Most of the work on women entrepreneurs in developing countries relates largely to those who are uneducated and very poor, working in the rural areas or the urban informal sectors. Few studies have attempted to study women entrepreneurs in the urban formal sectors in developing countries, the category of women corresponding to the women entrepreneurs studied in the Western world.
Furthermore, most of these studies, conducted largely by international development agencies, have tended to focus on issues from a macroperspective. They assume that women entrepreneurs in developing countries are a homogeneous group, with similar experiences in starting a business.
This study departs from earlier research in two major ways. First, it focuses on actual and potential women entrepreneurs in the urban formal sector. Second, adopting a symbolic interactionist approach, it tries to take a closer look at women’s experiences in starting a business. Hence, it focuses on women’s perceptions and the way they define their goals and the advantages and constraints they face in starting a business at a micro level.
Data for the study were gathered through in-depth interviews of 33 participants of an entrepreneurship development program (EDP) run in Karachi, Pakistan. Sixteen of these were women who started a business after attending the EDP. The other 17 women did not start a business, although they had originally intended to do so.
The study revealed that women wanted to start a business in order to achieve three types of personal goals: personal freedom, security, and satisfaction.
Freedom seekers were mostly women who had experienced some kind of frustration or dissatisfaction in their paid work, and who now wanted to start their own business in order to have the freedom to choose the type of work, hours of work, work environment, and the people they worked with.
Security seekers were mostly women who, triggered by some personal mishap (such as death or retirement of husband), wanted to start a business in order to maintain or improve their and their family’s social and economic status. An important reason why most of these women opted for their own business rather than paid work was the flexibility that self-employment offered in terms of location (close to home, working from home) and hours of work, to which paid jobs could not cater.
The satisfaction seekers were mostly housewives, with no previous work experience, who wanted to start a business in order to prove to themselves and to others that they are useful and productive members of society.
The impact of structural factors on women’s ability to start a business varied according to the dominant personal goal women had chosen. Structural factors influencing start-up were divided into three categories: internal resources, that is, women’s qualifications and/or work experience; external resources, that is, finance and location; and relational resources, that is, family, employees, suppliers, and customers.
The relationship between women’s personal goals and structural factors influencing start-up led to the development of a conceptual framework that could help explain why some women, despite apparently unfavorable circumstances, succeeded in starting a business, whereas others even under apparently favorable circumstances did not do so.
Understanding the different goals women pursue and how the relationship between these goals and the structural factors influenced start-up can be of great help to researchers, planners, as well as practitioners working to promote women entrepreneurs. This understanding can lead to the development of more finely tuned policies and programs of support that not only recognize that women have different goals for wanting to start a business, but that their needs and experiences in starting up vary according to their particular goals for business ownership.