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Blogs and Op-Eds by the Youth Co:lab team and contributors from our extensive network of changemakers. 

  • Dishnika Perera and Kate Garcia

Investing in Young Women: Contributing to Building More Equitable and Thriving Societies

It’s 2024 - women and girls are still facing significant challenges when it comes to accessing employment and education opportunities. They are also expected to shoulder unpaid care work while being labeled as aggressive when they are just as ambitious as their male co-workers. All these have compounded to create barriers for young women to enter and excel in the labour market, leading to higher rates of youth unemployment and a widening income gap.

To achieve gender equality and improve women’s well-being, there is an urgent need to address the persisting challenges. Currently, there is a projected annual deficit of $360 billion in spending on gender equality measures by 2030. Furthermore, the data gaps make it difficult to comprehensively assess the progress toward gender equality in the Asia-Pacific region.

Young Participant during the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2023
Young Participant during the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2023

This year's International Women's Day theme, "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress," underscores the call to transform challenges into opportunities in five key areas to create a better future for all. Among the myriad ways to invest in women, entrepreneurship is a powerful catalyst, not only driving economic growth and sustainable development but also playing a crucial role in advancing gender equality.

To address barriers and strengthen enablers to unlock the potential of young entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region, Youth Co:Lab, co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, in collaboration with diverse partners, through various initiatives, has benefitted over 19,000 young aspiring and existing social entrepreneurs and helped launch or improve over 2,600 youth-led social enterprises. Youth Co:Lab alumni, among whom are young women leaders, are vital contributors, channeling resources, addressing development challenges, and investing in women-led initiatives through inclusive entrepreneurship. 

Sharing the strategic initiatives they lead as women entrepreneurs supporting women, Youth Co:Lab alumna Upeka Thilinimali, Co-Founder and Director of Ample & Co.(PVT.) Ltd from Sri Lanka, emphasizes that “Financial support, in terms of allocating funds towards initiatives such as seed funding, microloans, or scholarships, can significantly impact women's entrepreneurship.” As a first-generation entrepreneur, she adds that providing quality education, engaging in advocacy efforts for inclusive policy changes and systemic support for women-owned businesses is crucial in addressing structural barriers. At the same time, continuous learning is also important to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

The experiences and challenges faced by young entrepreneurs are also evident in regional studies highlighting the higher barriers collectively faced by young women and girls. A report by Youth Co:Lab and UNICEF titled Addressing Gender Barriers to Entrepreneurship and Leadership in South-East Asia identifies inadequate access to finance, business networks and information as the most significant barriers that young women face to starting and growing a business. A key recommendation to dismantle these barriers is ‘Scaling up Gender Lens Investing.’ Investing in women-owned or women-led enterprises and supporting businesses that provide opportunities for women in their value chain can be a critical lever for unlocking the full potential of young women. It can also address inequalities in access to capital and overcome constraints to the growth of women-owned businesses.

Investing in women goes beyond financial support. Adding a crucial perspective to the discourse on investing in women, Sittie Aisah U. Balt, Founder of Kakaw Meranaw from the Philippines, underscores the importance of providing a platform for women to meaningfully participate and voice their ideas, recognizing the valuable contributions they can bring based on their experiences. According to her, young social entrepreneurs possess the key to sustaining the enterprises they lead, transforming these workplace spaces into brave environments that nurture, empower, and innovate. 

Building networks and safe spaces for women entrepreneurs can be key enablers to foster collaboration, discuss shared challenges, and develop solutions to overcome gender barriers. These efforts are crucial for creating an inclusive entrepreneurship landscape. Our Youth Co:Lab Springboard Programme takes a holistic approach that considers all aspects of entrepreneurship, from ideation to execution, investing in the potential of all young individuals to thrive in the entrepreneurial landscape.

Emily in her booth during the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2023
Emily at her booth during the Youth Co:Lab Summit 2023

Many young entrepreneurs are also looking inward and investing within their organizations; Emily Mabin Sutton, the Founder and CEO of SayMyName App from New Zeeland, advocates for flexible investment in team members, transcending traditional funding models to empower founders and provide more than conventional job opportunities. 

Our recently launched Gender Inclusivity Toolkit aims to facilitate entrepreneurs in building gender-inclusive organizations. It provides entrepreneurs with various tools, strategies, and best practices to help them build a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture. Gender-balanced businesses also achieve higher returns than average. 

As we strive to empower and invest in women-led initiatives and solutions that promote gender equality, not just during Women's Month but well beyond, financial support, mentorship programmes, collaborative initiatives, advocacy for policy changes, and the strategic utilization of inclusive tools are among a range of effective strategies that can be adopted to create equal and accessible entrepreneurship opportunities for all. These intentional and collective efforts contribute to building more equitable and thriving societies. 

Now, more than ever, is the time to turn aspirations into actions, fostering an environment where women's empowerment becomes a strong force in shaping our shared future.


Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation, and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.  

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