Empowering women entrepreneurs in developing countries

eTrade for Women combines the transformative power of women entrepreneurship with the positive impact of digital technologies. We support women entrepreneurs who are shaping the digital ecosystem in developing and transition economies to thrive as business leaders, and emerge as an influential voice in the public policy debate.

eTrade for Women benefits from the financial support of the Netherlands and Sweden and is implemented in collaboration with eTrade for all partners.

The eTrade for Women Advocates are successful and influential women entrepreneurs who are leading digital businesses and are committed to tackling the gender gap.

The eTrade for Women Advocates

Through their work, leadership and influence, the Advocates inspire and empower other women entrepreneurs. They help us bring women’s voices to the front to shape more inclusive digital ecosystems.

What we do

Masterclass

The eTrade for Women Masterclasses are empowerment events aimed at equipping the next generation of women entrepreneurs from developing and transition economies with the right skills to thrive in a fast-changing digital landscape.

Community

The eTrade for Women Communities gather women digital entrepreneurs from across the world to share experiences and gain visibility. Together, communities’ members expand their connections, acquire new skills and foster solutions to overcome common challenges that can have an impact on their ecosystem.

Policy Dialogue

We facilitate inclusive policy dialogues among women digital entrepreneurs, policymakers and other key stakeholders, at the local, regional and global levels, to foster more gender-responsive and enabling policy and regulatory environments.

News

ECA

New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA today called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration.

Mobile internet use in Central Africa more than doubled in the past decade to 42% at the end of 2019. Women and entrepreneurs increasingly use e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, according to the joint GSMA-ECA report titled “Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications”. The report makes the potential for economic development and social inclusion clear.

E-commerce is growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in ECCAS[1], serving nearly 50 million registered accounts.

The report shows that while the retail e-commerce landscape is dominated by global players, such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, domestic and regional players are leveraging local knowledge to compete. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa’s largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.

Insights from the report outline how social commerce, the use of social networks for e-commerce, is also gaining traction. Facebook’s 14 million users in the sub-region make an attractive marketplace and the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. The infrastructure, investment and skills necessary to fuel online shopping rank in the bottom third of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index of 152 countries.

The report makes clear that mobile telecom operators are a vital part of the solution. They provide connectivity for online activities, including e-commerce, enable digital payments and, support e-commerce by way of APIs and sales agents to address challenges in the sector.

“Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth,” said Angela Wamola, the GSMA’s Head of Sub Sahara Africa. “The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region.”

In Central Africa, as many as 264 e-commerce start-ups operate in at least 23 countries. The employment potential is significant with online marketplaces are set to generate 3 million jobs by 2025.

The region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services, specifically:

  • Enhance digital and financial inclusion
  • Take the right approach to data regulation
  • Address key challenges in the business environment
  • Leverage stakeholder collaboration

“Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa. “If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens.”


Please go here to download the report: Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications.

Watch an explanatory video here: Mobile Services for e-Commerce in Central Africa (new GSMA-ECA report)

UNCDF

What is the Generation Equality Forum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However, previous goals have not been complemented by successful implementation, and women worldwide are still facing discrimination in many fields, ranging from economic participation to public leadership, as reiterated by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021.

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF), convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, represents a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Why? Because of its inclusivity and focus on practical results, financing, and bold commitments.

First, the forum gathers not only international organizations, foundations and governments, but also stakeholders that have often been excluded by international treaties and agendas, such as civil society organizations, the private sector and feminist movements. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”.

Second, the goal of the forum is ambitious, yet concrete and achievable: to catalyze collective actions through strong pledges and drive increased investments. How? The Forum is organized into six Action Coalitions (AC), which represent six categories of pivotal issues to be addressed: (1) Gender-based Violence; (2) Economic Justice and Rights; (3) Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; (4) Feminist Action for Climate Justice; (5) Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and (6) Feminist Movements and Leadership. The leaders of the coalitions, after a year of comprehensive negotiations and research, have established a set of actions and tactics that will be implemented in the next 5 years.

The Forum culminated in July in Paris, where the action-oriented agenda proposed by the six ACs was received so favorably that governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society groups, youth organizations and the private sector made commitments worth more than $40 billion to advance the agenda’s operationalization. This pledge demonstrates a major step-change in the path towards women’s empowerment; the lack of dedicated financial resources is commonly recognized as the major reason for slow progress in implementing the Beijing Conference agenda.

UNCDF’s role in and commitments to the Generation Equality Forum

In 2020, UNCDF was chosen as global leader of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Women’s Economic Justice and Rights (EJR). UNCDF also plays a pivotal role in supporting the work of the Technology and Innovation Action Coalition (T&I). The operational approach of UNCDF is rooted in strengthening local systems, capacities, policies, and institutions to address persistent systemic gender inequalities through technology, innovative forms of financing, technical assistance, and product design. To do so, UNCDF values strong partnerships with international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector organizations, these stakeholders are all members of the GEF. In turn, there is a strong alignment between UNCDF’s mission and the agendas of the EJR and T&I ACs.

As highlighted by UNCDF’s Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha in her remarks provided at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UNCDF’s vision is to create Equal Economies by working to achieve two sets of commitments: Gender Finance Gap Zero; and Red Tape Zero. Through the first commitment, Gender Finance Gap Zero, UNCDF pledges to narrow the finance gap that contributes to unequal opportunities for women’s advancement across societies and economies. The second commitment, Red Tape Zero, represents UNCDF’s commitment to address the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape” to inclusion and participation.

Moreover, UNCDF is strengthening its programmatic approach and partnership by joining two collective commitments. First, UNCDF has joined the 2X Collaborative, through which we will promote gender lens investing in emerging markets using innovative blended finance solutions and partnerships with capital providers to develop new financing mechanisms to support women-led and gender responsive SMEs. Second, UNCDF joined the Digital Literacy Equity Outcome Fund in partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF, and Volta Capital, through which we will continue our work to advance innovative financing as a means to close the gender digital divide.

How do we move from commitments to action?

UNCDF’s unique mandate to bring public and private sector capital to the world’s least developed countries positions us well to support the blueprints of the EJR and T&I Action Coalitions, as well as several collective commitments. You can find highlights of the areas of focus for both Action Coalitions below the graphic.

Now, as we move towards implementation of the agreed Global Acceleration Plan for Action Coalitions, the most urgent next steps for UNCDF are to effectively and robustly connect our assets – innovative financing mechanisms, financing capability, technical expertise, in country presence – to the work of other partners to help realize the ambitions of the Generation Equality Forum in order to catalyze change and accelerate the closing of the gender gap.

Our work will support partners in the emerging and less developed regions around the world in their ambitions to lift millions of women and men out of extreme poverty. Our actions will specifically contribute to addressing discriminatory practices and reducing gender inequalities by promoting women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF aims to support this work by focusing on the following key priorities:

Gender Gap Finance Zero ( UNCDF will specifically contribute towards actions that will increase the volume of financing available for gender equality commitments in target LDCs.

  • Serve as the United Nations’ flagship financing agency for the LDCs to co-create innovative financing solutions to overcome the barriers to gender equality
  • Leverage UNCDF’s loans, guarantees, grants, blended finance instruments and technical assistance to increase investments in women-led businesses and gender responsive local economic development projects.

 

Red Tape Zero (addressing the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape”)

  • Co-lead of “Reaching Financial Equality for Women” A 10-point Action Plan for Reaching Financial Equality was launched through a partnership between the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank for governments and businesses to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The associated advocacy campaign featured 20+ CEOs and Ministers committing to one or more of the 10 actions to advance women’s digital financial inclusion.
  • Address gender based discriminatory practices and norms, as well as strengthen economic policies, budgets, plans and governance structures by providing technical support to local partners through the use of the comprehensive training course for local governments on WEE.
  • Utilize toolbox on WEE financing to support a comprehensive bottom-up approach using gender responsive local economic assessments to promote WEE that cuts across policy and regulatory support and local financing solutions. Measure the inclusiveness of digital economies, especially for women in digital economies through the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard in 20+ LDCs and addressing the identified market constraints for gender equality with the help of the Inclusive Digital Economy & Gender Playbook
  • Implement with the G7 Partnership for Advancing Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, policy and advocacy support to increase women’s digital financial inclusion and women’s leadership in the financial sector in 15+ African countries.

 

Both our Gender Gap Finance Zero and Red Tape Zero commitments will help us make Women Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies in 28 countries as well as build Inclusive Cities by transforming urban areas into spaces of equal opportunities for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

As Executive Secretary Sinha concluded in her remarks, these commitments will “impact women and their families in the LDCs, allowing them to have equal access, equal agency and equal leadership in their societies and economies.”

WBG

Over a year into the pandemic, we have witnessed how a sweeping infectious disease and lockdown measures quickly deepened inequalities, hindering the progress that many have fought for years to achieve. One of the most striking examples is the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.

The pandemic is not gender-blind: Women are doing more domestic chores and family care than men. They have been more likely to lose jobs than male counterparts, and sectors that employ a higher share of women have been especially affected by the crisis.

A recent World Bank paper reveals that women-led businesses were also unequally affected by the crisis when compared to businesses led by men.   This is the case particularly in sectors that were hit hard by COVID-19, such as the hospitality industry, as well as in microbusinesses.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the World Bank has been conducting surveys with about 45,000 firms in 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries, to grasp the impact of the crisis on companies. To understand specifically its effects on women-led enterprises, we decided to look at survey data gathered from April to September 2020—arguably the most challenging months for many businesses around the globe. The results of this study—the first global assessment of gender differences in the impacts of COVID-19 on enterprises—were sobering.

For instance, in the hospitality industry, while men-led companies exhibited a 60 percent year-on-year drop in anticipated sales, those led by women estimated a 68 percent decrease (controlling for size, income, and the severity of the shock). Similarly, women-led businesses faced greater financial risk, with many reporting having less cash available to cover their costs than their male counterparts.

Despite the challenges, women-led businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with resilience and innovation. In fact, our survey found that women-led small and microbusinesses were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms compared to those led by men.   While firms globally are turning to technology to cope with the pandemic, it was encouraging to see that women-led microbusinesses are leading the charge.

In addition to asking businesses about the impact of the pandemic, we were curious to find out the extent to which they benefited from public support programs enacted by governments around the globe. Here, the gender gap remains. On average, women-led businesses were 2 percentage points less likely to report accessing public support compared to companies led by men.  This shows a need for policy makers to raise awareness among women-led businesses of the available support programs, as well as to better inform women managers and owners on how they may benefit from these policy measures.

The COVID-19 crisis is still evolving every minute. While vaccination campaigns across the world have helped businesses reopen and recover, it is vital for policy makers and the global development community to keep track of gender-disaggregated data on the impact of the pandemic on companies, especially those in hard-hit sectors. This information will be crucial as countries work to build a more equal and resilient economy.

Partners

eTrade of Women is an initiative by the UNCTAD, in partnership with eTrade for all. It is supported by the Government of the Netherlands and Sweden.
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