Occasional Paper 9: "Rethinking ‘entrepreneurship’ in fragile environments"

Published on
July 28, 2014

Based on earlier research in Afghanistan, Holly Ritchie explores the multiple ways in which Somali women negotiate social norms and engage in new forms of cooperation to expand their room for manoeuvre and set out to do business, with varying degrees of success. Yet the emergence of more liberal norms and relations remains fragile in a greater context of uncertainty.

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The IS Academy ‘human security in fragile states’ aims to research the interfaces between institutions, people’s strategies, aid and economic life. Holly Ritchie’s research focuses on Somali refugee women who try to make a living from small scale commerce in Eastleigh in Nairobi, facing all kinds of legal and cultural restrictions.

The research particularly focuses on the ‘real’ working of social institutions, such as the Purdah norms that segregate women from men in Islamic communities. Social norms can be incredibly strong, but in reality they never operate quite as they are meant to. That’s why we refer to ‘real’ institutions. Especially in challenging/fluid environments, there may be new trends and dynamics that present opportunities for change.

The report provides many handles for agencies aiming to support women’s economic entrepreneurship and especially encourages stakeholders to enhance women leaders who tend to drive change and could make a difference in their community.

About the author: Dr Holly Richie

With a passion for pro-poor market development, Dr Holly Ritchie consults for various development agencies (including FAO and Oxfam) and government ministries in Afghanistan. Last year, she completed her PhD research at the International Institute of Social Studies, examining institutional transformation and construction in women’s enterprise development in Afghanistan, and the implications for broader economic development. See her project page for more information and additional publications.