The role of NGOs in supporting women’s entrepreneurship

A study of a Quadruple Helix project in the Baltic sea region


Malin Lindberg
Luleå University of Technology
Dept of Human Work Science

Monica Lindgren
Johann Packendorff
KTH – Royal Institute of Technology
School of Industrial Engineering and Management

1. Introduction

Since long, entrepreneurial activity and innovation have been seen as an indispensable factor behind societal development and prosperity. Almost all political parties agree upon the necessity of increased entrepreneurial venturing in society – placing the future in the hands of thrifty entrepreneurs rather than relying upon corporate managers and public sector leaders to deliver growth, innovation, jobs and prosperity. At the same time, research has repeatedly shown that entrepreneurial activity is not open for everyone. From a gender perspective we can see a clear ’gender gap’ across Europe – often portrayed as a statistical pattern showing differences in prevalence of entrepreneurial activities between the categories of men and women. The reasons for the gender gap can be traced back to the general cultural gender differences in society, where business start-up:s is culturally defined as masculine activities. Moreover, the expectations on entrepreneurship and innovation from policymakers are emphasizing high-tech, high-growth, individualist ventures – i.e. traditional masculine ways of ’doing entrepreneurship’. Behind the statistical gender gap in entrepreneurship, there is thus a cultural gender gap.

This cultural gender gap of entrepreneurship has also found its way into societal models for supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. During the last decade, the role of collaboration between different sectors of society in supporting and catalyzing entrepreneurship and innovation has been emphasized through the introduction of the Triple Helix model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff 2000), in which successful entrepreneurial activities are seen as dependent upon the effective interplay between private businesses, governmental agencies and the university sector. At the same time as this model is increasingly used as a core tool in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in several Western countries, there is also research indicating that the ’gender gap’ has not been alleviated and that Triple Helix innovation systems tend to emphasise and sustain traditional masculine notions of entrepreneurship (cf Lindberg, 2010). In recent research, an extension of the model into a Quadruple Helix model – including also Non-Governmental Organizations – has been proposed to overcome this problem (ref). In this paper, we will inquire into the role of NGOs in supporting women’s entrepreneurship in Sweden, Finland and Estonia. By doing that, we intend to complement the theoretical Quadruple Helix model with empirical patterns, and add to the knowledge on NGOs in relation to women’s entrepreneurship.

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