An assessment of the e-commerce ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire will help businesses in the sector adapt to COVID-19 challenges and comply with new regulations.

UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Côte d’Ivoire, launched on 8 April, will help the country’s e-commerce businesses better adapt to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and comply with new regulations, according to one of the country’s leading digital entrepreneurs.

Patricia Yao, founder and chief executive officer of QuickCash, a platform providing mobile payment services to rural customers, said the assessment would help policymakers and businesses better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

“The assessment will help us adapt the responses of the digital ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire, taking into account the challenges and opportunities raised by the current crisis,” said Ms. Yao, UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women Advocate for west Africa.

Progress and challenges

The assessment found that Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in recent years to improve access to the digital economy and e-commerce.

The country’s digital economy program is integrated into its national development plan and includes the digitalization of a series of financial as well as government services.

It also includes and the expansion of critical information and communications technology infrastructure, with the implementation of a national broadband network project.

Despite these important strides, and its relatively vibrant economy, Côte d’Ivoire needs to tackle the challenges hindering its e-commerce growth.

These include costly and limited internet access, inefficient physical addresses, low public awareness on online commerce and limited digital skills of micro, small- and medium-sized businesses to effectively engage in e-commerce activities.

“It’s important to take priority actions to accelerate digital transformation in Côte d’Ivoire and allow e-commerce players to seize available opportunities. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and in an increasingly integrated west African region,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.

“The valuable recommendations of this report will provide an important framework for future policy action, with a view to accelerating e-commerce uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said  the country’s trade and industry minister, Souleymane Diarrassouba.

Consultative process

The assessment report is a product of a consultative process that brought together representatives of the government, the private sector and development partners.

Ms. Yao said the assessment’s multi-stakeholder approach would facilitate the implementation of future regulations and policies.

“By bringing all the concerned actors around the table, it will be easier to implement new measures because they have been previously discussed and agreed upon,” she said. “In the past, when new laws were adopted, they were difficult to comply with because those affected hadn’t been involved in their formulation.”

The assessment was funded by the German government and prepared in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union, International Trade Centre and Consumers International.

UNCTAD has conducted such assessments in 27 countries, fostering coordination and dialogue between various stakeholders and helping them overcome structural barriers to make e-commerce an engine of inclusive and sustainable development.


UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women advocate for Eastern Europe explains her journey to e-commerce greatness, discusses the impact of COVID-19 and encourages women to take a seat at the policymaking table.

Nina Angelovska has always been a trailblazer. From the age of 21, she’s been shaking up North Macedonia’s digital economy with her startup-turned-mega company, Now she’s advocating for more seats for women at the e-commerce policymaking table.

Co-founder of the online shopping platform, she’s also the president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association and the country’s former finance minister.

How did she become a force to be reckoned within the e-commerce space? UNCTAD explores five things to know about Ms. Angelovska that catapulted her to the top.

1. A small grant of $5,000 got Ms. Angelovska on her feet after she won the most innovative business plan award from the North Macedonian National Centre for Development of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Learning at just 21.

She started with the money in 2011. She saw the potential in group buying at a time when e-commerce was non-existent in North Macedonia and blazed a trail in the new field. is now recognized as the game-changer in the market. When starting up, Ms. Angelovska says they practically educated thousands of customers to make their first online transaction and encouraged hundreds of merchants to join the e-world for the first time.

2. The company she co-founded and led, is now 10 years old.

Her firm has grown from strength to strength. Today, it is much more than a group-buying website, it is a platform that connects 3,550 merchants from all sectors to over 250,000 buyers, contributing to growing the country’s digital ecosystem.

3. She was her country’s first-ever female finance minister.

The private sector is where the magic happens, while the public sector provides the enabling environment to facilitate the magic,” Angelovska said. She’s been pushing for change both on the inside and outside these spaces. After she became North Macedonia’s first-ever female finance minister in 2019, she managed public finances amid the biggest global crisis the world has ever experienced – the coronavirus pandemic. She brought her digital acumen to the role and used it to help speed up COVID-19 support to North Macedonians. Her goal: induce positive change, speed up progression to a cashless society, digitalization and de-bureaucratize many processes.

4. Her big insight on her entrepreneurial journey.

“The key in life is to solve the problem you enjoy solving. Just keep wondering and never stop learning. This is what makes you unique and truly defines who you are,” she advises all would-be entrepreneurs.

5. On the powerful potential of women entrepreneurs.

Angelovska says the growth of our economies is at stake if we don’t include more women. “There is so much potential to be unlocked if we have more women entrepreneurs, in tech, in leadership positions and in policy. The countries that do this are the ones that will enjoy faster, more sustainable and definitely more inclusive growth,” she says. Ms. Angelovska takes her digital gender advocacy seriously, amplified by her role as UNCTAD eTrade for Women Advocate. In 2019 UNCTAD appointed her as one of seven women global advocates to advance the place of women in the digital economy. Working with the United Nations is both a great opportunity and a great responsibility to advance gender equality. In her role she’s inspiring and supporting other women entrepreneurs to harness the power of technology and the digital economy to change lives, and influence policy.

What does the future hold?

Ms. Angelovska’s journey is still in its early days, she believes. Her experience at the coalface of the COVID-19 crisis, both as finance minister and president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association, has given her new impetus to help people, governments and businesses go digital, especially developing nations.

“I will keep pushing for change and for digital transformation. I will keep striving to inspire and motivate as many women as I can because we really need to unlock the powerful synergy of women entrepreneurship and tech,” she said.

Listen to the latest UNCTAD Unpacks podcast with Ms. Angelovska


Inherent gender inequality and unequal internet connectivity are some of the reasons women and girls in Africa remain under-represented in the fields of science and technology, according to panelists at the African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI) side event at the 53rd session of the Economic Commission for African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development in Addis Ababa.

Jean-Paul Adam, the Director for Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources Management at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), speaking at the side event, said although the percentage of women in the labor force on the continent had over the years gradually increased, it remained significantly lower in the technology sector.

“Women’s lack equal connectivity is undermining their capacity to reach their economic potential. A situation that urgently needs to be addressed,” said Mr. Adam.

“Girls face discrimination in the sector, because computer science has always been seen as a course for boys, not girls.”

AGCCI is a program being implemented by UN Women in collaboration with the African Union, the ECA and the International Telecommunication Union. The four-year programme, initiated in 2018, is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding, and personal development skills.

Girls are trained as programmers, creators, and designers, placing them on-track to take up education and careers in ICT and coding.

Letty Chiwara, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission (AUC) and the ECA, said boosting women’s digital literacy today would have far-reaching inter-generational implications.

“Women are uniquely suited to prepare younger generations to participate in the digital economy, a reason why governments should empower more women in the fields of science and technology,” she said.

Cisse Mohamed, Director of Social Affairs at the AUC, said while women and girls were encouraged to take up technology, there was no conducive environment for them to do so.

“African governments should create computer literacy programs, targeting women from rural areas, in particular. Improving access to information and communications technologies, especially Internet-enabled mobile phones, would go a long way toward supporting these efforts,” said Ms. Mohamed, adding that data safety and protection was important in this digital era.

Andrew Rugege, ITU Regional Director for Africa, said COVID-19 was a health hazard but had shown the continent the importance of ICT.

“More than half of our women and youth are not connected on the internet. There is need to close the gender gap by increasing the mobile ownership and access to internet by women and youth,” said Mr. Rugege.

“Young girls should be trained on ICT programs rather than just being consumers of the innovations.”

Hendrina Doroba, Division Manager, Education, Human Capital and Employment at the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), said girls who have participated in the Africa Girls Can Code Initiative camps, already had what it takes to convince governments to incorporate ICT into the education curriculum.

“We need to engage policymakers at the country level, to push for inclusion of ICT in education curriculum in all the countries in Africa,” said Ms. Doroba, adding that the AfDB had created initiatives of expanding infrastructure on digital learning in various countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, and Senegal.

The first group of girls who won the “we can code initiative” competition from Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa presented their programming projects on robotics and animation at the side event.

The African Girls Can Code Initiative is expected to reach more than 2,000 girls through 18 Coding Camps (2 international, 12 regional and 4 in Ethiopia) by 2022.

In September 2018, the programme brought together 88 girls aged 17-20 from 32 African countries at the first coding camp. By 2022, 14 coding camps will be organized to take the programme to more than 2,000 girls across Africa.

It was announced at the side event that the next hybrid camps will be held in Cameroon and Congo.


From my young age, I have always had a dream of becoming self-employed. After my studies I worked in the IT domain for a couple of years and got the opportunity to work in the e-commerce sector. I discovered my passion for the industry when the company I was working for closed its doors while I was just starting to witness firsthand the impact it was creating in the Rwandan society. I then realized that this was the opportunity for me to start my own business, contributing my expertise and experiences to offer Rwandans an opportunity to continue shopping and selling online at the same time promoting our locally manufactured products (Made in Rwanda).

-Tadhim Uwizeye, CEO and Founder, OLADO


Tadhim Uwizeye is a Rwandan e-commerce business development professional with an academic background in computer science and information systems management. Her ten years of experience in the information and technology services focused on entrepreneurship and e-commerce. She is the founder and CEO of Olado Business Group, an e-commerce enterprise that she co-founded in 2017 with a mission to change and make the Rwandan shopping experience easier through e-commerce.


Despite the challenges posed by the infancy of the sector in Rwanda, Tadhim is optimistic about the development and adoption of e-commerce in the country.

‘Starting an e-commerce platform in Rwanda as a startup was itself a challenge. E-commerce was really in its infancy; it was new, and few people knew what it was. We were really the first movers. That comes with a lot of challenges — convincing people to adopt a new way of shopping and selling, having the trust in the safety of their identifications and more —. We had to do both marketing and education, but it took off in the end. Person to person selling is much more difficult,’ she emphasizes. The industry is becoming so promising, and it is encouraging to have so much customers excitement about our service and to see the growth.

Tadhim’s online marketplace displays various products for sale from Made in Rwanda products to imported products in different categories: Agro-processed food, fashion, electronics, household appliances, sports equipment, among others. Olado offers different payment options and delivery services to its users in Rwanda and abroad.

As part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan, and in alignment with the Inclusive Digital Economies strategy, UNCDF Rwanda partnered with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and ICT Chamber to pilot a project that aims to support Rwanda MSMEs to increase their revenues through their presence on digital marketplaces with a focus on women-run businesses.

“The project is a COVID-19 recovery response, with an aim of supporting Macro Small and Medium Entreprises (MSMEs) to do their business digitally, especially after the lockdown period when only digitally runned businesses could operate. The project supports MSMEs to manage the crisis by helping them access a broader market within and outside the country. In addition, the project’s findings will contribute to the development of the e-commerce policy in Rwanda,” said Roselyne Uwamahoro, UNCDF Rwanda Program Coordinator.

Thadhim’s business, Olado, is one of the 25 e-commerce platforms that the project aims to strengthen. In a 12-month period, the project will also enable the digital onboarding of 1,000 MSMEs operating in different sectors while linking them with financing opportunities. It will also train 1,000 iWorkers (e-marketplace facilitators) and dispatch them to the field to train MSMEs on the usage of e-commerce platform.

“Being supported by the project has pushed us ahead. We are trained on the basics of building a successful business but more importantly we are given access to a network of other startups whom we could exchange ideas. we were able to secure basic support from different partners who appreciated our initiative, and we are now a recognized e-commerce platform, with promising opportunities ahead,” noted Tadhim.

For more on the inclusive digital economies strategy at UNCDF On International Women’s Day, March 8th 2021, a high-level coalition united to launch a bold call to action for “Reaching Financial Equality for Women”. The partners behind it are the UN-based Better than Cash Alliance, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, UN Women, Women’s World Banking and the World Bank.

The 10 actions for governments and companies to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 are:

  1. Digitize private sector payments
  2. Digitize payments of government social benefits
  3. Outlaw discrimination against women
  4. Ensure universal access to identification
  5. End the gender gap in mobile phone ownership
  6. Hire women at banks and mobile network operators
  7. Collect, analyze and use sex-disaggregated data
  8. Design appropriate and affordable financial products for women
  9. Help women benefit from e-commerce opportunities
  10. Create and enforce strong digital finance consumer protection mechanisms

For more details on the 10 Actions click here



When COVID-19 shut primary schools throughout Pakistan early in 2020, entrepreneur Maheen Adamjee knew she had to act quickly to save her business.


Dot & Line provided in-home tutoring to Pakistani schoolchildren with a network of women micro-franchisees who used their homes as teaching centers.

A national lockdown to contain the disease halted all in-person tutoring sessions. So in just two weeks, Dot & Line rewrote its business plan, created digital tools, and launched training classes to help its teachers shift to online tutoring sessions. The firm transformed itself into a digital company nearly overnight.

One year later, Dot & Line has expanded into several countries and is growing briskly, driven by demand from the Pakistan diaspora. The company’s new challenge: adding enough teachers to keep up with all the new students.

Adamjee is a great example of a start-up businesswoman responding to COVID-19 with agility, creativity, and resilience. There’s no question that the pandemic dealt a major blow to businesses. Some women-owned firms have rebounded by adopting new business models and using digital platforms to take advantage of emerging regional opportunities.  Adamjee and two other women entrepreneurs described their experiences and offered practical tips at a recent #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events on regional issues.

Even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions

Women entrepreneurs often pioneer new products and services that expand opportunities for others. But even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions. Legal, cultural, and financial barriers discourage women from starting a business.

Another hurdle: tariffs and trade barriers throughout South Asia. Both make it slow and costly for small firms to trade. 

“Within South Asia, trading is very difficult because of nontrade barriers and rules that change overnight. People prefer to trade outside the region than in it,” said Ayanthi Gurusinghe, a woman entrepreneur in Sri Lanka.

She founded a company,, a B2B platform that connects small buyers and sellers for products ranging from dried fruits to pharmaceuticals. offers training to help women entrepreneurs learn about international markets. It has been especially active in encouraging women to trade products across borders in Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy which has allowed them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers, overcoming travel and trade restrictions. 

“In terms of the demographics, a lot of the culture and habits are the same when you look at India, or Bangladesh, or Afghanistan,” Adamjee said. “The internet blurs those borders and allows for professional relationships that could not take place previously.”

Watch the panel discussion: Celebrating the Champions for Change in South Asia: Gender Equality in Leadership:

Sairee Chahal,  founded her company, SHEROES, in 2014 as an online community for women. It now has 22 million members in India, Bangladesh, and other countries – up from nearly 16 million before the pandemic. The site offers career tips, job leads, training, legal advice, and a free counseling helpline. It also is an online platform helping microentrepreneurs sell their goods.

In India alone, Chahal said an estimated 20 million women will become microentrepreneurs over the next three years . Many will use digital platforms or e-commerce. “That would not be possible if 300 million [Indian] women hadn’t adopted the internet in the past three or four years,” she said.

However, government policymakers have not yet recognized the enormous economic potential of women who create innovative products and services that ripple through the economy . More women entrepreneurs could “have a huge impact on GDP” but they aren’t getting the kind of policy support needed, Chahal said.

The pandemic has propelled women entrepreneurs into the digital economy, allowing them to reach across national boundaries to establish partnerships and target new customers

Our discussion identified several actions to support women-led businesses:


Thinking back over my long career at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), I remember arriving at my first-ever ITU Women’s Breakfast at the 1993 Regional Telecommunication Development Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Singapore.


This popular initiative, pioneered by a dear friend and colleague, Walda Roseman, became such a fixture at key ITU meetings over the past 25+ years. Female delegates got to meet and network with other women in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. It was especially valuable when we were much scarcer in number.

Today, after a year without face-to-face meetings, those opportunities seem far away.

Yet this year’s International Women’s Day is all about women’s leadership – the kind Walda showed.

Leadership has been high on my own agenda, too, both in my previous role as head of Strategic Planning and Management, and now as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Building momentum

ITU’s roots as a highly technical agency has contributed to a marked gender imbalance, both in our staff demographics and in the number of female delegates attending ITU events. That’s changing – but we can and should take proactive steps to speed things along.

Noticing the chronic lack of women seeking leadership positions at ITU events (as chairs of committees, for example), we began organizing training sessions for female delegates as side-events to our conferences. Eventually, ITU partnered with the US Federal Communications Commission to co-organize the WeLead mentoring programme for the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15).

Momentum grew, culminating in the first Network of Women (NoW) programme led by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau. I want to build on the success of that initiative with the new NoWs we are launching across the world to accompany this year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), set to take place on 8-19 November.

The NoW platform enables women to share experiences, learn from one another, and gain the expertise and confidence to assume active leadership roles at key ITU events.

As we launch a Network of Women in each ITU Region ahead of WTDC-21, I can already feel the excitement and passion women delegates are bringing to the process.

Our Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao, was among the first leaders to join the International Geneva Gender Champion movement back in 2015. He maintains his commitment to reforming internal practices, helping countries raise awareness, and promoting ICT careers for women. All ITU Directors are working actively to advance opportunities for women and break barriers, including unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion.

A virtuous circle

Promoting women’s leadership creates a virtuous circle, paving the way for more women and girls to embrace the exciting opportunities in the fast-growing technology space. As the actor, gender advocate and former ITU Envoy for Women and Girls, Geena Davis, said: ‘’If she can see it, she can be it.’’

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Girls in ICTs movement.

As we increasingly see over the last decade, female role models in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can inspire young girls and help women gain confidence in their own abilities and potential.

ITU founded the EQUALS Global Partnership with such empowerment in mind. The EQUALS Leadership Coalition, led by the International Trade Centre and UN Women, is working to achieve gender equality in tech leadership by 2030. We are doing this by training and mentoring, facilitating better access to finance and funding, and identifying regulatory and policy barriers faced by women in ICTs.

Through Generation Equality and the work of the Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation led by ITU and other partners, I hope that more women and girls, in all their diversity, will receive equal opportunities to safely and meaningfully use, design and exercise leadership in technology and innovation.

This year, recognizing the power of mentoring to bring about positive change, ITU is launching the Women in Cybersecurity Mentorship programme on International Women’s Day. This new initiative encourages women to ‘dive in and thrive in’ the fast-growing field of cybersecurity. It aims to give them knowledge, as well as courage, to take on challenging and exciting opportunities.

Nurturing a community of leaders

Diversity and inclusivity will pay off with better decision-making and better outcomes.

Let’s make gender parity our benchmark – not just for ITU, but for a world where each and every person can fulfil their dreams and reach their potential.

Walda Roseman’s efforts were instrumental in putting gender onto the digital industry’s agenda. I look forward to being able to gather once again, when we can celebrate the power of community and the potential of ICTs to promote ever-greater global inclusiveness.


The African Development Bank has approved two grants for research that will increase African women’s access to a range of digital financial services including loans and micro-insurance.


The grants, for $1 million and $300,000 respectively, will be disbursed through the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility, a blended finance vehicle supported by the Bank, to two financial technology firms, Pula Advisors Kenya Ltd., and M-KOPA Kenya Ltd.

Pula Advisors will use the $1 million for research of social, cultural and economic factors that impact women farmers’ access to micro-insurance in Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. Research findings will inform the design and implementation of gender-centric insurance products. The project will be undertaken over a 3-year time frame.

“This grant funding will be used to leverage technology to develop innovative and responsive loan and insurance products that can spur productivity and inclusion, especially for our women smallholder farmers and traders.” said Sheila Okiro, the Bank’s Coordinator for ADFI.

The three-year project will have three phases: product development; piloting; and scaling; the outcomes are expected to benefit 360,000 farmers, 50% of them women, as well as boost farm yields by up to 30%. This will also raise incomes and enhance household and national food security.

M-KOPA will use the $300,000 grant funding for research involving 250 women and 250 men in Kenya’s Kisumu, Eldoret and Machakos counties. The company will assess the barriers to and opportunities for women’s access to digital financial services and financial literacy programmes via smartphone, and use the research insights to design a financial services app that is relevant to small-scale women traders.

The project, approved by the Bank on 9 February, 2021, will benefit women with no or limited access to financial services that run small informal businesses. Once developed, the mobile app will be used to pilot small loans to the women traders.

Both projects align with ADFI’s digital products and innovation and capacity building intervention pillars  as well as its cross-cutting focus on gender inclusion, a thematic running across all its interventions.

The PULA grant approval meets African Development Bank strategic goals, including the Ten-Year Strategy, two High-5 priority areas—feed Africa and improve the quality of life for Africans— and  the financial inclusion strategies of Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.

The M-KOPA project is aligned with the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program that seeks to increase access to finance for women.

ADFI is a pan-African initiative designed to accelerate 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. The Facility was formally launched in June 2019 at the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Current ADFI partners are the French Development Agency (AFD); the French Treasury’s Ministry of Economy and Finance; The Government of Luxembourg’s Ministry of Finance; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the African Development Bank, which also hosts the fund.


On November 10, 2020 UNCDF hosted the peer learning session “How Do We Make Women Builders of the Digital Economy?” at #FinEquity2020, an annual gathering of the global of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and donors discussing the very latest developments in women’s financial inclusion.


The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries. With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. In the last years UNCDF has advanced women’s economic empowerment, increasingly leveraging digital tools and stakeholders when appropriate. UNCDF has created diagnostics and critical research, levelling the playing field for relevant stakeholders, and helping them understand the challenges and opportunities of advancing women’s financial inclusion. UNCDF has provided deep technical expertise to support human centric design of financial products for women and increased the number of women employees within financial service providers. Furthermore, UNCDF has worked with governments across the globe on the collection and usage of sex-disaggregated data.

Last year, UNCDF launched the approach to advancing gender equality in its Inclusive Digital Economy strategy, called Women as Builders of the Digital Economy, which aims to decrease the digital divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunity, and to help to transform women into the builders of emerging digital economies. This approach focuses on creating strategic partnerships at a global, regional and country level, and complementing them with market facilitation and deep technical assistance to affect change on the ground. It leverages our on-the-ground presence and relationships with ministries of finance, central banks, telecommunications regulators, other relevant policy makers, as well as the private sector (including banks, telecommunications companies, fintechs and micro finance institutions) and civil society to remove the barriers to women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF is implementing tailored interventions on a country-by-country basis integrated into existing work that will both remove barriers and accelerate increased access to critical services, ultimately increasing the number of women that not only have autonomy but digital and financial inclusion. This event was a chance to bring together experts to discuss UNCDF’s approach, focusing on the most challenging barriers to advancing women’s digital and financial inclusion, and to find ways forward together.

The UNCDF Approach – Women as Builders of the Digital Economy

Nandini Harihareswara, UNCDF Senior Advisor on Inclusive Digital Economies opened the session welcoming the participants and sharing UNCDF’s new strategy, aimed at using digital innovations to address women’s empowerment challenges. Nandini explained how UNCDF pursues a market system development approach to advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Specifically, UNCDF works with a range of stakeholders to:
• Increase the number of women and girls that own a phone, can access/use the internet and have the capability and autonomy to use it to empower their lives;
• Increase the number of affordable digital and financial products that address the needs and challenges of diverse segments of women;
• Leverage technology to increase access to finance and formalization of women-owned of managed SMEs;
• Use policy incentives and sex-disaggregated data to increase women’s digital and financial autonomy by supporting governments
• Create a “coalition of the amenable” between public and private sector actors to increase the number of women in the workforce and leadership positions.


Challenges and solutions to enable women digital and financial agency and autonomy

UNCDF were joined by three champions of women’s economic empowerment, who presented on the work their organizations are doing to help women to fully engage in the digital economy and their expert perspectives on the barriers to women’s digital and financial agency in developing countries. Leadership was a key recurring theme.

Venge Nyirongo, Thematic Lead of the Generation Equality Forum’s Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition at UN Women, discussed the need to bring together public, private, and civil society leaders to drive systemic change, He highlighted how the Generation Equality Forum, a campaign led by UN Women and hosted by the Governments of France and Mexico, are bringing together leaders to accelerate this kind of change. UNCDF is a co-lead of the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum. He explained why these coalitions are needed now more than ever; “women have been agents of change since time immemorial, when we bring down the barriers that prevent them exercising agency they can take the world forward. But since the establishment of the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago things haven’t moved much. We need to make deliberate decisions to move forward.”

Karen Miller, Global Head of Leadership & Diversity Programs at Women’s World Banking, highlighted the need to develop a pipeline of women leaders. Organizations can do this by creating inclusive organizational culture, values and policies, using a “sponsorship” culture within financial service providers and policy making institutions to build a network of women mentors and mentees. In addition, collecting and analyzing organizational data on diversity and inclusion. She made the importance of organizational data in tackling biases clear through an anecdote; “recently I was having a conversation with an institution who said, “I’m not sure why we are spending so much time hiring and training women, when they get married and have children they leave the organization”. We started going through their data and it turned out that women had a much higher retention rate than men, it was just a bias they had. By being able to look at that data and ask the hard questions you can determine what the path forward is”.

Cavelle Dove, Lead for Women’s Economic Empowerment at UNCDF in Myanmar, also remarked on the critical role of data, particularly in understanding and addressing women’s needs. She also drew on a recent study into women’s demand for financial services in conflict and post conflict affected regions to highlight the need to raise women’s awareness of available products and build environments in which they feel comfortable learning about those products. She spoke of the power of the “sister approach”: “women have been helping other women from time beyond, so it’s vital to work women who can then share the news of what’s been helpful to them and how that might be helpful to others. For example, there was one woman we worked with in Kachin State who was not interested at all at first, but after the time was spent to understand the product and its benefit she eventually became one of the strongest advocates for this financial service”.

How do we identify the gatekeepers and unlock the gates?

Gatekeepers are people or institutions with the power to help or hinder access to a resource. Increasing attention is being paid to the need to engage the gatekeepers that control women’s participation in the digital economy. However, there is a paucity of extensive research that lists who these gatekeepers are and how to engage them effectively and appropriately.

The first discussion was focused on identifying and engaging the gatekeepers that prevent women’s access and usage of phones. Firstly, the participants identified a number of gatekeepers such as: husbands and male family members, religious leaders, regulators, teachers, but also “older generation women”. Then, they presented a number of solutions to engage the gatekeepers in a culturally appropriate way, including interventions such as digital literacy training, sisterhood learning programmes, and the empowerment of women as role models within their family and community. A strong reference that shares best practices on these and more is the “I’d Blush if I Could” Report from UNESCO. Finally, the group suggested ways to measure the success and impact of interventions=. For example, through the size of the mobile gender gap and internet usage; the number of women in the community who are using digital for economic, social and entertainment; the changes in values measured through the World Value Survey.

The last discussion of the session was aimed at recognizing the gatekeepers that control efforts to increase diversity and leadership in digital economies at scale. Regulatory bodies, men in leadership positions, and institutions that benefit from the status quo were all identified as gatekeepers. The group discussed engagement strategies including improving diversity and inclusion training, demonstrating of the benefits of diverse management on the bottom line, developing the next generation of female leaders through technical assistance, and linking investment to diversity indicators. Suggested potential measures of success were the number of female decision-makers on a national scale; the number of girls aspiring to work in the financial sectors; the number of digital platforms that have a diverse leadership and, last but not least, the number of gender-sensitive women policies.

UNCDF will integrate these learnings into its activities while supporting the work of building inclusive digital economies in 28 countries, as well as co-leading the Economic Rights and Justice Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum.


To help women entrepreneurs emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades Initiative and world’s largest package delivery company, UPS, are focussing on boosting the digital transformation of women-led businesses.

The ITC SheTrades initiative aims to connect three million women to markets and rallies stakeholders around the world to work together to break down trade barriers and create greater opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It is supported by a web and mobile digital platform.

By bringing together UPS’s smart global logistics network and knowledge and ITC’s SheTrades initiative, the partnership aims to help women in business succeed in international markets by making the process of exporting easier and more efficient.

Covid-19’s Impact on Women-led Businesses

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and particularly those in the hospitality, textiles and apparel sectors. Women-led firms operate in several of these sectors, and 64% of them have stated that their operations have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.

Recognizing the need for improved and effective digitalisation to ensure these business’s survival and growth and boost their resilience against future economic downturns, ITC SheTrades and UPS enlisted digital transformation experts to offer virtual training and bootcamps to women entrepreneurs in three of their project countries: India, Mexico and Vietnam.

Held in October and November 2020, the bootcamps focused on digital marketing, e-commerce, cybersecurity and understanding the online consumer. The events, relevant tools and supporting materials were also made available to all SheTrades members through the online platform.

Business Bootcamp Entrepreneurs

Almost 700 women attended the virtual bootcamps held for Vietnam, Mexico and India. More than 90% of the participants reported the training helped them identify strategies on how to scale up and improve their digital business operations, while almost all confirmed that they had improved their knowledge and skills on privacy and data protection.

Cyntia Reyes operates her sustainable children’s clothing line, Chiquitito Detalles in Mexico, with 6 artisans and workers. Prior to the coaching programme, she was trying to launch her online store and implement a marketing funnel to enhance the user experience and track the customer journey. But she faced low user engagement and high service commissions. Following her coaching with SheTrades and UPS Project, Reyes developed a digital marketing strategy using Facebook and email, leveraging El Buen Fin, the national shopping festival in Mexico.

Reyes implemented different payment methods to enhance her online store, mitigating high costs and commissions. She also developed a holistic sales proposition that reduced her shipping charges and elevated her brand value on social media. Through a tailored strategy for Buen Fin, she increased her online sales by 30%. She has also expanded her marketplace to Facebook and Whatsapp, thereby increasing exports to USA, Canada and other global markets.

Madhumita Sarkar Guha in India owns Luxe Living, a manufacturer of unique home furnishing accessories such as ethnic printed/painted curtains, cushions, throws and rugs. Since opening in 2016, she has expanded into clothing and fashion accessories, incorporating traditional Kolkata prints in her products. Guha soon realized that digital marketing and online business were essential to reaching a larger consumer base and growing her market access. As a result of the coaching programme under the SheTrades and UPS Project, she strengthened the digital marketing and branding of her business, improved customer feedback and the functionality of her online store.

She has expanded her online presence to key marketplaces in India, such as Etsy, Amazon, Nykaa and Pernia’s Popup Shop. Today, Luxe Living is on the way to scaling up and doubling revenues through its enhanced digital presence and improved export readiness.

For queries regarding SheTrades, please email:


From education to entrepreneurship, global recovery efforts need to pay particular attention to the needs of women and girls. 


Policymakers haven’t always considered how economic shocks impact women and men differently — or how governments should respond.  When the 2008 recession hit, few asked how stimulus measures would affect women compared with men.

That approach won’t work for the COVID-19 crisis. As leaders face the enormous challenge of rebuilding post-pandemic economies, women must be at the center of their strategies. 

In many countries, women have been hit hardest by COVID-19 lockdowns. In Latin America, for example, they were 50% more likely than men to lose a job in the pandemic’s first months.

Women tend to be heavily employed in vulnerable sectors such as retail, restaurants and hospitality. They also often work in informal jobs, from selling wares on the streets to sewing at home, that lack protections such as paid sick leave or unemployment insurance. When those jobs disappeared, women had no social safety net to fall back on.

Moreover, women can have an outsized impact on economic recovery, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. World Bank research, for instance, shows Niger’s per capita GDP could be more than 25% larger if gender inequality were reduced.

What can governments do? At least three broad areas deserve attention.

First, countries can accelerate the digitization of government identification systems, payment platforms and other critical services, in partnership with the private sector. Economically marginalized women are often invisible to their governments. They are less likely to have formal identification, own a mobile phone or appear in a social registry.

While over 200 countries have developed social-protection measures in response to COVID-19, many have struggled to identify and deliver aid to informal workers, meaning many women continue to be overlooked.

Advanced digital systems can help identify women in need so they can receive cash quickly and securely.  Direct cash transfers targeted to women in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria and Zambia have already offered millions of women safer access to and increased control over funds.

India’s experience highlights the benefits of getting this right. Last year, the government was able to transfer pandemic-relief payments quickly to more than 200 million women in need because it already had sex-disaggregated data and a digital infrastructure, and these women had their own bank accounts. Governments can ensure that economic opportunities are equitably shared by broadening access to the internet, increasing mobile connectivity and building digital skills.

Second, governments can remove barriers to women’s full inclusion in the economy, whether as entrepreneurs or employees. In economies with the strictest pandemic lockdowns, women-owned companies were 10 percentage points more likely to close than those owned by men. That’s not surprising: Most women-owned businesses tend to be smaller — sole proprietorships or informal microenterprises with fewer than five employees.

Closing gender gaps in entrepreneurship would help reduce poverty, create jobs, and spur growth and innovation.  Governments should thus target lines of credit and other forms of finance to women-owned businesses, boost the creation of e-commerce platforms to enable female entrepreneurs to access markets, and help business incubators to overcome biases when it comes to investing in women-owned businesses.

Employees, too, require multiple forms of support. In some countries, this may mean making public transport safer for women so they can get to work without fear of harassment. Elsewhere, laws and regulations need to be reviewed to prevent discrimination against women in the workforce. And all countries would benefit from appropriate family-leave policies and quality childcare supported by the public and private sectors.

Finallygovernments must commit to ensuring a strong education for girls through at least secondary school.  Even before the pandemic, the world faced a learning crisis: More than half of 10-year-olds in schools across low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a basic text.

The pandemic has made things worse. Globally, more than 800 million students remain out of school and many poor students, especially in rural areas, have no access to remote learning. In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 45% of children have been completely disconnected during school closures.

Girls face additional challenges to remote learning. If there is only one phone per household, for example, it is likely to be used by boys rather than girls, while a heavier burden of domestic work prohibits access to instruction for many girls.

Education is the key to future employment opportunities and women’s ability to have power and influence in their own lives. 

As students return to school, countries need to ensure that both girls and boys reengage with the learning process. That will require investing in hybrid schemes that mix remote and in-person learning, while focusing on foundational and socio-emotional skills that will help children catch up.

True, most of these measures will require substantial investment, at a time when rising debt poses a major concern. But the best way to pay that debt back is to get economies growing faster and to keep more families from falling into poverty.

With the right policies, countries can rebuild stronger and more inclusively. As countries respond to the biggest challenge of our generation, they should view women as central builders of a stronger, post-COVID world. 

This piece was originally published on Bloomberg Opinion.

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