News

Lebanese family businesses are looking for export and digital trade opportunities to keep their families’ heritage and traditions alive.

In one of the most severe economic crises in Lebanon, resilience is the watchword of the people who suffer daily, both personally and professionally, from its consequences.

In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, the explosion at the port of Beirut caused astronomical losses to the country. Despite these many obstacles, numerous companies have managed to stay on course, and it is in this context that the International Trade Centre (ITC) supports the country’s small businesses to make use of the respective technologies that can increase their presence in regional and international markets.

As part of the Women’s Enterprise Finance Initiative (We-Fi), and with support from the World Bank, ITC put in place the “E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs” project in Lebanon. Under its ecomConnect programme, the team helps women entrepreneurs expand their access to domestic and export markets through e-commerce platforms.

Meet Martine Zaarour from Jar Thuraya

One of these entrepreneurs is Martine Zaarour. Her social company Jar Thuraya collects handicrafts produced by Lebanese women, contributing to both the empowerment of women and the preservation of Lebanon’s natural resources.
Architect by profession, Martine was driven by a strong interest in sustainable development and the defence of women’s rights.

Jar Thuraya won the first prize at the Startup Roadshow Wired in Qatar, which allowed the company to expand to the United States and Australian market. There, more than 40 seasonal products, all packaged in environmentally friendly and plastic-free packaging, are available for purchase.

Heavily impacted by the explosion at the port, Martine explains that she had lost sale opportunities. She adds, “we also faced delays in receiving shipments that were held at the port, such as jars, lids, and so on.”

Martine was not alone in facing these challenges: “Like all other companies in Lebanon, we had to deal with the shortage of electricity, fuel and connectivity, which played a major role in delaying our operations.”

During the programme, Jar Thuraya was accompanied by ITC e-commerce advisor Hala Nassif. “Hala was able to support and empower us,” says Martine. “She helped us discover new opportunities and ways to develop our business.”

Meet Nathalie Boueri and Roy Harb from Ayadina

Nathalie Boueri and Roy Harb, the co-founders of Ayadina, received support in developing the company’s e-commerce strategy as well as explore its brand identity, packaging, export, and marketing.

“Ayadina” which translates to “handmade”, uses pure natural ingredients, from aromatic dried herbs to pickled wild cucumbers, for its range of pantry products and preserves that are sold in selected, high-quality retailers and delis.

“The port explosion did not affect the company directly,” explains Roy who will take over the family business. “However, we felt it indirectly during the two months following the explosion. Sales stopped, production was brought to a halt, and our employees were desperate.”

According to Roy, the project supported the company at the right time: all women employees could maintain their jobs with sales back on track.

“I consider Ayadina as one of the project’s success stories,” explains ITC e-commerce advisor Elvira El-Hojeiri. “They have accomplished valuable outputs by optimizing their online sales channels, creating e-commerce content, and conducting detailed market research and analysis. I believe Ayadina could become one of the leading Lebanese authentic food companies in the region.”

A new innovative business pilot will help 135,000 ready-made garment workers in Bangladesh, including at least 60 percent women, build their financial and digital literacy skills. The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) together with wagely and a consortium of Quizrr and Ulula have committed $556,000 to improve financial and digital inclusion of garment workers.

Through this commitment, UNCDF will provide performance-based grants and technical assistance. The technical assistance will include mentorship for partners on human-centric product design, client outreach with a focus on women, partnerships, data analytics and reporting support.

In Bangladesh, the ready-made garment manufacturing sector employs more than 4 million people, of whom 2.5 million are women. Following the devastating impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis during 2020-2021, the sector is now recovering, with opportunities to improve Environmental, Social and Governance sustainability to strengthen the sector’s competitiveness, growth and potential for further investment. Utilizing digital services has the potential to accelerate these opportunities and improve the decency of work and livelihoods of people employed in the sector.

“With UNCDF’s support, wagely will accelerate its ‘Earned Wage Access’ service in Bangladesh, which allows employees to receive accrued wages before payday, and is proven to increase productivity and retention of employees. In addition, wagely will introduce additional financial wellness solutions, in particular for female workers, helping ready-made garment workers reach financial resilience and inclusion,” says Tobias Fischer, CEO of wagely.

“Quizrr’s gamified digital training, powered by real time data, allows participatory suppliers to effectively accelerate their human rights due diligence efforts and engage their employees with training on several key topics such as rights and responsibilities, worker engagement and digital wages, to build capacity and track worker’s digital and financial literacy,” said Sofie Nordström, Founding Partner and Dpt CEO of Quizrr.

“The impact of the pandemic has demonstrated the need to put workers first in order to create more resilient and sustainable supply chains. Through this project, we are combining our worker engagement technology with Quizrr’s digital capacity building system to create an integrated solution for RMG workers in Bangladesh and beyond,” said Antoine Heuty, CEO of Ulula.

“UNCDF is proud to partner with wagely and Quizrr and Ulula to improve livelihoods, particularly for women, and sustainability in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh through digitalization, following the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the sector with some $3 billion worth of cancelled orders in 2020-2021,” said Maria Perdomo, Regional Coordinator in Asia for UNCDF.

These investments came as a result of the UNCDF project “Promoting Digital Ecosystem Solutions Addressing Women Livelihoods in Bangladesh through Ready-Made-Garment Sector Sustainability amidst COVID-19 and Beyond.”

Launched in the wake of COVID-19, the project applies a market systems development approach to advance the digital service market ecosystem in Bangladesh with a focus on digitally-enabled business models to benefit ready-made garment manufacturers and their employees.

Under this project, UNCDF released an assessment of the Ready-Made Garment sector in Bangladesh that analyzed opportunities and suggested recommendations for digitalization to improve livelihoods and the sector’s sustainability and, subsequently, selected partners to implement these recommendations.

Following the implementation of the two solutions by 2022, UNCDF can continue its work with the mobilization of investment capital, such as loans and guarantees, and further technical assistance.

UNCDF’s work in Bangladesh is part of the global Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era strategy, which aims to equip millions of people by 2024 to use innovative digital services in their daily lives that will empower them and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

BACKGROUND ON PARTNERS

About wagely: wagely is Asia’s largest and fastest-growing financial wellness platform offering workers visibility into their daily earnings, instant access to earned wages, and the power to plan ahead – proven to decrease employee turnover, enhance retention, and increase business savings. Our mission is to help employees regain control over their income and finances. On track to reach 1 Million Bangladeshi workers, wagely has already partnered with some of the largest RMG companies in Bangladesh including SQ Group, Vision Garments, Desh Group of Companies, and Triple Apparels, amongst many others. For more information, go to https://www.wagely.app/

About Quizrr: Quizrr is an award winning EdTech pioneer that offers innovative training solutions backed with real time data to advance corporate responsibility and capacity building in global supply chains. Founded in 2013, Quizrr uses digital training solutions to educate employees in supply chains and beyond on issues such as employment rights, workplace safety, and social dialogue, using a bottom-up approach. To date, Quizrr has engaged 1.3 million employees in 600+ factories worldwide. For more information, go to https://www.quizrr.se/

About Ulula: Ulula is a human rights technology and data company that aims to improve working conditions across diverse sectors including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, electronics, construction and more, by sourcing and processing accurate and timely insights directly from workers and communities around the world. Ulula has engaged over 1.65 million stakeholders in more than 40 countries in 45+ languages. Ulula is a Certified B Corporation and was the 2021 winner of the Thomson Reuters Stop Slavery Award. For more information, go to https://ulula.com/

With UNCDF’s support, wagely will accelerate its ‘Earned Wage Access’ service in Bangladesh, which allows employees to receive accrued wages before payday, and is proven to increase productivity and retention of employees. In addition, wagely will introduce additional financial wellness solutions, in particular for female workers, helping ready-made garment workers reach financial resilience and inclusion.
Tobias Fischer
CEO
wagely

Quizrr’s gamified digital training, powered by real time data, allows participatory suppliers to effectively accelerate their human rights due diligence efforts and engage their employees with training on several key topics such as rights and responsibilities, worker engagement and digital wages, to build capacity and track worker’s digital and financial literacy.
Sofie Nordström
Founding Partner and Dpt CEO
Quizrr

The impact of the pandemic has demonstrated the need to put workers first in order to create more resilient and sustainable supply chains. Through this project, we are combining our worker engagement technology with Quizrr’s digital capacity building system to create an integrated solution for RMG workers in Bangladesh and beyond.
Antoine Heuty
CEO
Ulula

UNCDF is proud to partner with wagely and Quizrr and Ulula to improve livelihoods, particularly for women, and sustainability in the ready-made garment sector in Bangladesh through digitalization, following the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the sector with some $3 billion worth of canceled orders in 2020-2021.
Maria Perdomo
Regional Coordinator in Asia
UNCDF

 

Women were largely excluded from the first, second, and third industrial revolutions, leading two centuries of economic domination by men. The foundations for the fourth are digital and being laid right now. The absence of women would be a major blow to closing the gender gap in the 21st century.

Women score better than men in most leadership skills and in key skills such as problem solving and innovation. Yet, only 7.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. Women entrepreneurs tend to be in sectors that are less profitable and less capital intensive. The world is losing due to gender inequality. Advancing women’s equality, in a best case scenario can add as much as US$28 trillion according to McKinsey & Company.

Digital gender divide

There is a profound digital gender divide in the world. The share of women leaders in the UK tech sector stands at just 5 percent. The 2018 OECD report showed that 327 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the mobile Internet. Women are constrained by the lack of digital resources, lack of financial resources, and fear of online safety. Socio-cultural thinking discourages women to set foot in the tech sector.

Influencing the 21st century

The tech industry will continue to bring change in habits and behaviors and will create significant wealth. Tech companies have already changed our lives in many ways and they are at the forefront of bringing in the new trends. The absence of women entrepreneurs in the tech sector will lead to a digital world being designed for the 21st century without female leadership.  With 60 percent of the global GDP set to be digitized by 2022, it is critical for women entrepreneurs to get on board.

What is needed to close the digital gender gap?

More women in the tech sector will help address the issues women face and can lead to more women tech entrepreneurs

As more women work in the tech sector, they will build experience to later start their own tech startups. Extending digital knowledge, access and providing connected devices to lower income females will be impactful. Regulations should be placed to have companies introduce a minimum quota for women hired. Tax incentives should be given to companies in the tech sector who support greater gender equality. In the US, only 24 percent of workers in the tech sector are female. A gender certification process for companies giving opportunities for women could be brought in by governments.

Women have to be digitally upskilled with edtech solutions 

Women entrepreneurs need to upskill fast as many of the future businesses will be in a digitally transformed state. E-Learning requires 40-60 percent less time which is a great opportunity for all. For example, Coursera, UdaCity and EdX are effective open online courses. Edtech provides E-Learning platforms that leverage digital technologies to access educational curriculum. Quizlet is an online application which allows students to learn various subjects through games and learning tools using AI powered tutoring. Top Hat is another great tool for managing online learning.

Boardroom representation of women has to be increased to give more leadership roles to women

Globally, women hold around 17 percent of corporate board seats. Research shows women are better in most leadership skills than men but still only 5.3 percent of Board Chairs are women. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs are discriminated against when seeking loans and investments. There must be a concerted effort to have more women on the corporate boards of banks and venture capital firms, and to mobilize funding for women entrepreneurs.

Tech incubators and accelerators have to be inclusive for women entrepreneurs with scalability and ecosystem support

Most women owned businesses are smaller in size. Tech accelerators should be inclusive to give the resources, investment and guidance for women entrepreneurs to scale up. A UK government study showed that over 60 percent of startups say having been in an accelerator was vital for their success. Governments and international organizations could help women entrepreneurs work with global accelerators based in Silicon Valley.

Women tech role models have to be promoted to empower the next generation of women to enter the tech sector

A 2017 PwC survey found that 78 percent of students could not name a famous woman working in the tech sector. Only 3 percent of females in the UK say a career in tech is their first choice. Development organizations, business corporations and the media have to promote successful women tech entrepreneurs and make them role models.

Without robust actions, progress toward gender equality will be unacceptably slow. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report, it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity. Closing this gender gap faster should be a global priority  which can only be achieved through bold actions by all international partners.

The partnership will help improve women digital entrepreneurs’ skills and ease their access to global trade.

UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative has joined forces with Deutsche Post DHL Group, a leading player in international logistics, to help women overcome some of the barriers to global digital trade.

According to a recent UNCTAD study, inadequate access to reliable and affordable trade logistics is among the top challenges many e-commerce businesses face in developing countries.

Such obstacles often affect more women business owners than their male counterparts as they also tend to have less access to knowledge, funding and support.

“This collaboration with DHL enables us to continue the public-private dialogue and build more inclusive digital economies,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, who leads UNCTAD’s technology and logistics division.

“Women have a key role to play in e-commerce, hence enhancing their participation will have a huge development impact,” Ms. Sirimanne added.

The partnership came ahead of UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022, a global forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with e-commerce and the digital economy.

Targeted support to women in the developing world

As a pilot activity, two small business owners who are members of eTrade for Women communities entered the highly selective DHL GoTrade GBSN Fellowship Program on 5 April.

They are Sofia Chandi, who runs a floral business in Ecuador and Edith Tialeu, who sells African home decor items and accessories across Africa and Europe from Cameroon.

The 12-month programme will provide Ms. Chandi and Ms. Tialeu with training, mentoring as well as new business skills to improve the overall management of their businesses, including by offering them logistical support to reach new markets.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to connect people and improve lives,” said Steven Pope, head of GoTrade, Deutsche Post DHL Group.

“The partnership with UNCTAD will increase our impact by enabling women-owned businesses to get better access to the global marketplace and become agents of change for their communities.”

Joint efforts between eTrade for Women and Deutsche Post DHL Group are expected to expand the fellowship scheme to benefit more women digital entrepreneurs in developing countries in the coming years.

The eTrade for Women initiative is funded by the Netherlands and Sweden.

The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed digital transformation and offered opportunities for developing and emerging economies. However, despite the rapid economic growth generated by robust technologies and digitalisation, inequalities remain in many countries, including women’s participation in the digital economy. Data show that reducing gender gap in the digital space will not only benefit women but also contribute to societies and economies. Thus, cooperation amongst stakeholders is pivotal to narrow the gender divide and provide women larger access and opportunities in the digital economy.

As part of the eCommerce Week organised by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and eTrade for All, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) co-organised How Can Women Digital Entrepreneurs Boost Inclusion? Peer-learning Dialogue Across Regions, a thematic session held on 28 April 2022 to discuss challenges, opportunities, and new approaches to forward-looking strategies on sustainability in the region. ERIA is a partner of eTrade for All. The session was part of a series of events highlighting the positive impact of promoting inclusive digital economies.

To highlight the importance of female entrepreneurship in the digital ecosystem to promote inclusivity, the session was participated in by leading women entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa and moderated by Dr Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA’s director for strategy and partnership.

Opening the session was Ms Garcia-Quiles Viridiana, programme management officer of eTrade for Women at UNCTAD, who pointed out that women lag behind men in participation in the digital economy. She added that narrowing the gender divide in the digital economy is pivotal to boost inclusive economic development. She enumerated three key strategies to close this gap: boost digital skills for girls and women to engage in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) area; promote more women leaders to become role models for other women; and support inclusive digital businesses in providing women-led businesses with a platform to connect and grow as reflected in the eTrade for Women programme by UNCTAD.

Ms Aimi Ramlee, director of digital innovation and growth at Tyne Solutions and co-founder of the SoutheastAsiaWomen.org, discussed the digital economy ecosystem for women in Southeast Asia. She said that limitations of the digital ecosystem and infrastructure have become some of the main barriers over the years for some countries in Southeast Asia. She added, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the push towards digitalisation and may provide more opportunities for women’s participation. With this positive development, she also noticed that more targeted government policies have been created in the region to serve a better digital ecosystem for leveraging women’s participation in the digital economy. Ms Ramlee also shared information on SoutheastAsiaWomen.org, an organisation that provides mentorship programme amongst women in the region.

Ms Birame Sock, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Kwely Inc, shared her experience building a start-up in Senegal, Africa. She conveyed the need to build a more conducive business ecosystem rather than focus on building digital infrastructure in Africa. She also cited the importance of access to digital resources, skills, and entrepreneurial mindsets to enable more involvement of women in the digital economy. She weighted the importance of women supporting women to break the gender bias and provide a more supportive working environment for women.

Ms Claudia Rosales, founder and CEO of Women Ework, shared her experience building her human resource company in Latin America, and its objective of creating a talent pool to support women in building back a better future as too many had lost their jobs during the pandemic. She underscored the importance of enhancing and empowering leadership skills for women through different activities including training, workshops, and dialogues. She also shared her experience as a member of UNCTAD’s eTradeforWomen programme,  which enabled her to better understand how women can overcome challenges, to take utmost advantage of what the digital economy ecosystem offers, to enhance her entrepreneurship skills, and to gain more networks and visibility in the digital world.

Ms Poornima Jayawardana, financial sector specialist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), stated that accelerating the progress of gender equality and promoting women’s economic empowerment have been some of ADB’s priorities towards 2030. She shared some ADB strategies to promote inclusivity, including promoting innovative technology, committing to support countries across Asia and the Pacific in developing and improving their regulatory frameworks, providing technical assistance and knowledge work in ensuring that women and girls are equitably benefitting from jobs and investment across Asia and the Pacific, as implemented, for instance, in the Eastern Indonesia Financial Innovation Lab, which helps women entrepreneurs access financial services. She mentioned ADB’s key lessons in promoting inclusive economic development in the post-recovery period, including the commitment to eradicate the gender gap, provide more opportunities for women in STEM and information communication technology, provide better digital literacy and infrastructure, and apply a social-norm approach to break stereotypes of women.

Mona Ataya, a Palestinian-Lebanese entrepreneur who runs the largest online marketplace for women in the region, is one of UNCTAD’s six eTrade for Women advocates.

When COVID-19 struck, many people found themselves shopping online for the first time in the Middle East, a region where e-commerce was weak, according to an UNCTAD index.

But thanks to Mumzworld, a Dubai-based online marketplace, over 300,000 products for babies, children and mothers were at their fingertips.

Mona Ataya, a founding partner and CEO of the marketplace, was ahead of the curve when she set up the company in 2011.

As a working mother raising three children, she experienced first-hand a market gap. “Access to products for mothers was limited, prices were very high.”.

Ms. Ataya became motivated to empower mothers through e-commerce, giving them access to the best products at the best prices – and the support they needed.

“We believed that if we were able to create an e-commerce ecosystem around us, we would be able to help solve these very important needs and fill the gaps in the market,” she told a special session of UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022, running from 25 to 29 April in Geneva and online.

As an eTrade for Women advocate for the organization, she’s now on a mission to empower women entrepreneurs in the region by inspiring them to take the digital leap.

Trust and loyalty

By helping solve the challenges mothers faced in the region, Ms. Ataya has built a business that reaches 2.5 million homes and employs over 350 people.

It has become one of the go-to marketplaces for global brands wanting to reach Middle Eastern consumers.

But she had to overcome many challenges on her road to success, including building trust and loyalty among sceptical suppliers and customers.

“Suppliers didn’t believe in e-commerce,” she said. “They believed baby products needed to be touched and felt.”

Mumzworld also had to build customers’ trust in online payments and in buying a product they were looking at on a screen instead of in a store, Ms. Ataya said.

“A mother will not buy her baby products from you unless she trusts and loves you.”

She says she won them over by providing an online experience that gives choice, transparency and immediacy.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, her online store can also personalize the services and products it offers each customer.

“The consumer of today needs to be able to get what she wants, when she wants it and needs to be confident that she got the absolute best choice.”

More women needed in e-commerce

Despite having faced challenges, Ms. Ataya encourages younger women to follower her path.

“It’s not an easy route, but it’s not an impossible route,” she said.

“The digitalization of the global economy is key to the way the world is moving,” she said. “Women remain very underserved, and we need to bring more of them on board.”

She said her new role with UNCTAD allows her to share her knowledge, skills and successes with more women in the region and beyond.

“When you see women doing things that are big, that are successful, that are inspiring, you summon the courage to do the same thing.”

Mumzworld, she says, is proof that women can succeed in e-commerce if they have a strong vision, build a team that shares it and satisfy an unfilled need for customers.

“Whatever you do, ensure that it’s creating value. Don’t do things for just the commercial gains.”

UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

The newest digital training centres of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment program will set aside half of their initial training slots to women applicants, the Bank said on International Girls in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Day.

The Coding for Employment program, which equips African youth with the digital skills they need to contribute meaningfully to the global digital economy, is part of a foundational pipeline for girls and young women to pursue science and technology-related careers.

Coding For Employment held virtual and in-person ribbon-cutting ceremonies for three new centres of excellence on 8 March 2022. Two of the centres are in Nigeria—at Covenant University in Ogun State and at Gombe State University, Gombe State. The third centre of excellence is situated on Kenya’s University of Nairobi campus. The ceremonies took place at Covenant University and the University of Nairobi. Bank representatives, Coding for Employment partners and university staff attended.

“This launch is a reflection of the Bank’s strong commitment to creating a world where gender equality is true in the classroom, in the boardroom, and in every sector of the economy in order to build a more inclusive, innovative, and resilient African society,” Martha Phiri, Bank Director for Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development said in virtual remarks.

Initially, the centres will serve participants in Coding for Employment’s Digital Ambassadors program, a new, intensive peer-to-peer training model set to expand digital skills to more African youth, especially in rural communities where internet connectivity is low.

The launch event also included a virtual discussion on the role of women in Africa’s digital economy as well as persistent gender disparities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, which organizes the Girls in ICT Day, only 30% of the world’s tech science and technology professionals are women.

“Socio-cultural norms, beliefs, and bias have long informed how women are perceived and limited the opportunities for women to pursue careers in the technology field. Breaking these biases requires exposing young girls to coding and to STEM-related fields very early on, for them to see it as a viable career path,” said Olatomiwa Williams, Microsoft’s Nigeria country manager. Microsoft is a Coding for Employment partner.

The new centres of excellence are equipped with 50 computers, ergonomic furniture in classroom-style learning stations, and informal networking areas. Students enrolled in Coding for Employment programs gain access to free courses in web design, app development, data science, and digital marketing, among others.

The Coding for Employment Program is a key component of the African Development Bank Group’s  Jobs for Youth in Africa Initiative, which aims to put Africa’s youth on a path to prosperity. By 2025, the Jobs for Youth in Africa Initiative aims to equip 50 million youth with employable skills and create 25 million jobs in agriculture, information, communication and technology fields, and other key industries across Africa.

The centres’ opening brings to seven the number of Coding for Employment-branded learning spaces across the continent, including in Rwanda, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire. Coding for Employment plans to open 130 centres across Africa by 2025.

To watch the virtual ceremony and gender-themed discussion.

 

Learn more about Coding for Employment: www.coding4employment.org(link is external)

Alphonso Van Marsh, Principal Digital Content and Events Officer, email: A.VANMARSH@AFDB.ORG(link sends e-mail)

Technical contact:

Jessica Muganza, Senior ICT and Digital Education Officer, email: J.MUGANZA@AFDB.ORG

UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocate taps into digital tools to grow her food business and build a connection between farmers and consumers.

Helianti Hilman has run Javara, an Indonesian-based food marketing company, since 2008. She started with a physical store in the country’s capital, Jakarta, before transforming her business digitally.

“We had to go digital,” Ms. Hilman said on 27 April at a special online session during UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022.

“We realized that we had to do it if we wanted to achieve more in terms of how we partner with farmers and serve our customers.”

With determination, Ms. Hilman embarked on what she called a “rewarding journey” that got off to an uncertain start.

Overcoming tech barriers

The biggest uncertainty had to do with skills, Ms. Hilman recalled.

Despite being “not at all tech-savvy”, she was willing to learn and adapt, focusing mainly on two areas: enterprise resources management and social media.

With accurate, real-time data synchronized in one place, Ms. Hilman improved her operational efficiency and took cost-saving measures.

“That itself is actually sort of like a payback to the investment that we make to digitize our internal processes,” she said with a smile.

Ms. Hilman also took to social media to promote her products because such “borderless marketing” doesn’t cost much but brings results.

Step by step, Javara’s e-commerce journey took off. In 2021, the business saw a 400% yearly growth through digital channels.

In March 2022, it landed a new contract in Latin America through social media marketing, expanding its reach to customers in over 20 countries across five continents.

Empowering partner farmers

A big believer in branding, Ms. Hilman turned to digital tools to address one of the key problems that faced her suppliers – the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian farmers went unnamed and unrecognized for a long time.

She used digital marketing to help build a connection between the farmers and consumers.

Ms. Hilman has been teaching her suppliers to use mobile phones to take photos and videos as they produce their products, catering to the needs of the mindful consumers keen to know the origins of their food.

With social media, Ms. Hilman even turned some her partner farmers into local celebrities, as public recognition of what they do and how hard they work grew.

“This is a game changer. It’s not really about e-commerce itself. It’s about putting a name, dignity, pride and recognition to their (farmers’) existence.”

eTrade for Women advocate

In 2021, Ms. Hilman became involved with UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative, which is funded by Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and is dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in developing countries.

As an advocate for the initiative, she interacts with fellow advocates, strengthening her drive “to go further and faster” as a woman trader.

She says it means a lot for her to be able to inspire other women entrepreneurs with her digital transformation experience.

Although she doesn’t have a technology background, she exemplifies how a traditional business can successfully go digital. And she wants others to think that “if they can do it, we can do it too.”

The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) has announced a new round of funding under which the African Development Bank’s Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI) will receive $15 million to develop and extend digital financial solutions to women-owned small and medium businesses in Cameroon, Egypt, Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria.

This fourth round of financing of $54.8 million will benefit almost 69,000 women entrepreneurs in developing economies with access to digital technology and finance.

The funds will enable the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility to design and implement programs to improve digital access to finance for women entrepreneurs, reducing the $42 billion financing gap,  and improving their operational efficiency to build back better following the COVID-19 crisis.

“We-Fi’s fourth round of allocations comes at a crucial time. Women’s economic empowerment is under pressure due to conflict and insecurity, rising prices and the continuous fallout from the Covid pandemic around the world,” said Bärbel Kofler, Parliamentary State Secretary of Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. “I am pleased to see our Implementing Partners preparing such strong proposals to support women-led businesses. Access to technology and financing will be key to unlock the potential of women entrepreneurs.”

“Digital financial solutions are key to improving the quality of life of people in Africa and to reducing the gender access-to-finance gap. This funding, which is complementary to the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa Initiative (AFAWA), will be used not only to broaden access to finance for women small and medium businesses, but also to provide an avenue for their increased economic empowerment and resilience,” said Stefan Nalletamby, Director of the Financial Sector Development Department at the African Development Bank Group.

Three other multilateral development Banks received allocations in this fourth round:  The Islamic Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank Group, and the World Bank Group.

About Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative(link is external) (We-Fi)

We-Fi, hosted by the World Bank Group, is a partnership among 14 governments, eight multilateral development banks (MDBs), and other public and private sector stakeholders. The African Development Bank is an implementing partner, and its Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa program is a We-Fi initiative.   For more information: www.we-fi.org.

About Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI)(link is external)
ADFI is a pan-African initiative designed to catalyse digital financial inclusion throughout Africa with the goal of ensuring that 332 million more Africans, 60% of them women, gain access to the formal economy by 2030. Launched in 2019, ADFI works through the gender-intentional development of infrastructure, policies and regulations and product innovation. Current ADFI partners are the Agence française de developpement (AFD); the Ministry for the Economy & Finance, France; the Ministry of Finance, Luxembourg; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the African Development Bank, who host and manage the facility. For more information: www.adfi.org<(link is external)

Contact:

  • Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (ADFI)

Louise Simpson, Email: l.simpson@afdb.org(link sends e-mail)

  • African Development Bank 

Olufemi Terry, Email: o.terry@afdb.org(link sends e-mail)

  • We-Fi Secretariat, The World Bank

Angela Bekkers, Senior External Affairs Officer

Email: abekkers@worldbankgroup.org

Women farmers in Cote d’Ivoire will more easily find markets for their crops, thanks to a digital platform recently launched by UN Women.

Blaatto, part of the UN agency’s Buy From Women initiative, is targeting women smallholder farmers and members of women-led agricultural cooperatives in the country’s central region where access to markets is relatively poor. The word ‘blaatto’ means ‘come and buy’ in the region’s Baule language.

Buy From Women is an open-source, cloud-based enterprise and e-commerce platform that can be customized to specific market products. It also offers women information and finance. In Cote d’Ivoire, UN Women is rolling out the initiative with African Development Bank support and with funding from the Bank-managed Korea Africa Economic Cooperation Trust Fund.

The platform is part of a UN Women project in Cote d’Ivoire to strengthen women’s agricultural resilience to climate change and quality of life by incorporating ICT into agricultural production.

Blaatto launched during a ceremony held on 25 March 2022 in Abidjan, attended by Mr. Felix Anoblé, Minister for the Promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises, Handcrafts and Informal Sector Transformation of Cote d’Ivoire.

Mrs. Antonia Ngabala Sodonon, UN Women’s country representative for Cote d’Ivoire and Ms Esther Dassanou, Coordinator of the African Development Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative also participated.

Before an audience of government representatives, development partners and women farmers, Anoblé and Sodonon signed an agreement for the management of Buy From Women.

Minister Anoblé said, “The Buy From Women platform will ensure long term results for beneficiaries.” He urged its adoption, saying, “Please take the opportunity to use it and uplift locally produced crops.”

Sodonon said, “The Buy From Women platform will connect women producers to all categories of buyers of agricultural products: wholesalers, retailers and consumers across Cote d’Ivoire. It is an opportunity for women farmers to sell their products to a large market of buyers.”

Esther Dassanou said: “We appreciate the support from the Government of Cote d’Ivoire in various interventions, especially in women’s economic empowerment. For the African Development Bank, UN Women is a strategic partner to implement the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda.”

She added, “this platform will serve as a one-stop shop for producers, buyers, sellers and investors. Not only will it help women farmers gain access to markets but will also elevate their expertise and improve the quality of their farming products.”


Minister Felix Anoblé (left) and UN Women’s Antonia Ngabala Sodonon signed an agreement for the management of the Blaatto platform during the launch ceremony


About Korea Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) Trust Fund

Korea Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) Trust Fund is hosted at the African Development and provides untied grants for upstream work of project design to defray front-end project development costs and risks, and other activities necessary to ensure quality project design including the training of government officials and technocrats. Examples of activities that KTF undertakes include knowledge papers, South-South cooperation missions, feasibility studies, community consultations, and other project development activities.

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