In Focus: Policies and schemes for women entrepreneurs in Brunei Darussalam
Brunei Darussalam is an oil-rich Sultanate on the northern coast of Borneo, in Southeast Asia. The economy of the country is a curious mix of certain factors like – foreign and domestic entrepreneurship, government regulation and welfare measures. Per capita GDP is among the highest in the world; no personal income taxes are paid by Bruneian citizens and the government provides free medical services and free education. All this definitely translates to high levels of disposable income.
And focusing on Bruneian women’s transformative journey over the years cannot be done without acknowledging the positive impact of planned government policies, on the one hand, and societal attitudinal change, on the other.
At a closer look, the women of Brunei are seen to be climbing up to higher positions in the workforce. In fact, the increasing number of female business leaders underlines the ministry’s commitment towards promoting women empowerment and equity, which is in line with the country’s economic and social development agenda under Brunei Vision 2035.
We can take a look at some policies and schemes that is provided to women in Brunei Darussalam.
> Universal Access to Education
Brunei Darussalam’s long-standing policy to provide universal access to education has given girls and women equal opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and skills. And, the country will continue making efforts to protect women’s rights through legislation and varied plans of action. This heightens efforts on promoting and protecting the rights of women and children, even to fulfill international responsibilities, as demonstrated by its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
DARUSSALAM Enterprise (DARe) aims to help women entrepreneurs; this they achieve by providing them with the experience and expertise of some of the most successful businesswomen in Brunei. That is because DARe has successful businesswomen as their board members; and they can certainly help empower women entrepreneurs through the development of specific programmes.
DARe is particularly equipped to help women entrepreneurs succeed. DARe was established in February 2016 to spearhead growth of local Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) – in order to steer increasing contribution to the economy, employment and export. In fact, DARe bridges the public and private sectors to facilitate a conducive business environment.
And a platform to raise awareness of Bruneian products/services while promoting & celebrating entrepreneurship is the Brunei MSME Festival. The Brunei MSME Festival is back in 2023 and will be held on16 – 19 March 2023. The 4-day event will include – a host of activities like a themed conference and interactive sharing sessions, covering various key topics and issues relevant to MSMEs and the general public – to promote entrepreneurial culture and development.
> Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE)
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) was launched in Brunei in October 2021, on the weekend before Brunei Darussalam chaired the ASEAN Summit in support of several of ASEAN’s socio-economic goals.
Originally, it was established by the U.S. State Department, and currently operates in 80 countries worldwide. It is specially designed to empower women to fulfill their economic potential. The program gives enterprising women the knowledge, network and access they need to launch and grow successful businesses. By promoting women’s economic opportunities and ensuring that women have the capabilities and resources needed to participate in the economy.
AWE has served to be a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs, in taking the first step of their entrepreneurial journey. Upon completion of the AWE program, the women entrepreneurs can continue to tap into DARe’s range of MSME development support that offers access to business information, training, financing, space, markets and promotion to take their business to the next level.
AWE is open to Brunei-based women entrepreneurs between 18 to 40-years-old, who are in the early stages of starting and running a business and have limited business background or training.
> Encouraging Framework for participation of women in SMEs
In Brunei Darussalam, as far as economic participation goes, women have equal opportunities as men. The WEF Global Gender Gap Report places Brunei at 30th place in terms of women in economic participation. Significantly, the development of SMEs has been in the national development agenda for many years; and many efforts have been made at developing SMEs both by the government and private sectors in the country.
The government has in place a guiding framework for developing SMEs that is focused on entrepreneurship development.
Participation of women in SMEs
The active participation of women in SMEs is encouraged and nurtured by the Government and the private sector through equal access to the provision of incentives and entrepreneurial support, which include financial assistance schemes, access to info-communication technology, business counseling as well as training in the form of workshops, seminars and consultations. In Brunei Darussalam, their participation in business has increased in various economic sectors including – consultancy, architecture, legal practice, manufacturing, aqua-culture and agriculture, general construction and more.
To spur SME development in Brunei, many facilities are made available. In terms of access to finance for SMEs, the government has put in tremendous efforts. Just recently, the government has launched a complete handbook on ‘Assistance Schemes for Business Start-ups and SMES’ – which holds all relevant information on all financing schemes and assistance offered by the Brunei Darussalam Government.
The Enterprise Facilitation Scheme has three components – the Entrepreneur Development Scheme, the Enterprise Development Scheme and the Regional Cooperation Project Facilitation Scheme. They also provide entrepreneurship development programmes, such as the Live Wire Brunei which was launched in 2001 by the Brunei Shell Petroleum Company, targeting those between the ages of 18 and 30 years.
> Women’s Business Council-Brunei Darussalam (WBC- BD)
Women’s Business Council-Brunei Darussalam (WBC-BD) was established in 2000, under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources. WBC- BD is a national body of women leaders in business, academia, government, and civil society. This aims to represent women’s business interests and concerns and to create an avenue for exchanging ideas and developing skills, entrepreneurship and support for quality businesses for women.
The WBC works closely with many agencies including the Community Development Department – to create social entrepreneurship for women who receive welfare assistance to enable them to be financially independent and to supplement their income. Another social entrepreneurship programme is to develop young unemployed youths to learn business skills through training programmes developed by WBC.
> Brunei Womenpreneur Network
Brunei Darussalam is an open community – to build a network of aspiring and inspiring local womenpreneurs.
Big BWN Project’s mission is – to empower, encourage and support the local youth and community; to find sustainable and impactful solutions for the main concerns around the country, primarily to become more enterprising and self-sustainable in order to create a diverse group of people from different fields who support each other to grow their interests and ideas, accompany them through delivering their initiatives and addressing the key challenges affecting the growth of local projects. So, the objective is – to create a Bruneian community that cares about the environment and the earth by empowering them to live more mindfully and practicing the 4Rs and to keep Brunei clean and green.
They also aim to give the local youth and community access to more opportunities and platforms. Here it can be seen that supporting them is critical to the sustainable development of communities in Brunei and also for the country’s economic prosperity, as the dependency on government subsidies and the unemployment rate goes lower.