In emerging markets, women own nearly one-third of small and medium enterprises, but their average growth rate is significantly slower than that of male-owned SMEs. Working women in developing countries also often face significant stress from the combination of long working hours, family responsibilities and barriers to work that requires being away from home. This evaluation is studying whether targeting women’s ability to cope with such daily stresses can help improve well-being and business practices and outcomes.

Policy Issue 

Female entrepreneurs in the developing world own a third of all small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), but their firms tend to grow more slowly than men’s and are more likely be concentrated in low value-added sectors, such as sales, retail and other services. While many studies of entrepreneurship focus on financial or business factors behind firm growth, non-financial barriers may also play a role in the decision to start an enterprise and subsequent success. For example, prior research suggests that anxiety and depression reduce work productivity, but the impact of well-being improving interventions on female entrepreneurship is not well understood.  Recent studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral counseling programs can improve economic outcomes in working environments. This pilot is evaluating whether offering female entrepreneurs a training in priority-setting, time management and coping skills can help improve their well-being levels and business outcomes. 

Context of the Evaluation 

In Bangladesh, more than 97 percent of enterprises employ less than ten workers, with nearly 79 percent employing three workers or less. Across the country, women own less than 0.5 percent of all businesses. Even in Dhaka, the city with the highest concentration of educated and working women, the percentage of female-owned firms is less than one percent. This project targets female owners of SMEs selling or trading fashion-rich, personal effects, wear and consumption goods in Dhaka Division. A recent census showed that one out of three female-owned firms in the country belongs to this sector.

Details of the Intervention 

150 female entrepreneurs were randomly chosen and offered a program designed to improve well-being by teaching time and stress management techniques, with a similar number serving as a comparison group. The program consists of six weekly one-hour sessions covering priority-setting and time-allocation exercises, problem-solving skills, meditation and relaxation exercises. The research team will measure the short-term impact on entrepreneurs’ well-being (self-reported levels of stress, anxiety and depression) and firm outcomes (value of business assets, profits and hours worked).

Results and Policy Lessons 

Project ongoing. Results forthcoming.