Women as vectors of social entrepreneurship in hospitality and tourism

by Dr Albert Kimbu

15 Feb 2016

The declaration of the need to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ (Sustainable Development Goal No. 5) is no surprise for the hospitality and tourism industry (H&T), which sees tourism and development as inseparable. Much has been done to popularise the status of women as H&T workers and women in the tourism workforce. A joint report by the UNWTO and the ILO reveals that women make up 60-70 per cent of the H&T work force as at 2013, yet are more likely to suffer from inequality of opportunity and treatment. A recent OECD study reports that men are generally more likely to start a social venture than females, but in comparison with traditional, commercial entrepreneurial activity females are relatively more prevalent in social entrepreneurial activity.

There is an ever growing demand for more responsibility in the H&T industry in both the tourist generating and tourist receiving regions, many of which are located in developing countries and rely heavily on tourism for their development. However, there is limited research on the sustainable development impacts on women as entrepreneurs and owner-managers of micro and small tourism firms (STFs). Together with Dr Michael Ngoasong, I recently completed a British Academy / Leverhulme funded research project, which set out to unpack the nature, motivations and extent to which women owner-managers of STFs in H&T use their STFs as platforms for engaging in various forms of social entrepreneurship leading to societal transformation, economic and community development in Cameroon.

Although there is ample evidence of how women workers in tourist-generating and tourist-receiving regions in developing economies contribute to development, there is limited research on their impact as entrepreneurs and owner-managers of micro- and small-tourism firms (STFs). Social entrepreneurship scholars suggest that the role of women-owner managers of STFs should be judged on the social transformation that they seek to make in society and the associated impacts on the specific communities they serve. Consequently, through analysis of survey questionnaires, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with representative stakeholders drawn from across the H&T industry our research provides evidence of how women integrate social transformational and commercial goals in their business strategies and the actions they undertake to identify and served defined communities around H&T. As the research argues, it is by examining the operationalization of these goals and community needs that the wider development impacts of women owner-managers of STFs can be understood and this in turn provides opportunities for promoting and encouraging women social entrepreneurship in developing countries.

Recently, we hosted an exciting practitioner workshop in Cameroon to share the findings from the research with participants, as direct beneficiaries of the research. The workshop was also attended by public authorities and NGOs dealing with issues of equality, gender empowerment, small enterprise development and equality. The participants committed to sharing contacts and to supporting each other through a dedicated WhatsApp group – a remarkable achievement particularly when so few of the women had any previous experience of professional networking through social media. We also hosted an academic workshop at Surrey University, attended by academics and NGOs involved in gender and equality issues within the H&T industry.

These workshops served as a platform for the creation of an education and knowledge exchange forum/network between the attendees and the researchers which it was planned would eventually grow to include women social entrepreneurs from other sectors. If you would like to hear more about any aspect of the research project please contact me ([email protected]).

Albert Kimbu is Lecturer in Hospitality and Tourism Management University of Surrey. This project was funded by the British Academy, under the small research grants program. 

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