Thailand has long encouraged and supported female participation in its workforce. More...
Thailand has long encouraged and supported female participation in its workforce. Nearly two-thirds of Thai women (ages 15–64) participate actively in the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors, and the representation of women in management positions (more than one-third) is among the highest in the world. According to a 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report, representation of male and female entrepreneurs at all stages of business activity is roughly equal: intending to start a business, starting and sustaining the business, and becoming an established owner and creator of jobs. Women make up 37 percent of board positions in Thailand, which is one of the highest rates in the world.
Entrepreneurship in Thailand is a critical component of the economy’s development strategy. According to the OECD, SMEs make up 99.8 percent of all Thai enterprises, account for 76.7 percent of total employment, and represent 37 percent of the GDP. The 2013 GEM report further shows that one-third of Thailand’s adult population is “thinking of starting a new business within the next three years.” In 2013, 46.3 percent of the population was engaged in entrepreneurial activities, and 28 percent owned an established business. The overall legal and regulatory environment in Thailand is considered relatively strong, with Thailand ranking 26th out of 189 economies surveyed by the World Bank’s Doing Business in 2015 report.
Still, significant barriers remain for nearly all aspiring and active Thai entrepreneurs. Many SMEs have trouble accessing government services and support schemes because of specific legal and registration requirements, and because of investment limits that exclude a majority of Thai SMEs from eligibility. SMEs also may not know which government agencies to contact. Illustrative of this problem is that obtaining a loan from the public SME Bank takes longer than at one of Thailand’s many commercial banks.
Women-owned enterprises in Thailand are typically small, and rely on a variety of funding sources to become established, chiefly funds from their own savings and from family and friends. The GEM reports that more than 70 percent of Thai women-owned businesses operate as microenterprises. Many of these grow fast: A 2010 study by MasterCard found that women-owned SMEs in Thailand grew at an annual rate of 2.25 percent compared with 0.31 percent among male-owned SMEs. A high rate of growth does not equate to long-term sustainability of business operations. Whereas 29.6 percent of the male population qualified as ‘established business owner’ in 2013, only 26.5 percent of the female population was designated as such. Women chiefly cite personal reasons or the lack of profitability for discontinuing their enterprises.
An APEC and Asia Foundation study on access to trade and growth of women-owned SMEs in Thailand found that women business owners perceived low levels of government support for small business. According to the study, women owners are 21 percent less likely than their male counterparts to think that government is “very or somewhat accessible.” APEC reported in 2013 that, in practice, women face difficulties in accessing loans due to the lack of collateral and the stipulation by cooperatives that they must have the consent of their husband for obtaining a loan. Application paperwork, including procuring supporting documents, is another major impediment for women applying for business loans.
While women pursue a variety of roles in the Thai economy, they are still expected to adhere to traditional gender roles in the household. A survey of time consumption of Thai people by the National Statistical Office revealed that women had less free time than men and spent more time on household work than men. In addition, women spent more time than men taking care of family members, resulting in less spare time.
Thailand has relatively few formal business networks that bring women together in mentoring relationships for leadership development or to access capital for their start-up, venture, or commercial interests. The Business and Professional Women’s Association (BPW) of Thailand, an offshoot of BPW-International, has 18 provincial chapters and one central hub in Bangkok. BPW-Bangkok is an active organization, hosting leadership development seminars, working with aid donors on innovative enterprise promotion, and coordinating with the government on philanthropic initiatives.
Women entrepreneurs may wish to join the recently-formed Thai SME Trade Association, which was established as a result of the gathering of SME entrepreneurs at the SMEs Advanced Courses for Senior Executives held by the Office of SME Promotion (OSMEP) in 2013.
Networks that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Networks that support women’s access to markets:
Networks that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Networks that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Networks that support women and innovation and technology:
A number of nonprofit organizations exist in Thailand to push for the advancement of women’s rights and equality, including the Friends of Women Foundation and the National Council of Women of Thailand. The latter sponsors an annual Women’s Day to encourage greater awareness and recognition of the importance of women in Thai society. Many initiatives were started to advocate for basic women’s rights and to address violence against women, but attitudes are changing as women become more important players in business and entrepreneurship.
Two associations approach support to SMEs in a broad-based, gender-blind manner. The Thai Association of Small and Medium Entrepreneurs engages in research and distributing information on entrepreneurship, and partners with other SME organizations to conduct relevant training on ASEAN or ICT-based business skills. The Association for the Promotion of Thai SMEs has affiliations with the government and serves as a clearinghouse of information on upcoming training, seminars, and government-sponsored events.
A few initiatives impart business skills and build the capacity of women entrepreneurs specifically, though it should be noted that these initiatives (like the Goodwill Group Foundation and Association for the Promotion of Status of Women) primarily target disadvantaged, homeless, or incarcerated women, and not women entrepreneurs at large. There are no identified private initiatives (including commercial banks) to support women’s access to capital or markets.
Initiatives that support women’s access to capital and assets:
Initiatives that support women’s access to markets:
Initiatives that support strengthened capacity and skills for women in business:
Initiatives that support women’s leadership, voice and agency:
Initiatives that support women and innovation and technology:
Government services to SMEs are coordinated and implemented through the Office of SME Promotion (OSMEP), the Department of Industrial Promotion (DIP), and SME operators throughout Thailand. OSMEP published its third SME Promotion Plan for 2011–2015. A fourth plan is in development for 2016-2020.
The current plan focuses on strategic support to key business sectors such as technology and innovation, agriculture and processed agriculture, creative industries, retail and wholesale, and service and tourism. The plan also calls for the establishment of an SME Center in cooperation with OSMEP and the Institute for SME Development, as well as further collaboration with Thailand’s SME Bank to open up funding sources for SME operators.
In the plan there is a special emphasis on upgrading the economy’s “One Tambon One Product” (OTOP) local entrepreneurship stimulus program. The program was developed in the early 2000’s to support the locally made and marketed products of Thailand’s “tambons” (subdistricts). There are 36,000 OTOP in Thailand, with 30 to 3,000 members in each group. OTOP helps local communities develop better products through product rating systems and annual exhibitions. The third SME Promotion Plan intends to “upgrade” OTOP groups to become SME operators, and to support the sale of OTOP products on international markets.
The majority of ongoing government services for SMEs are gender-blind. According to a report submitted at the APEC Second Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy Meeting in 2012, 46 percent of new entrepreneurs participated in and supported by the DIP are women. The economy’s SME Bank is dedicated to servicing the sector, and provides a range of financial and nonfinancial services. The SME Bank will expand under the current SME Promotion Plan to increase access of entrepreneurs to credit and support services. One dedicated women-centric service is the Thai Women Empowerment Fund, a highly publicized multi-million dollar fund introduced by the Yingluck administration in 2012.
SMEs looking for services have access to some good online resources. The Department of Business Development provides information on business registration, foreign business operations, accounting and auditing, and business promotion. The Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation offers a phone-based service center, online help chat, suggestion box, and complaint registration service. The Department of International Trade Promotion has information for Thai exporters and foreign buyers alike, and links to a well-designed e-commerce website called Thaitrade.com.