How women in developing countries can harness e-commerce

women laptop

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Annette Ssemuwemba, Deputy Director, Enhanced Integrated Framework, World Trade Organization


• E-commerce has the potential to level the economic playing field for women in developing countries.

• Government, the private sector, aid programmes and civil society need to team up to ensure women’s digital access.

• Action is needed on both policy and the skills base.

Ugandan fashion designer Daphine Kyaligonza sells her colourful dresses, tops and menswear at a number of shops she runs in Kampala. Now she also sells her items via her website to people all over the world. But she wouldn’t have made the move to e-commerce without mentoring and training.

Commerce used to mean the exchange of goods for money, with a customer physically visiting a store, choosing from a variety of selections and paying a specified amount. Now of course that physical presence is increasingly unnecessary with the emergence and growing prevalence of e-commerce, which is providing more opportunities for businesses across the world like Kyaligonza’s to sell at any time of the day or night.

 

For women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), especially those in the least developed countries (LDCs), the potential to benefit is even greater. Why? Because digital spaces should conceivably provide both men and women with equal opportunities. Further, given cultural barriers in some societies that require women to stay in the house, e-commerce offers women the liberty to work from home while expanding a business.

How can women in LDCs take advantage of this? Are they equipped to reap the benefits that e-commerce offers? And what do they need to succeed?

The top reason among women for not using the internet is lack of know-how
The top reason among women for not using the internet is lack of know-how
Image: Webfoundation.org

The female connectivity gap

While there is significant potential for e-businesses to grow in LDCs, the environment in many countries is not conducive to such enterprises developing and thriving – and this is especially so for women-owned MSMEs.

The first and fundamental requirement for an e-business is access to the internet. The data from ITU shows that one in seven women in LDCs uses the internet, compared with one out of five men. Further, most e-commerce transactions are carried out by phone, and studies show that there is still a gap in female connectivity. Although awareness of mobile internet is growing in most markets, it remains consistently lower for women than men. Once online, women are 30 to 50% less likely than men to use the internet to increase their income or participate in public life.

MSMEs in the e-commerce space struggle with basic infrastructure challenges like establishing functional supply chains and reliable logistics. E-trade readiness studies undertaken by UNCTAD reveal deficiencies in various areas such as strategies and policies for e-commerce development, payments, legal and regulatory frameworks, and access to financing, among others. Only 14 out of the 47 LDCs have legislation for online consumer protection. For women, these challenges are exacerbated given the limitations they face like access to finance and skills, as well as cultural barriers.

In order to ensure no one is left behind in this space, governments, the private sector, aid for trade programmes such as the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), and civil society all have complementary roles to play. The following actions need to be prioritized, with some fast-tracked in view of technology’s rapid rate of change.

Proportion of men and women using the internet around the world
Proportion of men and women using the internet around the world
Image: ITU.int

Cambodia leads the way on policy

The policy space is the most important area of change needed. LDC governments need to improve and update the legislative and regulatory frameworks covering consumer protection, private security of transactions, ICT and payment infrastructure. EIF is currently supporting nine countries to carry out eTrade Readiness Assessments, a process that enables countries to prioritize the actions necessary to harness the potential of e-commerce. This is particularly important considering that only 1% of all aid for trade is allocated to ICT solutions.

Cambodia was one of the first countries to undergo an eTrade Readiness Assessment in 2017, and has been using the analysis to guide its digital trade efforts. The Ministry of Commerce mapped the assessment’s recommendations and has worked to better align them with donor priorities. The study laid the groundwork for chapters on e-commerce and ICT in the recently launched Cambodia Trade Integration Strategy Update 2019-2023. Building on this, EIF is now supporting Cambodia to develop a robust e-commerce ecosystem, and a Cambodia-owned and -managed marketplace. This support is especially targeted at women-owned businesses and provincial MSMEs to tackle identified bottlenecks and grow their businesses online.

Skilling up for the future

Capacity is critical in empowering MSMEs to thrive in the e-commerce space. Potential female digital entrepreneurs in LDCs cannot get businesses up and running unless they have the skills required. But what skills do they need?

It is essential to first identify those needs, then deliver training accordingly. EIF is working not only to identify and improve the skills of entrepreneurs, but also offers LDC governments what they need to ensure they can formulate and implement policies that create an e-commerce-ready environment.

In south Asia, EIF has joined forces with UNESCAP to build the capacity of women entrepreneurs to join e-commerce platforms to expand their business exports and participate in local, regional and global supply chains. Similarly, in the Gambia, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative is providing one-on-one coaching to entrepreneurs in the fashion sector, so they can target international customers online.

Providing coaching and mentoring opportunities to entrepreneurs so they have the knowledge and experience they need to succeed has enabled female entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in the digital space.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

What is the World Economic Forum doing about digital trade?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution – driven by rapid technological change and digitalization – has already had a profound impact on global trade, economic growth and social progress. Cross-border e-commerce has generated trillions of dollars in economic activity continues to accelerate and the ability of data to move across borders underpins new business models, boosting global GDP by 10% in the last decade alone.

The application of emerging technologies in trade looks to increase efficiency and inclusivity in global trade by enabling more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to repeat its benefits and by closing the economic gap between developed and developing countries.

However, digital trade barriers including outdated regulations and fragmented governance of emerging technologies could potentially hamper these gains. We are leading the charge to apply 4IR technologies to make international trade more inclusive and efficient, ranging from enabling e-commerce and digital payments to designing norms and trade policies around emerging technologies (‘TradeTech’).

In Uganda, young fashion entrepreneurs are marketing their products to those outside the country through social media like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Kyaligonza is one of those who received mentoring and training, and has opened a virtual clothing store beyond her Kampala shops. She has in turn passed her knowledge on to the young fashion designers who work with her, enabling all of them to meet the online demand for African clothes and fabrics. As a result, she has international customers who place orders virtually, pay directly through their phones using WorldRemit and other platforms, and receive their goods via international couriers. Her international customer base is growing exponentially.

E-commerce should be considered one of the driving forces in women’s economic empowerment. Let’s make sure we make it happen.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Terrorism ‘spreading and destabilizing’ entire regions, Guterres warns States, at key Kenya conference

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

Drones are saving lives in Tanzania’s remote communities

Dignified health for all who live here

Austria, Italy, Portugal, Spain receive €279m after natural disasters in 2019

China, forever new adventures

A day that Berlin and Brussels would remember for a long time

I cycled over 6,000km across the United States to document climate change. Here’s what I learned

Climate action ‘both a priority and a driver of the decade’: Guterres

Antitrust: Commission consults stakeholders on guidance for national courts when handling disclosure information

No more lead in PVC to protect public health, say MEPs

Commission reviews relations with China, proposes 10 actions

Available mental health services: is it only about professionals or institutions?

UN rights experts ‘gravely’ concerned at spike in civilian casualties in north-west Myanmar following internet shutdown

COVID-19: Single market must emerge stronger from the crisis, say MEPs

Europe and the tragicomic ‘black sovranismo’

Humanitarian migration falls while labour and family migration rises

Facebook has built an AI-based tool that fixes the social network when it crashes

Africa’s future is innovation rather than industrialization

UN rights expert calls for civilian protection as fighting escalates between military and armed group

East Africa locusts threaten food insecurity across subregion, alerts UN agriculture agency

Migration crisis update: What are the chances of a fair deal at this EU Summit?

2021 EU budget must focus on supporting a sustainable recovery from the pandemic

David McAllister underlines the need for rapid progress in EU-UK negotiations

Prisons are failing. It’s time to find an alternative

This tool shows you which cities will flood as ice sheets melt

How to build a digital infrastructure that benefits emerging economies

A rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Yemen

Banking Union: ECOFIN and Parliament ready to compromise

4 ways family businesses can lead the pandemic recovery

Could electric vehicles pose a threat to our power systems?

GSMA Announces Final Event Lineup for Highly Anticipated 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Summer 2018 Interim Economic Forecast: Resilient Growth amid increased uncertainty

“The winner is who can accelerate the transition to a new digital era”. The Sting reports live from EBS 2015: a Digital Europe 4.0

EU mobilises €21 million to support Palestine refugees via the UN Relief and Works Agency

EU: Divided they stand on immigration and Trump hurricanes

Under-fives’ daily screen time should be kept to 60 minutes only, warns WHO

Preventing the Pandemic of Mental Illness

COVID-19: Emerging technologies are now critical infrastructure – what that means for governance

Mario Draghi quizzed for last time by Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee

MEPs and European Youth Forum call on EU to Invest in Youth

EU to host international donors’ conference for Albania to help with reconstruction after earthquake

Manufacturing is finally entering a new era

Business could learn plenty about cybersecurity from the secret state

In Bali, UN chief Guterres outlines importance of international financial cooperation for sustainable development

Detecting online child sexual abuse requires strong safeguards

The ‘yellow vests’ undermined Macron in France and the EU

UN conference agrees better ways for Global South countries to work together on sustainable development

How India is solving its cooling challenge

Meet Alice, the battery-powered plane that could herald the age of electric air travel

Kids who live in the countryside have better motor skills, a study in Finland has found

Cohesion Policy after 2020: preparing the future of EU investments in health

MEPs demand an end to migrant deaths across the Mediterranean Sea

Search Engine neutrality in Europe in danger: Are 160.000 Google filtering requests good enough?

Our children’s career aspirations have nothing in common with the jobs of the future

World Editors Forum President: Credible media vital in the fight against COVID-19 and fake news epidemic

Coronavirus: here’s what you need to know about face masks

Donor countries set international standard for preventing sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment in development sector

Can medical students be prepared for Global Health ethical issues?

Merkel refuses to consider the North-South schism of Eurozone

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s