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


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.


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.



The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) organized a series of webinars and an on-site panel discussion within the framework of the third Eurasian Women’s Forum held on 13-15 October 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation.

Six thematic webinars focused on the following different aspects of women’s role in the modern economy: women in post-COVID-19 recovery; women-led SMEs and start-ups; women in the attainment of SDG-9; women in research, development and innovation; the gender digital divide; and women in modern creative industries.

The six webinars had around 500 participants from all around the world. The objective was to take stock of the existing best practices and seek innovative solutions and particular policy actions targeting the most acute challenges to the economic empowerment of women in the digital age.

One of the speakers, Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director for UN Coordination, Partnerships, Resources and Sustainability of UN Women, said, “We need to ensure that those who are designing technology are doing so through a gender-sensitive lens,” adding, “Governments and policymakers need to ask themselves whether any women were sitting at the table when the decisions were made or initiatives designed.”

The key takeaways from the webinars were brought to the on-site panel discussion at the third Eurasian Women’s Forum. Moderated by UNIDO Goodwill Ambassador, Veronika Peshkova, the panel included policymakers, business leaders and representatives of international organizations and academia.

Elena Avdeeva, Member of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, said, “UNIDO and the Council of the Eurasian Women’s Forum have cooperated in many activities within the framework of the Joint Declaration signed in 2019.” She added, “New digital competencies are becoming an advantage on the labour market, and UNIDO with the Council worked together to establish a new education programme to develop the digital skills of women.”

The participants also agreed that in order to bridge persistent gaps, it is crucial to start by upgrading existing ecosystems and advancing the global discourse around the role of women and girls in the global economy. Therefore, showcasing successful role models, promoting mentoring and peer learning, as well as further utilizing international platforms for continuous thematic dialogue, remain key tools for overcoming biases and nourishing inclusivity.

Fatou Haidara, UNIDO Managing Director, said, “The new digital age, which was given an impetus by the current COVID-19 crisis, entails a range of opportunities for narrowing the existing inequalities. The greater integration of women and girls in the context of Industry 4.0 has an ever-growing potential to help transform economies and foster the sustainability and resilience of families and local communities.”

Additional details about the webinars and the panel discussion are available here.

Since 2018, with financial support provided by the Government of the Russian Federation, UNIDO has been implementing a project to foster women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and leadership in the region of Europe and Central Asia and beyond. UNIDO, together with its counterparts, has been carrying out networking, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building activities to support women’s integration in the modern development landscape.

More information about the project and other activities is available here.


Without key enabling and supportive government policies, the real benefits of new and frontier technology will remain locked away.

This was the message from science, technology and innovation (STI) ministers and experts who spoke at UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference (UNCTAD15) on why policy is crucial to ensuring new technologies and data are harnessed in ways that boost economic recovery, reduce inequality and foster sustainable development.

Panellists of the conference’s fourth ministerial round-table discussion held on 7 October outlined actions that governments, development partners and civil society actors can take to harness the true potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, drones and gene editing, while minimizing their potential harms.

“The impact of technology on the quality of economic, social and environmental outcomes is not deterministic,“ said UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant, who opened the discussion.

Policies can influence the tech trajectory

“The trajectory of technological change can be influenced by policy choices, and sometimes by the absence of any informed choice,” Ms. Durant said, adding that governments had a key role in shaping the impacts of frontier technologies.

She related how cutting-edge technologies had on one hand enabled the development of COVID-19 vaccines at an unprecedented rate, “but on the other hand, we see appalling inequality in access to these same vaccines.”

She urged the international community to note that while everyone in the world is affected by technological change, not all countries and social groups can make their voices heard and have their interests considered when the course of technological change is decided.

Ms. Durant said UNCTAD’s two flagship publications released this year, the Digital Economy Report and the Technology and Innovation Report, offered strong, evidence-based messages to policymakers on how to craft inclusive responses to the issues raised by rapid technological change.

An unmissable opportunity

Developing countries can’t afford to miss the current technological revolution as they had missed others in the past, said Douglas Letsholathebe, Botswana’s minister of tertiary education, research, science and technology.

He said the failure to catch previous technological waves had contributed to the existing inequalities between developed and developing countries.

Mr. Letsholathebe urged developing countries to better harness frontier technologies by raising their productive capacities and boosting structural economic transformation, while addressing social and environmental challenges.

“What we need is the widespread upgrading of science, technology and innovation capacity across the developing world that will promote global development and benefit all of mankind,” he said.

“Becoming ready requires active policy design and implementation,” he added, calling for stronger policy efforts at the national level in developing countries to build research and development, technological and innovation capacity.

Digital readiness crucial

“In the process of digital transformation, digital readiness is a pre-requisite to maximize the benefits of the digital economy,” said Pan Sorasak, Cambodia’s minister of commerce.

Mr. Pan said an eTrade readiness assessment conducted in Cambodia in 2017, UNCTAD’s first evaluation of a country’s e-commerce ecosystem, had been critical in helping the country boost its digital readiness and harness new technologies.

He outlined various policies, laws and regulations designed by his government to steer the impacts of technological change towards shared prosperity, sustainability and sustainable development.

They include measures governing e-commerce activities, promoting the development of e-commerce ecosystem, and addressing potential risks related to data protection, cyber security, cybercrime, consumer protection and competition.

Building digital skills is key

The Dominican Republic’s minister of higher education, science and technology, Franklin Garcia Fermin, underlined the importance of building digital skills to keep pace with rapid technological change.

He said the pandemic had accelerated digitalization, making it necessary to “think and rethink everything related to education and digital skills to guarantee sustainable development and social prosperity.”

Mr. Fermin called for more international collaboration to bridge digital divides (including the gender gap), reduce technological gaps between countries, tackle ethical questions and develop normative frameworks to guide a fair, transparent and accountable development of frontier technologies.

Small digital businesses need help

UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocate Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda urged stakeholders to tackle hurdles that hinder small and medium-size digital businesses, especially those owned by women, from growing.

These include limited access to growth capital for early-stage and women-led digital businesses. For example, she said $3 billion in funding had been raised in 2021 by over 500 African digital entrepreneurs, but only 6% had gone to women-led businesses.

Ms. Iribagiza highlighted the need to bridge the digital skills gap and make the business environment less risky for digital entrepreneurs.

She also called for more investment in demand-driven capacity-building programmes that target women digital entrepreneurs, such as UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women masterclasses, co-designed with women entrepreneurs to meet their needs such as building networks and engaging with role models.


Women across ASEAN need increased and equal access to better skills, entrepreneurship opportunities, and leadership positions during this period of rapid acceleration of the digital economy. Going forward, the region must narrow the digital gender divide and work towards creating inclusive digital economies that also prepare female workers for an increasingly tech-savvy labour market. The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) participated in the webinar on Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy, represented by Professor Akiko Yamanaka, Special Adviser to the President of ERIA and Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Japan and Special Ambassador for Peacebuilding of Japan.

The ‘Webinar on Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy’  initiated discussions on women’s empowerment in ASEAN and inclusive economic growth. The webinar was a pre-Ministerial event organised by the government of Indonesia as part of the Fourth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women (AMMW) scheduled for 11 – 15 October 2021. Organised by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia and in collaboration with MicroSave Consulting, the event supported the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) – Indonesia’s action plan focused on women’s economic empowerment and achieving inclusive economic growth in ASEAN through financial inclusion and digitalisation.

Prof Yamanaka shared evidence and insights from recent ERIA research regarding women’s participation in the digital economy in ASEAN. She also participated in a panel discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women across the ASEAN region. During the panel discussion, she explained that the majority of female entrepreneurs across ASEAN lead micro, small, and medium enterprises that are less likely to rely on advanced digital technology. Prof Yamanaka’s policy recommendations include strengthening the role of women in ASEAN’s digital economy which includes cyber-violence and gender discrimination prevention, incorporating gender balance principles in post-pandemic policy programmes, and promoting equal participation in business environments.

The Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia H.E. Ms Bintang Puspayoga delivered her Keynote Speech highlighting the need to determine national strategies that support women and to provide women with better digital access. Enhancing access to the internet is of particular importance for Indonesia’s continued growth as it is ASEAN’s most populous member state and where over half of its women are in their productive years. H.E. Ms Puspayoga shared Indonesia’s commitment to supporting women’s economic empowerment by encouraging more women to be involved in entrepreneurial activities at the provincial level, reducing violence against women and children, eliminating child labour, and preventing child marriages. To achieve these objectives, the Indonesian government has applied a gender lens in its national financial inclusion strategy and as such, advocates women-led enterprises by offering low-interest loans and capacity building activities that promote digital skills.

Minister of Finance, Indonesia H.E. Ms Sri Mulyani Indrawati centred her Keynote Speech on achieving digital transformation to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Five concerning gender equality and women’s empowerment. H.E. Ms Indrawati believes that digital technology and digital financial services can narrow the urban-rural divide. It can also advance female participation in economic activities and improve the livelihoods of every woman. Indonesia has continued to implement policies and that support gender equality as evidenced by its ‘Ultra-Micro’ (Umi) national programme which mostly supports women-led businesses.

To reap the benefits of inclusive economic growth, H.E. Ms Indrawati shared four factors that must be addressed to foster financial inclusion and to increase the role of women in the digital economy: (1) Offer financial products and services that are accessible for women, (2) Provide online education on finance and financial literacy for women, (3) Establish a regulatory and policy framework that mandates equal treatment for men and women, and 4) Ensure adequate information and communication technology infrastructure in urban and rural areas. H.E. Ms Indrawati closed her remarks by encouraging greater participation from the public and private sectors to tackle the multiple barriers to achieving gender equality.

Other notable speakers included Ms Jamie M. Zimmerman, Gender Lead, Financial Services for the Poor Global Growth and Opportunity from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Ms Lenny N. Rosalin, ACW Vice-Chair Deputy Minister for Gender Equality, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia; Ms Cecilia Titonin, Statistic Specialist, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; and Ms Chandra Sugarda, Gender and Public Finance Expert moderated the discussions. Country Director of MicroSave Consulting Ms Grace Retnowati gave the Closing Remarks of the webinar.

Our Donors

eTrade of Women is supported by the Governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

eTrade for Women is an initiative led by UNCTAD, in collaboration with eTrade for all partners.

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