- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Kyoko Okutani heads Women's World Banking Japan, which 12 years ago joined a worldwide network that encourages women's self-sufficiency. WWB runs a business school and collaborates with Press Alternatives, a media and policy advocacy group in Tokyo. She spoke to Takehiko Kambayashi about growing female entrepreneurship in Japan.

Question: You have said that the emergence of female entrepreneurs can help "a sinking ship" [Japans ailing economy]. But many of them run small-scale, fledgling enterprises. Do you believe such businesses will be have an economic impact?

Answer: I'm doing my work, believing that women will help Japan's economy bounce back. What is important here is that their awareness has changed. Just establishing a new business also helps bring change in people's awareness and way of thinking in a community, and their growing presence in a local economy cannot be ignored any longer.

I believe that while the 20th century was the time when people were trying to solve women's issues, the 21st century is the time when women themselves will solve the world's problems.

Q: How much do you think Japanese political and business leaders are aware of the influence of the burgeoning number of female entrepreneurs?

A: There seems to exist a wide gap in understanding female entrepreneurship. Some male owners probably scoff at some of women's enterprises, saying, "Could we really call this a business?" But we want everybody to understand that, whether an owner is male or female, there is a community-based business that is able to fill needs that leading corporations have missed.

However, what Japan lacks overwhelmingly is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs. To expand business fields, we need systems to train entrepreneurs at earlier stages, rather than to support companies that are likely to be listed on a stock market.

There are several ways to assist entrepreneurs. For example, various companies in each region invest money to create some funds to nurture businesses needed in that region and finance an enterprise they find interesting.

In Japan, it is easy to fall into the pitfall of judging whether [an enterprise] is profitable or whether it benefits you in a short term. What matters most is whether we can consider business on a global scale and in the long term whether a business is really important to a region, and ultimately to Japan and whether we can approach future entrepreneurs from a disinterested motive, trying to support and nurture them.

Q: How differently do women in Japan approach business?

A: More male owners tend to focus too much on making profits and care too much about status, while their female counterparts in general enjoy their work and feel satisfaction when they feel needed when customers appreciate their services or products, and are willing to pay money for them.

Many female entrepreneurs seek fulfillment in their life.

And what's important, once women make up their mind to embark on their enterprise, they just start up by making essential goods and equipment on their own [or] getting them from [a small, local supplier like themselves].

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