Managing the complexities of informal female entrepreneurship


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Informal female entrepreneurship (IFE) is central in this versatile entrepreneurial system, as women are largely necessity-driven while men are mainly voluntary participants in informal entrepreneurship (Williams, 2009). However, IFE is a highly complex phenomenon involving multi-level actors with uncommon inputs and synergies (Welter et al., 2015), particularly in developing countries (Rashid & Ratten, 2020). IFE refers to women who engage in self-employment or run their businesses informally without registering their businesses with the government (Thapa Karti et al., 2021). Informal women entrepreneurs (IFE) are found in various sectors, including trade, services, and manufacturing. They contribute important to their families, communities, and economies (Muhammad et al., 2021). Moreover, informal entrepreneurship is a central business model in financial, health, and geopolitical crises. Indeed, these businesses are not subject to formal policies to recover and thrive in times of crisis (Santos et al., 2021; Jha & Bag, 2019).
Previous studies primarily examine two aspects of this multidimensional topic: the challenges IFE face and the alternative strategies they rely on to establish and grow. For instance, limited market information, low levels of education and skills, and discrimination based on gender and ethnicity are the major barriers that IFE struggle with throughout their business lifecycle (Chiplunkar & Goldberg, 2021). Another critical obstacle is the lack of access to formal institutions and services such as credit and training (Babbitt et al., 2015). To overcome these barriers, social networks involving family and friends represent the central means for IFE to obtain information, support, and financing for their businesses – and to create a sense of belonging and contribution to the economic development of their surroundings (Afreh et al., 2019; Boafo et al., 2022). Furthermore, microfinance programs provide small loans, savings, and other financial services to low-income individuals and communities, including informal entrepreneurs (Bruton et al., 2021). While education and training can improve informal entrepreneurs' entrepreneurial skills and capacities, enabling them to identify and take advantage of business opportunities and overcome challenges (Jiménez et al., 2015)
Yet, despite these advantages, IFE has received limited attention from scholars, policymakers, and practitioners. The extant research needs to be more comprehensive to capture the complexity of this phenomenon and inform the procedures and programs aimed at supporting it. Consequently, recent studies suggest unveiling the multi-level dynamics of IFE both by clarifying its role in promoting economic growth and social and environmental sustainability on one side (Raman et al., 2022) and the best practices, including digital technologies, that are suitable to these entrepreneurs in developing socioeconomic contexts on the other side (Ejaz et al., 2022).

The Need for the Special Issue 
IFE frequently plays a crucial role in employment creation and revenue generation in low- and middle-income nations (Laing, 2021). Yet, the effects of these enterprises on economic growth are rarely supported by empirical evidence. Moreover, since informal enterprises are typically excluded from official statistics, it is difficult to precisely determine the number of IFE and their contribution to the economy. In addition, conducting survey-based research within informal enterprises might be difficult due to the absence of clear boundaries and standardized data collection techniques (Omri, 2020). Hence, these areas need to be studied using novel research approaches to overcome the comprehensive official IFE data shortage and give policymakers bottom-up assistance.

Women entrepreneurs are likelier to establish enterprises that protect local resources and increase community diversity (Al Qahtani et al., 2022). They encourage sustainability by utilizing local people's resources, expanding social capacity, and supporting other women workers (Agarwal et al., 2020). Thus, there is a need to investigate, on the one hand, various social and environmental reasons for IFE, such as poverty alleviation, gender equality, and environmental conservation in IFE. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand how IFE negotiate the tradeoffs between economic, social, and environmental sustainability. In addition, the structure and emphasis of informal enterprises are heavily influenced by the socioeconomic characteristics of nations and regions (Ault & Spicer, 2022). This approach emerges differently in industries with varying technological intensity, regulation, and competitiveness (Siqueira et al., 2016). Hence, comparative research on IFE in different cultural, economic, industrial, and political situations is urgently required. To inform the development of more context-specific policies and programs, we encourage scholars to define the country- and industry-specific features that influence the emergence and contributions of IFE.

Besides, national and regional policymakers affect and encourage the deployment of informal enterprises (Autio & Fu, 2015; Horodnic & Williams, 2018 ). Nonetheless, their beneficial roles and the efforts of women entrepreneurs have been neglected in previous research. Thus, there is a need to identify the origins and inner dynamics of this phenomenon by examining several case studies at the micro (firm level), meso (informal women entrepreneur), and macro (socioeconomic environment) levels of analysis – thus contributing to developing a multi-actor environment conducive to IFE. Moreover, previous research has highlighted the gender-specific problems and barriers IFE confront, such as discrimination, gender-based violence, and inadequate educational access (Salvi & Gimenez Jimenez, 2022). Nonetheless, gender can also influence the experiences and outcomes of entrepreneurs. Hence, a need for a comprehensive examination of the intersections of gender and informality, focusing on the inner strategies of women entrepreneurs, the contributions of their firms, the accessibility of resources, and the development of their activities, are still needed. These findings would be essential for developing focused and efficient programs for IFE operating in an ethically supportive setting.
Additionally, the vast majority of research focuses on alternative strategies for addressing the challenges of informal entrepreneurship in general (Salvi et al., 2022). Yet, academics do not stress the techniques IFE employ. In this sense, we encourage the academic community to disclose these best practices and investigate their use in various socioeconomic development contexts. These methods are essential for assuring informal women businesses' growth, expansion, and financial stability in developing nations and monitoring their internal and external limits. More particularly, the introduction of industries 4.0 and 5.0 and the exponential expansion of digital technologies spawn a new wave of abilities and skills (Benhayoun & Lang, 2021). Using digital technologies, entrepreneurs increasingly deploy entrepreneurial actions beyond traditional practice, such as ecosystems, networks, and communities (Kraus et al., 2019). In this regard, there is an urgent need to determine the role of digital innovation in establishing and growing informal women firms, such as women's access to markets, funding, and other resources. In addition, the research could identify the appropriate developing technologies, such as digital platforms, to help IFE grow.


List of topic areas

Hence, based on the preceding discussion, this special issue aims to theoretically and empirically explain what IFE may look like. What are the causes and consequences of IFE? What is the association between governments/institutional frameworks for IFE? How does understanding IFE move the debate forward to theory and practice? This special issue invites papers that address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • What traits and mindsets of IFE help scale businesses and navigate challenges in a particular institutional context? 
  • What are the conditions and mechanisms in which IFE and formal entrepreneurship co-exist? 
  • How does IFE improve their access to education, funding, resources, etc., to generate entrepreneurial opportunities? 
  • What challenges and opportunities does IFE face in managing logistics and transportation issues (e.g., last-mile parcel delivery, particularly in rural or underserved areas, perishable products)?
  • What evidence or case exists on IFE advocating social and sustainable living globally?
  • Cases and narratives on the role of IFE in the context of social and technological innovation (promoting sustainable products and services etc.) and economic contribution (e.g., employment generation, etc.)?
  • What multi-level determinants and barriers (e.g., national policies, global crises, peculiarities of the informal business, background, and entrepreneur demographics) affect IFE?
  • How does gender perception influence or navigate the journey of IFE (e.g., discrimination, violence, cultural norms, etc.)
  • What are the potential implications of the formalization process on IFE, and how does it impact the entrepreneurial process (e.g., orientation, intention etc.) and economy? 
  • What are IFE's positive and negative effects on nations' inclusive and sustainable growth?

In conclusion, submitting authors are requested to understand IFE's contribution to the economy and sustainability across various business configurations, the key strategies and best practices to overcome the often-highlighted challenges, and the factors influencing this entrepreneurship, such as gender. We invite scholars to perform conceptual, empirical, and comparative investigations that examine closely but not exclusively the highlighted topics and rely on multidisciplinary multimethod innovative research. The propositions should adopt a multi-level and multi-actor perspective that acknowledges the intersectionality of social, economic, technological, and human factors for this phenomenon. 
Besides the theoretical contributions, special attention will be drawn to developing practical actional knowledge for women entrepreneurs, their communities, and policymakers that would inform the design of effective policies and programs to establish supportive business conditions, thereby contributing to inclusive and sustainable economic growth.


Guest Editors

Amitabh Anand,
Excelia Business School, CERIIM, La Rochelle, France.

Lamiae Benhayoun,
Rabat Business School, BearLab, Rabat, Morocco.

Tarik Saikouk,
Excelia Business School, CERIIM, La Rochelle, France.

Rana Zayadin,
University of Sussex Business School, United Kingdom.


Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available by clicking the button below.

Submit your paper here!

Author guidelines must be strictly followed.
Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to “Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.


Key Deadlines

Paper Development Workshops  - November 1st week (TBA) – Interested authors can send their extended abstracts to the guest editors on or before October 20, 2023. 
Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 30 January 2024 
Closing date for manuscripts submission: 30 March 2024
For any queries, interested authors may contact the managing guest editor at [email protected] 



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