There was some positive news in the last few days. More female founders are taking the plunge in Asia and that includes Southeast Asia.

Mastercard revealed the third edition of its Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, highlighting the markets where women entrepreneurs are most likely to thrive. New Zealand emerged as the top-ranked market in the Asia Pacific region, and is second in the world behind only the United States, for its conduciveness to women’s entrepreneurship.

The lone representative from Southeast Asia is Singapore, which ranks 8th in the world.

three people sitting in front of table laughing together

Where the data comes from

Based on publicly available data from international organizations including the International Labor Organization, UNESCO and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the global Index tracks the progress and achievement of women entrepreneurs and business owners in 58 societies (representing nearly 80% of the world’s female labor force) across three components:

  • (i) Women’s Advancement Outcomes,
  • (ii) Knowledge Assets & Financial Access, and
  • (iii) Supporting Entrepreneurial Factors

The results reaffirmed that women are able to make further business inroads and have higher labor force participation rates in open and vibrant markets like New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia, where the support for SMEs and ease of doing business are high.

Women are also able to draw from enabling resources, including access to capital, financial services, and academic programs. Typically, these markets are also driven by social norms that deeply encourage and promote innovation, creativity, risk‐taking, and success through personal perseverance, and grant women fair opportunities to rise as business leaders, gain tertiary education and to be perceived and accepted as successful entrepreneurs. Out of the 20 highest-ranking markets globally, 80% are high-income economies.

Where does Southeast Asia rank?

While US, New Zealand and Canada rule the top slots in most favourable markets for women entrepreneurs, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Hong Kong are not too far behind in the top 20. Of the 58 markets included in the Index, eight moved up by more than five ranks year-on-year. Asia Pacific’s fast-rising markets included Indonesia (+13), Taiwan (China) (+9) and Thailand (+5) all saw significant jumps in their rankings.

The rankings are as follows:

  • 8th Singapore
  • 11th The Philippines
  • 14th Thailand
  • 19th Vietnam
  • 21st Malaysia
  • 32nd Indonesia

On the other end of the spectrum, for markets at the lower end of the Index, women tend to be held back by lack of opportunities to assume higher-level economic roles, are marginalized by poor support for SMEs, low financial inclusion, poor opportunities for tertiary education and often restrictive and underdeveloped business and financial systems that make doing business difficult.

Importantly, societal and cultural norms also discourage them from working, being ambitious, or assuming leadership roles.

Download the full Mastercard Index for Women Entrepreneurs 2019 report.