Women Entrepreneurs as an Engine of Growth

Author: Cynthia Griffin, U.S. Embassy Minister Counselor of Commercial Affairs

I am delighted to be back in the country where I first came to study in Nanjing in 1988. At the time, the future of China’s economy was uncertain. Today China is one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. I returned to China last fall to serve as Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs and lead a team of international trade professionals in assisting U.S. companies overcome barriers to gain access to the Chinese market, which will help reduce the bilateral trade imbalance. This month marks International Women’s Day. As one of the U.S. Embassy’s senior female diplomats, I reflect over the course of my thirty year career working in countries from Asia to Africa and in the United States, and marvel at the power of women entrepreneurs and the innovation and growth they bring to their economies.

Those women are also right here in China. It has been inspiring to engage with Chinese female entrepreneurs who have played significant roles in driving economic and social development. One great example is the dynamic Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China. She has changed the skylines of China’s most prominent cities through collaboration with international design and architectural experts. Through SOHO China and the public-interest foundation she and her husband established, “SOHO China Foundation,” Ms. Zhang is also doing her part to raise the quality of life of China’s citizens by not only beautifying our surroundings, but also making scholarships available to Chinese students. As a bold business leader with global vision, Zhang Xin is also keen to move women up the corporate ladder and foster diversity across her management team.

Roberta Lipson and Mary Peng are two other businesswomen whose successes exemplify female contributions to the Chinese economy, and whose work demonstrates the value of U.S.-China business collaboration.
In 1981, Roberta co-founded a clinic that has grown into United Family Healthcare (UHF), a world-class hospital and clinic network in communities across China. When I first visited UHF with my daughter for our own medical needs, I was struck by the impressive quality of service, including the use of U.S certified medical devices. UFH is hoping to offer its world-class healthcare training to Chinese medical practitioners, and expand its technology across China. In the area of public health and safety, which knows no borders, we have opportunities to introduce U.S. healthcare technologies and pharmaceuticals, growing U.S. exports and helping meet the healthcare needs of the Chinese people.

As a dog lover, I was delighted to bump into Mary Peng as we were making our way along the hutongs of Beijing to an art gallery opening. Over the course of the evening enjoying abstract art I learned that the International Center for Veterinary Services (ICVS) Mary founded not only offers world-class veterinary services for our four-legged friends, but also rescues, shelters, and adopts abandoned dogs and puppies. To further strengthen ICVS’ offerings, Mary would like to import a wider range of quality veterinary equipment, medicines, organic pet food, supplements and treats from the United States to diversify ICVS’s offerings to the benefit of China’s consumer class.

These examples echo the reality I have encountered not just in China but around the world: women drive innovation in business, and their business success provides invaluable contributions to society. In the United States and across the world, we can promote further growth by ensuring women have every opportunity to participate in the workplace as equal members.
Similarly, the U.S. and Chinese economies can benefit from increasing overall opportunities for trade and investment. In the thirty years since I was first here, the Chinese economy has grown at breakneck speed, and has succeeded in raising millions of people out of poverty through opening and reform. There is still room to improve the quality of life of China’s citizens through the opening of markets and granting of access to U.S. companies, products, and services across a wide range of sectors.

To cite one example of how a more reciprocal trade relationship with the United States benefits China, the Governor of Hainan recently opened special zones where new healthcare technologies and drugs – currently restricted elsewhere in China – can be imported to the benefit of local communities. These drugs include HPV vaccines for young girls and new cancer therapies that can be delivered in China, thereby avoiding the need for travel overseas to seek treatment. In contrast, many U.S. medical devices and pharmaceuticals must wait years for regulatory approval to enter China. Harmonizing regulatory approval processes with international standards will allow high-quality products and services to reach Chinese patients faster. This will also create further competition and innovation to the benefit of undertreated patients. And this market access will help rebalance the bilateral trade relationship.

Empowering women brings benefits to society as a whole; they create greater economic opportunities. As Roberta Lipson states, “diversity in the management team culls the best of all worlds.” Likewise, empowering businesses and opening markets to fair competition culls the best and benefits consumers and society as a whole. As we celebrate the contributions of women this month, let’s keep the spirit of empowerment and diversity alive.