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Creating Gender Equality through Trading Opportunities Report – Laos, Vietnam, Australia

Procurement and trade are huge economic levers that also drive social change. Femeconomy partnered with members Social Good Outpost’s Director Elise Stephenson and Temples and Markets Owner Judith Treanor to develop trade links between women owned businesses across Australia, Laos and Vietnam, through the “Creating Gender Equality Through Trading Opportunities” initiative.

This project is proudly supported by the Australia-ASEAN Council and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Four intercultural virtual round tables were held in March 2021 to explore the barriers and enablers in accessing trading opportunities for women owned businesses in Laos, Vietnam and Australia. The roundtables were facilitated by Dr Elise Stephenson from Social Good Outpost and Judith Treanor from Temples & Markets. Interpreters were available at all roundtables and the events were opened by Australia-ASEAN Council Chair, Ms Christine Holgate.

Currently, women owned businesses attract less than 2% of the global procurement market, yet in Australia 34.8% of businesses are classified as women owned. Around one in three business owners in Vietnam is a woman. According to the World Bank’s enterprise surveys, approximately 43% of enterprises in Laos were partially or fully owned by women. In Laos the female business community plays a pivotal role in driving social transformation and economic development, but many still lack access to networks, capital and skills training.

The purpose of the roundtables was to broaden awareness and understanding across Australia, Laos and Vietnam of each other’s culture, values and traditions through increased people‐to‐people capabilities, strengths and opportunities. The participants represented a broad range of industries including agriculture, logistics, retail, international development, tourism, manufacturing and professional services. This report shares the themes emerging from the roundtables, as well as the trading and networking opportunities identified.

demographic trends

  • All participants had a successful career before starting their business.
  • Most spoke of balancing family and business. This could be their own commitments with children, caring responsibilities of their parents or breaking gender stereotypes.
  • Most operated at a national level, but desired to expend internationally.
  • Education and background ranged, from limited literacy and technology skills, to running fully online businesses.
  • There was a high level of participation in voluntary groups to build networks and to align with the business’ purpose and have greater impact as a leader.
  • All were part of women’s networking groups.
  • Their businesses are purpose driven and all businesses are collaborative within communities to create change, rather than business for business’s sake.
  • All businesses were focussed on ways to support other women.

I was a corporate CEO in Laos before starting my own business. It was difficult being taken seriously as a young woman CEO. I started a new model and network to help grow women owned businesses.

recurrent themes across the roundtables

  • Difficulty accessing finance and venture capital even with exemplary credit ratings
  • Acceptance and support from family members was important for the female leader to start and grow a business
  • Desire for sustainable growth was highlighted, rather than being able to scale quickly
  • Opportunities brought by COVID included local buying, access to global tenders, and ability to internationally scale conferences and award programsChallenges brought by COVID included shipping, being able to connect with business opportunities in person, being reliant on the tourist market, reassessing international expansion opportunities

Starting a business in a regional area, I had no business support around me and I needed a different model of support because I had four children. That is why I created my online community.

  • The participants felt excluded from traditional industry networks and eco-systems to build their businesses.
  • The importance of relationships in procurement discussions and tendering opportunities
  • Difficulties balancing full-time work and other commitments with the growing business
  • Desire and tendency to seek out other female based networks internationally, tapping into them for tender opportunities, business to business relationships, as well as understanding cultural differences and collaboration opportunities.
  • Sharing examples of where people were already working together on international trade or referral opportunities for business within networks
  • The importance of using the business to create stable employment for other people in their network, for example people with disabilities working with recycled materials to produce products to sell.
  • An Australian University Education assists Vietnamese and Laotian business owners with Australian networks and trading opportunities
  • The importance of the internet to create networking and trading opportunities and for those who have access, to create opportunities for those without internet access

ongoing collaboration opportunities for women owned businesses

  • Participants exchanged advice on ecommerce platforms and partnership opportunities to enter new markets for example, Vietnamese Chef Duyen accessing Airbnb and Intreprid Travel opportunities

We are launching the women changing the world awards. We are partnering with people all over the world to launch it. Who is making a difference locally and globally, on issues like sustainability? Our awards will help get their messages out to the world. Every woman deserves a seat at the table.

  • Introductions have been made for the participants to build their network of internationally based consultants for networking opportunities.
  • The AusMumpreneur Awards and Business in Heels Mentoring Program are both expanding internationally. The roundtables provided introductions to ASEAN networks to assist with the growth of these Australian based programs internationally and to create further links with Laos and Vietnam.
  • As attendees were introduced through the roundtables, relationships have started to develop. This includes:
    • A Vietnamese Chef company meeting with a Vietnamese Tour company
    • Two Australian based businesses sharing knowledge on building an organisational structure through place-based consultants, to deliver work in-country in Vietnam and Laos
    • Australian businesses accessing Vietnamese based manufacturing opportunities
    • Temples & Markets offering to promote Laotian businesses to the Australian market
    • Accessing other opportunities through the Australia-ASEAN Council activities being delivered by Dr Elise Stephenson
  • Through Femeconomy there is potential for the Vietnamese and Laotian businesses to speak at the Women of the World Festival in 2022

recommendations for further consideration

  • For the Australian Border Force to increase the Australian threshold of the customs duty for example from $1000 to $50,000, to allow for greater trade opportunities for small and medium enterprises in Australia to trade with Laos and Vietnam based businesses

Our Vietnamese business was exporting to Japan and we had included shipping costs. The costs almost broke the business, but we were able to renegotiate our contract with them and keep the business going

  • Reduce shipping costs, or subsidise shipping costs for example, through Austrade’s Export Development Grant mechanisms to allow Vietnamese and Laos business greater access to global markets, including Australia
  • Learn from the Made in Australia brand to create the Made in Laos/Vietnam brand, to tap into market opportunities collectively

Being stuck in the middle of Australia doesn’t stop businesses being international, like the cattle industry. We can use these trade links to assist other local businesses in rural Australia

  • For Laos businesses to be trained on Australia’s food safety standards to allow for more international export opportunities and to create better trade ties with Australia, and opening access to Australian accreditation systems

In Laos, the enabling environment is not great to startup or grow. For example, lots of people don’t understand the tax system and it changes all the time. Tax is really high and there are lots of hidden taxes for exporters. We need to encourage people to work and give them a tax buffer to allow them to experiment

  • When the Government stimulates an industry in a rural area, for example Wool, include the by-products or creative industries surrounding that industry. For example, wool scouring, wool mills and textiles to support more jobs in the community and allow access for international growth opportunities
  • Introduce Australian fintech mentoring around financial services products to stimulate entrepreneurship in Laos
  • Education on local and international export and import tax implications and accessing experts who can advise on tax regimes and changes


According to the 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 165.1 years to reach gender equality in East Asia and the Pacific. This is 44 years behind sub-sahara Africa and 113 years behind Western Europe. Women owned businesses impact women’s economic security, and therefore programs that continue to support women owned businesses in the ASEAN region, assisting them to develop trading partners, accessing new networks and build their capacity and capability are vital.

Translated Reports

Vietnamese Translation of the Creating Gender Equality through Trading Opportunities Report – Laos, Vietnam, Australia

Hội Nghị Bàn Tròn Hội đồng Úc – ASEAN. Tạo sự bình đẳng giới qua các cơ hội thương mại cho
Phụ nữ là các chủ doanh nghiệp ở Lào, Việt Nam & Úc

Laotian Translation of the Creating Gender Equality through Trading Opportunities Report – Laos, Vietnam, Australia

ກອງປະຊຸມໂຕະມົນ ຂອງສະພາ ອອສເຕຣເລຍ-ອາຊຽນ. ສ້າງຄວາມສະເໝີພາບຍິງຊາຍໂດຍຜ່ານໂອກາດທາງການຄ້າ ທຸລະກິດທີີ່ແມ່ຍິງເປັນເຈົົ້າຂອງໃນລາວ, ຫວຽດນາມ & ອອສເຕຣເລຍ


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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.