SEEP Network sought to explore these assumptions and effective ways for BDS market development initiatives to benefit low-income women. Practitioners and other interested parties from around the world were invited to participate in an email listserve beginning on July 12 and ending on August 19, 2004.
The objectives were to:
• Exchange experiences and frameworks from different development fields that can contribute to reaching low-income women with business services to improve family livelihoods;
• Share practical experiences, cases, and strategies that help low-income women access appropriate business services;
• Brainstorm innovative solutions to the challenge of reaching low-income women with beneficial enterprise development services;
• Facilitate better understanding, relationships, and dialogue among practitioners in different fields concerned with improving the lives of low-income women in developing countries; and
• Develop a research agenda for the next steps needed to further these objectives.