Two weeks back, our team endured a bumpy 4-hour ride to Wonsan from Pyongyang. We were heading there to conclude our fourth and final workshop in the country for March. Key topics focused on economic zone development, improving the environment for businesses, and on provincial development. Workshop leaders cautioned that initial investment amounts from outside might be small, but emphasized the importance of starting with small investments and recognizing it as a learning journey for local officials and for investors.
We started 2014 strong, completing 4 workshops in North Korea in the first four months and 1 workshop overseas. Workshops were split between the provinces, attracting participants from the provinces, and Pyongyang. Over the 5 workshops, we covered provincial development, improving the business and investment environment, entrepreneurship, and fiscal and monetary policies. In total, 180+ participants took part in programs in the first quarter of 2014.
During the workshops, I was also heartened to meet researchers who were interested in learning how to build an ecosystem to commercialize IT research. In North Korea, there is a tendency to focus on technical skillsets at the expense of figuring out a market and a business model for IT products. I am glad to see that there is recognition at least among some people that they need to balance technical skills with commercial savvy.
Women in Business
In particular, we would like to highlight a workshop we did for our Women in Business program. As we mentioned, we are in the last phase of this program. This program was set up to target female managers in the growing small and medium enterprise segment with training in business management skills and entrepreneurship. In March, we had 45 participants in the program, with 84% being females. This is the highest ever percentage of females we had for an in-country workshop, reflecting continued interest in this unique program. The female participants were incredibly bright, curious and full of questions. Our main regret was that we were unable to extend the length of the workshop to answer all those questions, despite requests from North Korean partners to do so.
Going forward, given limited funding support for this program, we are likely to start reducing the frequency of workshops for the Women in Business initiative. We expect to continue maintaining a low level of activity for the program. We will continue with other programs focused on policy and entrepreneurship, but look forward to having an active program dedicated to women in business again at some point. We would like to thank our workshop leaders, sponsors, volunteers and partners for the work we have been able to do this quarter.