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.



WeXchange, the IDB Lab platform that connects women entrepreneurs in STEM from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) with mentors and investors, and Google, have announced the 20 women-led startups selected to participate in the first edition of the LAC Women Founders Accelerator program.

This program is a 100% virtual, highly customizable acceleration program for women-led startups in the region, organized by WeXchange/IDB Lab and Google, in collaboration with Centraal.

Over 300 applications from 30 different countries were received from industries such as agtech, edtech, fintech, foodtech, healthtech, proptech, retailtech, mobility and delivery, ecommerce, SaaS, and business intelligence, among others.

The selected entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their companies in front of a group of venture capital investors, entrepreneurs, and key players of LAC’s entrepreneurial ecosystem on December 1st and 2nd, during the WeXchange Forum 2021. Furthermore, over 200 women entrepreneurs that applied to LAC Women Founders Accelerator will be invited to participate in WeXchange Ignite Program, a series of workshops on key topics to help ignite the growth of their startups.

The first cohort of the LAC Women Founders Accelerator program includes:

Alquilando (Argentina): a digital ecosystem for real estate rentals, which integrates services from brokers, insurers, and banks to provide a complete and innovative rental experience.

Apptim (Uruguay): a mobile experience infrastructure for the global app industry, providing mobile testing solutions and monitoring solutions for both app performance and end users.

Branddu (Colombia): a one-stop B2B marketplace that optimizes the merchandising buying experience.

Carinos (Brazil): a digital support network, and corporate benefits platform, for working parents and caregivers, that offers access to child development specialists  and a concierge that addresses the daily challenges of childcare.

EatCloud (Colombia): a food surplus management solution that connects the food industries’ supply and demand sectors, such as restaurants and hotels with food banks and NGOs.

Getin (Mexico): a people traffic analytics system that provides data on the traffic circulating in physical stores, simplifying interpretation and providing analysis to inform strategic actions.

hiSofi (Uruguay): a human-centered debt collection startup that is making life easier for the millions of people with overdue accounts by providing them with financial education and helping them with debt collection management and financial re-inclusion.

ioio (Mexico): a p2p mobile app to rent everything from physical items, real estate, vehicles, professional services and talents for events, memberships, etc.

Kon3cta (Chile): a B2C platform that offers an affordable and comprehensive solution for companies to measure and improve the mental health of its employees and their close relatives.

MO Technologies (Colombia): a modular Credit as a Service startup that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine the financial worthiness of corporates, merchants, and individuals.

Muda Meu Mundo (Brazil): a platform that connects retailers with small farmers, generating a sustainable supply chain through the use of ESG data.

NeuralMind (Brazil): a solution that promotes an open space for creative and inspiring work in organizations, focusing on facilitating business decision-making and increasing security and transparency in the relationships between companies, partners, and suppliers through advanced artificial intelligence techniques.

Prometeo (Uruguay): an open banking platform that seeks interoperability in LATAM’s financial sector, allowing access to banking information, transactions, and payments across multiple financial institutions in Latin America.

Prosperia (Mexico): a social impact enterprise that creates solutions powered by artificial intelligence to massify early detection and treatment of chronic diseases in emerging markets.

Snap Compliance (Costa Rica): an all-in-one place software that transforms the ways in which companies manage risk and compliance.

TiendaDa (Peru): a platform that helps SMBs create their virtual store, efficiently, by offering simple and practical solutions at a fair price.

Tipti (Ecuador): a platform that facilitates the purchase and delivery of supermarket products and specialized stores by connecting teams of specialized buyers and  consumers.

UpGirl (Chile): a C2C platform, exclusively for women, that connects female drivers and passengers establishing a safe transportation environment for women and children.

Vinco (Mexico): serves as a bridge between big employers seeking to upskill and retain their workforce, working adults who want to earn credentials, and education institutions looking to drive their online enrollment.

Wit Advisor (Argentina): a customer and employee experience management solution that uses AI to analyze, in real time, customer and employee satisfaction, thereby increasing productivity and rentability.

The WeXchange platform aims to facilitate women entrepreneurs with the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs, connect with investors, and participate in training and mentoring sessions. This year’s forum is possible thanks to the support of  Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The admission is free upon prior registration for entrepreneurs, investors, and those interested in the innovation ecosystem.

For more information and to register, please visit the WeXchange website.


Over the years, access to digital technology has played a major role in empowering women to do businesses. The number of female entrepreneurs is flourishing in digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce, bringing enormous impact and contributions to economic development, as women represent one of the biggest demographic opportunities both as market makers and consumers. Moreover, SMEs (often led and managed by women) are powerful engines that provide the backbone for ASEAN economic growth. As the region expects millions of dollars of total revenue from the e-commerce sector in 2030, achieving this growth will require more involvement of female entrepreneurs to drive SMEs and local business onto the digital platforms. Whilst there is  momentum to shape the women-led entrepreneurship landscape in the region, challenges remain as to facilitate access to finance, infrastructure, and assistance for women using e-commerce platforms. Furthermore, more needs to be done to debunk gender stereotypes and foster digital inclusion to achieve gender equality online and to inspire more women-led entrepreneurs to reap the benefit of going digital for their businesses. As ERIA research suggests, as digital commerce will continue to be an integral part in the region’s growth, empowering leading female entrepreneurs at the centre of the e-commerce sector has become critical for the post-pandemic recovery.

The 8th episode of ERIA’s Entrepreneurship, Start-Up, and Innovation (E-S-I) webinar series with the theme ‘Women in E-Commerce was held on 22 September 2021 and attracted more than 140 participants from the Asia-Pacific region.

Four entrepreneurs from ASEAN countries shared their personal journey on taking the lead in the digital entrepreneurial world:

  • Lishia Erza, CEO of ASYX, Indonesia;
  • Pennie Lim, CEO of Homa Sdn Bhd, Malaysia;
  • Mel Nava, Co-founder & CEO 1Export, Philippines;
  • Shanaz Winanto, Founder of Rorokenes; Member of eTrade for Women Community, Indonesia.

Ms Lishia Erza, CEO of ASYX, Indonesia shared her story on what inspired her to become a leading entrepreneur of ASYX, a sustainable supply chain financing company which aims to promote the scale up of SMEs and circular economies in Indonesia. Through her initiative, Melati Nusantara, she emphasized the importance of providing technical assistance for female entrepreneurs in learning digital and financial literacy. She further emphasized how the pandemic has accelerated the shift to online business and how women entrepreneurs have a good opportunity to utilize this market. To do so, Lishia underlined several important factors to support women entrepreneurship in going digital, such as: obtaining new knowledge on technologies and finance, navigating digital solutions for scaling up the business, and having a good sales track record.

Ms Pennie Lim, CEO of Homa Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, shared her journey from running her family property business to launching Homa, an online platform that offers building materials and home finishing products with a strong focus on sustainability, aiming to re-define the global home makeover community through people-centric, sustainable, and environmental values. Pennie highlighted how Homa was born by taking advantage of solving an untouched problem in the construction business. Moreover, she shared her perspective on being a female entrepreneur in a traditionally male-dominated industry, where the drive to push beyond boundaries and connect with like-minded people are needed for female entrepreneurs – as depicted from her favorite quotation of author Trina Paulus: You must want to fly so much, that you’re willing to give up being a caterpillar.

Ms Mel Nava, Co-founder & CEO 1Export, Philippines shared her experience in building online trade and services to connect thousands of SMEs buyers and suppliers across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. Mel highlighted how the pandemic has affected SMEs exports as most brick and mortar retail is closed and have moved online. The pandemic has further pushed the shift of focus of her business from building the right product, sales, and revenues to growing a sustainable operation for the business. Furthermore, she underscored several important skills for women entrepreneurs that want to go digital as follows: listen to the costumers, grow the business sustainably as well as adapting to unprecedented scenarios, and think globally especially in serving consumers beyond local.

Ms Shanaz Winanto, Founder of Rorokenes; Member of eTrade for Women Community, Indonesia highlighted her entrepreneurship journey that focused on developing an Indonesian artisan bag business that is both sustainable and ethical, emphasizing good products while fostering the community’s prosperity and promoting gender issues. In her view, going digital is an important tool for women entrepreneurs as they will be able to access more data, networks, market analysis, branding with purpose, and upscaling the business sales into the region and international market. Furthermore, as a member of eTrade for Women, a community platform facilitated by UNCTAD, Shanaz shared how the platform has further connected her with 100 women entrepreneurs around the globe, allowing more collaboration and information exchange on resources. She then discussed her experience with eTrade for Women by sharing her knowledge and training lessons for community clusters that work with her company.

The webinar was co-hosted by Dr Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA Director for Strategy and Partnership, Ms Lina Maulidina Sabrina, Programme Officer, ERIA and Mr TJ Ooi, Founder of Curated Connectors, a Singapore-based start-up. During the Q&A session, moderated by Ms Lina, speakers discussed the challenges of going digital such as digital infrastructure issues, learning what customers’ needs, as well as building trust and transparency for a good e-commerce ecosystem. The discussion also touched upon the role of universities and policy infrastructure as an accelerator to support women in running their e-commerce business.

ERIA’s E-S-I webinar series is organised under ERIA’s Strategy and Partnership Programme, funded by Australia.



“Digital Jobs Albania” is a new World Bank initiative that will help women in Albania gain better access to online work opportunities and connect with the global economy. The initiative will provide intensive 3-month training in digital skills for women aged 16-35 years, empowering them to access online freelancer job opportunities in graphic design, web development and digital marketing.

The emergence of online freelancer job markets is creating new opportunities for Albanians to connect with the global economy. Websites such as Upwork, Fiverr and People Per Hour allow Albanians with the right skills to access online project work commissioned by companies and individuals anywhere in the world, while staying in their local communities.

Women in particular stand to gain. The female labor force participation in Albania is still 14.6 percentage points lower than for males. The gender pay gap remains 6.6 percent, according to 2020 data from the Albanian National Statistical Authority (INSTAT). The emerging online freelancing work model can play an important role in narrowing these gaps. Flexible work hours and the ability to work from home can help more women with the right skills stay in the labor market and gain financial independence.

The Digital Jobs Albania initiative, implemented in partnership with the Government of Albania, Coderstrust (an international digital skills training provider), and EuroPartners Development (a local consulting company), will provide an online training program to equip selected participants with in-demand technical skills. It will also provide mentorship to participants and help them develop the soft skills needed to successfully compete for project work on online freelancer websites.

“This initiative offers an exciting new opportunity for Albanian women to acquire digital skills and join the online economy – a blueprint to inspire future projects in this space,” says Emanuel Salinas, World Bank Country Manager for Albania. “No one can afford to be left behind in the ongoing digital transformation.”

The initiative is part of broader ongoing World Bank engagement in Albania to help the country leverage the economic opportunities associated with digital trade in goods and services.

“Albania has recognized the importance of digital markets as an opportunity for economic development. We have mobilized a team from across the World Bank to support this effort, through this new initiative and others in the future,” says Christoph Ungerer, the World Bank task team leader for the Albania Digital Trade Project.

To learn more about the Digital Jobs Albania initiative and how to participate in it, please visit:


The funds will support activities that can enable more countries to engage in and benefit from the evolving digital economy.


Switzerland has announced a contribution of $4.4 million (4 million Swiss francs) to UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme.

The funds to be provided through the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will support the programme’s technical cooperation, research and consensus-building activities until 2024.

UNCTAD and Switzerland signed an agreement on 13 September.

“We sincerely thank Switzerland for the generous contribution,” said Isabelle Durant, deputy secretary-general of UNCTAD. “The financial support will enable us to scale up our efforts to foster more inclusive and sustainable development gains from e-commerce and the digital economy for people and businesses in developing countries.”

“Switzerland is proud to contribute to UNCTAD’s programme on e-commerce, which supports the establishment of favourable framework conditions for e-commerce in developing and least developed countries,” said Didier Chambovey, ambassador of the Swiss Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization and the European Free Trade Association.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed, a robust e-commerce ecosystem is needed to maintain trade flows and mitigate economic and social consequences in times of crisis, particularly in the most vulnerable countries.”

Spreading the benefits of the digital economy

The UNCTAD programme aims to reduce inequality, enable the benefits of digitalization to reach all people and ensure that no one is left behind in the evolving digital economy.

Its activities include, among others, the biennial Digital Economy Report, the eCommerce Week, eTrade for alleTrade for Women and eTrade readiness assessments.

The Swiss contribution will boost the programme’s ability to respond to the growing demand from countries for UNCTAD’s support, not least in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has accentuated the need to support countries with the lowest levels of readiness to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the risks presented by digitalization.

Committed to digitalization

The contribution demonstrates Switzerland’s commitment to strengthening its support to digitalization in line with its International Cooperation Strategy for 2021-24 and its Digital Foreign Policy Strategy 2021-2024, both of which recognize the role of digitalization in meeting current and future development challenges.

The contribution will finance at least three eTrade readiness assessments, which will provide a diagnostic of the state of e-commerce in the countries concerned, covering seven policy areas considered most relevant for e-commerce development. It will also build on a close collaboration with selected eTrade for all partners.

In 2020, Switzerland topped UNCTAD’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index, which ranks 152 countries on their readiness to engage in electronic commerce.

It scored highly across all four dimensions of the index, with 97% of the population using the internet (2019) and 98% of the population aged 15 and older having a bank account (2017).

It also ranked 7th in the world in terms of postal reliability according to the Universal Postal Union, and 5th among the countries included in the index for secure server density, a proxy for online stores.


Experts often cite the benefits of financial technology (fintech) and digital finance for women. At the same time, few women are represented in decision-making roles in this fast-growing industry.

While they make up half of the financial services workforce in many countries, women fill only about 20 per cent of the leadership roles. Their representation in emerging markets is lower. Even so, they do better in finance than in the other part of the equation, the technology sector.

A closer look at the figures

The overall tech workforce was 28.8 per cent female in 2020, and despite growth in women’s representation on boards and in C suites at tech companies in the past ten years, there’s still a long way to go. Out of nearly 1300 technology companies across the world, women hold on average 16.6 per cent of board seats.

While 35 per cent of higher education graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes globally are female, many of them, according to Catalyst, end up leaving STEM careers.

The fast-growing fintech industry doesn’t appear to fare better in terms of women’s leadership.

The financial industry is making rapid progress in boosting the number of women in senior leadership roles, but fintech lags more traditional finance in terms of gender balance. “Despite starting with a blank slate, fintech has emerged as an outlier struggling with gender balance at the board level,” according to international management consultancy Oliver Wyman.

Missed opportunities

Placing women in leadership positions tends to drive innovation, increase productivity, and boost profitability, says a study by Deloitte. Yet among fintech founders, women are less likely to receive investor funding than their male counterparts.

“More diverse teams create better results,” affirms Margaret Miller, Lead Financial Sector Economist at the World Bank Group and co-moderator of a session at the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium.

“It’s business sense to be looking at how we can incorporate women and women’s voices more in leadership.”

The stubborn gender gap in fintech leadership stems from more than the lack of diversity in financial services and the scarcity of women across the wider tech sector. Differing cultural norms also come into play, along with each country’s current economic conditions.

In Pakistan, for example, women are employed largely in the informal sector, says Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and Managing Director of the Kashf Foundation, a non-banking micro finance company. This reflects a pattern seen in many developing countries, with around 95 per cent of women’s work in Asia and 89 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa being done informally, according to a report from the World Bank Group and partners.

Zafar pointed to educational barriers and questioned whether women were being educated to become managers. In her view, perceptions about women and leadership must change, which also means cultural stereotypes need to be broken down.

“The lack of networking is something that prevents women from getting not only the investments they require but also the amounts of investment,” she says.

“Women don’t lack the expertise or the ability. It’s really the perception that creates the glass ceiling, both within institutions and within the investor space.”

Championing women as leaders

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has started dedicating annual awards to outstanding women in the banking sector, with winners receiving learning opportunities at globally prestigious universities, including Harvard.

May Abulnaga, First Sub-Governor, sees a crucial role for regulators in promoting women, starting from the top down.

“Today, as a regulator, we have been able to achieve a number of milestones towards building an inclusive financial sector.”

The CBE has also undertaken a joint programme with Egypt’s National Council for Women to promote female financial empowerment.
Laura Fernandez Lord, Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment at BBVA Microfinance Foundation (a subsidiary of Spain’s multinational financial services firm BBVA), adds:

“There is only one way to move the needle to bridge the gender financial gap, and that is to lead by example.”

Possible approaches include promoting women champions for organizational change, bringing men into the discussion, training top managers on gender diversity, and investing in career counselling, career planning, mentoring and coaching for both men and women. But organizations and companies seeking to improve their gender balance may also need tools for tackling unintended biases, rules on hiring 50 per cent women employees, and mandatory availability of day-care facilities.

Fintech firms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are piloting the business case for gender-intelligent services. The Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) has actively helped to promote solutions from mobile wallets to merchant payment integration. Its Eight Lessons from the Field report urges fintechs to take a deliberate approach to meeting the needs of women.

Including women in fintech — a holistic approach

study by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) recommends a holistic approach, both to expand financial services for women and increase the number of women in fintech. The supply of financial services is not by itself a panacea.

Governments, donors, and financial institutions must intervene where needed to boost financial literacy, improve product design, and address specific constraints for women.

Otherwise, rapid growth in digital banking and the creation of a cashless society could serve to deepen and reinforce the existing digital gender divide.
Even before the current pandemic, an estimated 52 per cent of women tended to remain totally offline, compared with 42 per cent of men worldwide, according to ITU’s 2019 Measuring Digital Development report.

Proportion of internet users by gender - ITU Facts and Figures 2019

In our post-pandemic world, the ability to connect to usable affordable digital services will surely be the new baseline for full social and economic inclusion, especially for women.


Wacu Kihara is the founder of the sustainable and contemporary fashion label Khangadelic in Kenya. Her business was born from her passion for fashion and love for the environment. All her designs symbolize the colour and vibrancy of the Kenyan coastal culture and lifestyle, using reusable Khanga cloth bags from fabric offcuts.

Her online journey kicked-off in 2018 when she opened an eBay store, through a SheTrades project, and started collaborating with DHL to ship worldwide. However, her business only really took off with the the start of the pandemic in 2020. The key to Wacu’s increase in sales was adapting to the global demand and sharing good quality photos of her products in her online channels.

She shifted her production to masks and started selling them on eBay to customers all over the world, from the US to Japan, Ireland and Norway.

Apart from eBay, her other sales channel is social media. Many of her customers contact Wacu directly through Facebook and Instagram. She is now exploring how to use the “Shop” functionality.

Wacu participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series “E-commerce Tips from Peers”, organized by the ecomConnect team – the e-commerce initiative at ITC – where she provided a series of tips. Among them, she encouraged entrepreneurs to:

  • Know their market to reduce costs. Knowing the market, customers and their preferences can help invest in what is more fruitful for entrepreneurs.
  • Research competitors, their prices and the keywords they are using to attract new customers.
  • Customize products and communications to your customers. For example, entrepreneurs can send customized emails to let clients know the status of their orders.
  • Gather positive reviews. Customers’ feedback is everything: in online platforms, positive feedback is key to appear first in the search results. When Wacu’s business failed to deliver on time, she always refunded the customer to avoid negative feedback.
  • Be up to date with legal documents to save time when working with payment solutions and logistic providers. This will help entrepreneurs save time.

Wacu also suggested that entrepreneurs build a quality network of businesses and associations operating in their respective sector. “By joining various WhatsApp groups of business associations, one is able to gain access to business opportunities and training. This is a great help for your business, especially in the first stages”, she adds.


ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres train over 80 000 people – 65 percent are women

​​​​The Initiative is set to expand in phase 2, applications are open. Applications submition deadline extended until 19 September 2021.​​Women from underserved and marginalized communities made up 65 percent of 80 000 trainees in the first phase of ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative. The Initiative, launched in September 2019, saw the ITU partner with technology conglomerate Cisco in nine countries to help strengthen the digital capacities of their citizens, particularly in underserved communities.

ITU has opened applications for the second phase of its DTC Initiative, aiming to close the persistent gap in digital skills worldwide. Interested eligible institutions can submit their applications, as deadline extended until 19 September 2021.

“We want to leverage the momentum we gained in phase one, during which over 80 000 people from underserved and marginalized communities received digital skills training through nine DTCs. The popularity of this training has far exceeded what we anticipated, and greatly encourages us. Clearly, the pandemic has made everyone more aware of the need to be equipped with digital skills. ITU wants to expand the DTC network, but at a pace which will ensure that the quality of training is maintained,” said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.

In the first phase, DTCs were established in nine countries in Africa, Americas and Asia Pacific. The individuals who signed up for DTC courses received training in basic and intermediate digital skills.

“Closing the global digital divide is consistent with empowering people and communities, improving lives and livelihoods, and promoting sustainable development,” emphasized the Secretary-General. “Empowering people with essential digital skills is a key part of this – a challenge we are proud to tackle together with partners from the private sector.”

Doreen Bogdan-​Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The pandemic underlined that digital skills are key to inclusion and leaving no one behind in today’s digital world. The lack of these skills is becoming the main barrier to digital participation, particularly in developing countries. ITU’s network of Digital Transformation Centres plays a crucial role in bridging the digital skills gap and ensuring that no one is left offline. That is why we are expanding the network to increase the number of DTCs globally. We are continuously engaging with new potential partners to collaborate with us in this Initiative.”


The second phase is open to applications from any eligible national institution that commits to being an active partner in the network.

Applying institutions must have the mandate, or the support of their national government, to foster digital capacity in their respective countries, as well as a proven track record in delivering digital skills training at basic and intermediate levels to local communities.

Selected DTCs become part of a global network that aims to accelerate digital uptake among citizens and boost the capacity of young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to succeed in the digital economy.

Any proposed DTC requires a network of fully equipped physical training centres, along with sufficient resources to deliver digital skills training. Detailed criteria are available here.

The second phase of the DTC Initiative will commence operations from January 2022.

Going forward, more DTCs will be able to join the global network in order to reach a critical mass of people with digital skills training in countries and thus allow them to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.

Further information on how to apply to become a DTC is available here.


Institutions that become part of the DTC network will receive free access to training materials developed by ITU, Cisco, HP, and other partners at the global, regional and national levels; access to train-the-trainer programmes under the DTC Initiative; networking opportunities through DTCs worldwide; use of ITU and Cisco branding for promotion and marketing of DTC courses; authorization to award internationally recognized certifications to local citizens; and the chance get access to resources that will allow them to scale their national activities.

The first phase of the Initiative runs from January 2020 to August 2021, with nine DTCs: four in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia), two in the Americas (Brazil, Dominican Republic), and three in Asia-Pacific (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines).

The courses offered are designed both for people who have never used a computer, as well as those with basic digital skills and those looking to enhance their entrepreneurial skills through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

ITU has promoted wider partnerships to support the Initiative with both financial and material resources. In November 2020, the Government of Norway joined the Initiative financially supporting the implementation of training through the DTC network. Going forward, ITU aims to mobilize more partnerships in the second phase of the Initiative, widen the network of DTCs and scale the number of training activities through a systemic engagement with partners both at national and international levels.


“The pandemic has taught us entrepreneurs that together we are stronger. If we support each other, we can achieve whatever we want”, says Mónica Gamboa, Founder of Burío, a handmade business producing sustainable fashion in Costa Rica.

In 2020, Mónica decided to open an online store. Before the pandemic, she employed seven women and her main clients were schools and institutions. But the crisis caused a huge decrease in sales and the founder had to lay off her team.

It was then that Mónica decided to shift her business model: she researched new market trends, developed new products and gave her brand a new name. Burío’s founder also worked on a brand positioning strategy with structured promotional campaigns to define her target audience. Much of this change was guided by her mentor, Lucrecia de González, Founder of Casa Cotzal, a home-décor wholesale business in Guatemala.

The result of the joint work has been threefold: a new website for the Burío brand, increased sales and hiring the seven women with whom Mónica used to work.

“Supporting someone at a distance is not easy. Our collaboration has been an adventure, and dedication and motivation have been key. The tutor learns as much as the student. Undoubtedly, I would repeat the mentoring experience,” says Lucrecia.

Collaboration through the E-commerce Leadership Programme

Both Mónica and Lucrecia participated in the E-commerce Leadership Programme for Central American businesses led by women, organized by ecomConnect, the International Trade Centre’s e-commerce programme. It allowed advanced businesses in Central America to mentor fellow beneficiaries.

In July 2021, ITC held the programme’s final event, where six finalists presented their joint journey in opening an Etsy shop or a transactional website. The participating companies were:

The winners of the contest were Carmen de Rengifo, founder of Rengifo, and Luisa Villavicencio, founder of Algodones Mayas, who were awarded support from ITC to optimize their websites, with paid ad campaigns and improved branding.

The event benefitted from the participation of the European Union and the Central American Economic Integration Secretariat (SIECA). “Women tend to support each other,” said Kathrin Renner, Cooperation Officer at the European Commission. “Solidarity is key to facing challenges that surely were not thought to be possible to achieve.”

For Carmen Romero, Director of Cooperation and Projects at SIECA, e-commerce was key for overcoming the current crisis: “As Central Americans, as women, we are happy to see that we are spreading our culture. E-commerce helps us transcend borders and is key in the economic reactivation process, generating sales and increasing employment in the region.”

About the e-commerce project in Central America

This programme is part of the Project “Linking Central American Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) with the Global Gifts and Home Decoration Market”, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in collaboration with the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) and national implementing partners in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.


Despite the growing demand for information and communication technology (ICT) professionals, women still trail their male counterparts in terms of pay, leadership roles, and representation in the digital sector.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 suggests that only 14 per cent of those working in cloud computing, 20 per cent of engineers, and 32 per cent of data and artificial intelligence professionals are women.

These disparities are concerning, not least because technology-related careers arguably dominate today’s job market.

Moreover, the underrepresentation of women means their voices are absent from decision-making when it comes to designing our digital society.


Breaking barriers

Many of the causes of the imbalance stem from social norms, stereotypes, and values cultivated in childhood and adolescence. Barriers blocking gender equality in the technology sector arise early in life, with the lack of visible female role models in the ICT field playing a key part.

A report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Towards an equal future: Reimagining girls’ education through STEM, finds that globally, only 18 per cent of girls in tertiary education are pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies — compared to 35 per cent of boys.

In a similar vein, only 3 per cent of female students would consider a career in technology as their first choice, according to the joint report.

As we move further into the information age, women and men need to be equally represented as shapers of our increasingly digital world. One way to inspire and empower girls and young women is to showcase success stories.

The Talking Tech: Girls and Women in ICT interview series , for example, helps to counteract the ‘othering’ of girls and women in the sector.

Today, there is nothing they cannot achieve in this fast-evolving field.


Overcoming othering

The term ‘othering’ describes a pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on attributes such as race, age, gender or disability, which may differentiate the individual from perceived norms in a given context. In the workplace, othering can bar those outside the dominant culture from access to opportunities. Launched In April 2020, Talking Tech challenges the gender stereotypes that contribute to women’s minority status in the technology sector.

Sixteen months on, the series celebrated the milestone of 100 interviews, with over 200 tenacious girls and women challenging stereotypes and sharing their stories of personal and professional growth.


Intergenerational interviews

The intergenerational interview series supports the Girls in ICT Day initiative and the EQUALS Global Partnership. Run by ITU with the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC) and the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, it enables aspiring ICT professionals to interview and be interviewed by role models who are leaders in their field.

Participants range from experts in artificial Intelligence (AI) to electronic sports (esports), astronauts to leaders of UN agencies, and ambassadors to corporate executives. In the interviews, women and girls from around the world share achievements and challenges, exchange advice and network with one another – all to inspire others with evidence that every girl can fulfil great potential in the ICT sector.


Evidence of empowerment

One young aerospace engineer – Inspired by her Talking Tech experience – launched her own podcast, in which she interviews professionals in the space sector. Another young woman called her interview for the series a “mind-changing experience for career-starters like myself”.

Not only does Talking Tech engagement help girls and young women build confidence. It also provides valuable networking opportunities – essential to build a career in today’s interconnected world.

In some cases, interviewers have been hired or offered internships at the interviewee’s companies. For interviewees, Talking Tech sometimes marks the beginning of a mentorship.

“I love the video,” one executive said after an interview session. But even more, she welcomed “the process of getting to know [my interviewer] and her objectives,” and was “looking forward to a long relationship with her as she navigates her career and life.”

The organizers feel gratified by such positive outcomes.

“We could not be prouder of this community of over 200 ladies committed to supporting one another,” said Anastasia Bektimirova, part of the Talking Tech team at ITU. “Envisioning how many more minds have been inspired and growth opportunities have been triggered by the project is deeply gratifying and shows how digital initiatives and partnerships can make a tangible, positive difference in people’s lives.”




IDB Lab , the innovation laboratory of the Inter-American Development Bank, joins Google in LAC Women Founders Accelerator , an acceleration program for STEM startups led by women in Latin America and the Caribbean.

WeXchange , an IDB Lab platform that fosters the growth of women technology entrepreneurs in the region and Google, in collaboration with Centraal, the entrepreneurial hub in Mexico, have designed a highly customized, ten-week-long virtual program to help entrepreneurs from the region expand their networks, access mentors and investors, and receive training on key topics to develop their startups.

Startups with at least one female co-founder or one woman on their leadership team, with technology as a key component of their business, and with headquarters and operations in at least one Latin America or the Caribbean country, may apply.

The application period is open until September 12, 2021.

The 20 selected startups will participate in a program that includes workshops on technology, digital marketing, leadership, business culture, and fundraising, beginning with a specific diagnosis of each startup and the unique challenges it faces. The entrepreneurs will also have numerous one-on-one mentoring sessions with investors and experts from Google, WeXchange/IDB Lab, and Centraal’s networks.

The program will include a Demo Day, during the ninth edition of the WeXchange annual forum, that will take place, virtually, on December 1st and 2nd, 2021. During this event, the entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their companies in front of a group of venture capital investors from the region. This year´s forum is being made possible thanks to the support of the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).

“IDB Lab’s strong commitment to gender diversity and inclusion in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, is one of the cornerstones of the IDB Group’s Vision 2025, with which we seek to drive recovery and inclusive growth in Latin America and the Caribbean. This unprecedented alliance between WeXchange, Google, and Centraal will allow us to provide relevant tools to women entrepreneurs in STEM who are developing innovative solutions to solve great challenges, thus contributing to the probability of success of their startups and the development of the region,” said Irene Arias, CEO of IDB Lab.

“We are excited to extend the reach of Google for Startups Accelerator through this collaboration with IDB Lab and Centraal. Strengthening diversity in entrepreneurship is part of our mission and carrying out this program in Latin America will allow us to support women who are creating companies addressing the great challenges of our region. The talent is here, and we want to contribute to its growth and development”, said Francisco Solsona, Lead of Google Developers LATAM.

“Our goal is to empower and strengthen the creation of Latin American startups led by women. We not only want to celebrate their work and successes but, above all, to have an impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the region, so that women entrepreneurs think beyond their borders, and we see more and more startups operating throughout Latin America,” explained Rogelio Cuevas Ruiz, from Centraal and part of the organizing team.

For more information visit the WeXchange website.


About IDB Lab

IDB Lab is the innovation laboratory of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group, the main source of financing and knowledge for development focused on improving lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. IDB Lab’s purpose is to drive innovation for inclusion in the region, mobilizing financing, knowledge, and connections to test private sector solutions in early stages with the potential to transform the lives of vulnerable populations due to economic, social, and environmental conditions. Since 1993, IDB Lab has approved more than $2 billion in projects deployed in 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

About Google

Google is a leading global technology company dedicated to improving the ways people connect with information. Google’s innovations in Internet search and advertising have made its website one of the leading products on the Internet and its brand is one of the most recognized in the world. Google is a trademark of Google Inc. All other company and product names are trademarks of the companies with which they are associated.

About Centraal

Centraal is a link and catalyst to promote innovative projects of startups, companies, and multiple organizations. Their goal is for entrepreneurs and game changers to transcend, develop value projects and strengthen the organizations and people who work to solve the problems that positively transform the world.


Entrepreneurship can mean more freedom for women according to the first Latin-American advocate of eTrade for All, an initiative developed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to expand and promote the digital economy, especially in low and middle-income countries.


Pierangela Sierra set up an e-commerce platform in Ecuador called Tipti to make shopping easier but also to save people time.

Ms. Sierra spent the better part of her career working for prominent international corporations across Latin-America, becoming a renowned marketing expert. A few years ago, she decided to retire from the corporate world to embark on a ground-breaking venture alongside her partner. Together, they hatched a plan that would give them back what they lacked the most, despite their successful careers: time.

“I remember that we did the math in 2015, and I had been away from my home for 48 weeks that year. So, I was practically just there over Christmas, like a guest in my own home. We couldn’t spend time together as a couple or as a family,” confides Tipti’s founder.

Tipti, the couple’s brainchild, is short for “Tiempo para Ti” (Time for you). The integrated mobile and web platform for grocery shopping and delivery is now the fastest growing e-commerce company in Ecuador.

“We witnessed the birth of other e-commerce platforms as we began to hatch our business plan. This is how Tipti was born, with the idea that giving the gift of time back to ourselves, as a couple and as a family, as well as to our clients, was the most valuable thing we could offer”.

Pierangela Sierra, founder of the E-Commerce business Tipti.
Courtesy of Tipti
Pierangela Sierra, founder of the E-Commerce business Tipti.

Digital commerce in Latin America

In 2019, 1.5 billion people, or approximately 27 per cent of the world’s adult population, made purchases online, according to UNCTAD.

The overall number is increasing annually and is expected to grow further as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the proportion of people using e-commerce in low- and middle-income countries is much lower compared to high-income nations. For example, in countries like Switzerland more than half of the population use these services, while only 2 per cent do in developing nations.

Latin America and the Caribbean makes up 9 per cent  of the world’s population over the age of 15. Although 346 million people have access to the internet, only 20 per cent  made online purchases in 2019 placing the region only above Africa in the UNCTAD e-commerce index.

Lack of trust in postal services, as well as barriers to obtaining a digital payment-enabled bank account, are among the top reasons why the Latin-American continent is not buying into global e-commerce.

According to Pierangela Sierra, a lack of education and access to technology also pose considerable obstacles, particularly among low-income populations.

“When you begin to understand where the sweet spot for potential new businesses lies, you realize it’s in e-commerce, biotech, and everything related to technology. There is a great need for access to education in all these areas, particularly so for women.”

Debunking myths

Ms. Sierra advises women to challenge gender stereotypes.

“They always tell you ‘oh you’re a bad driver’, or ‘you’re no good at using a computer’. In the tech industry, similar myths that target women proliferate and sometimes, we even come to believe them ourselves and we might feel like we are incapable. We feel that if we do not study something related to technology, that we will not have anything to contribute to this field, and that is absolutely not true. The competencies that you may have in terms of drive, strategy, or leadership can place you —as it is in my case— at the helm of a functional team and company”.

According to data from UN Women, currently only 45 per cent of women worldwide have access to the internet, while most mobile phones are in the hands of men. Furthermore, while girls around the world tend to outperform boys in reading and writing, they are still underrepresented among the top performers for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Moreover, women represent less than 10 per cent of the people who work on the design and prototyping of tech products, reveals UNESCO.

E-commerce is a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs.
Courtesy of Tipti
E-commerce is a great opportunity for women entrepreneurs.

Generating change

Tipti’s founder firmly believes that for women to break into the tech sector, they must mobilize their entire community to create a positive and lasting economic impact on society at large.

Women always seek to educate the next generation: be it children, nephews, a sister, or a fellow mother... For each woman you support, the multiplier effect always amplifies the impact exponentially. The moment you lend a woman a helping hand, you are helping up to 20 other people, too,” she explains.

The tech entrepreneur, who held leadership positions in companies such as Coca-Cola and Colgate, told UN News that her drive and determination have been her defining characteristics throughout her career.  That is why she has always been motivated to uplift and support fellow women.

“While it is true that it is quite a feat to secure oneself a place at the top table, this also hinges on our own ability to believe in ourselves,” she highlights.

As part of the UNCTAD programme, Pierangela Sierra will deliver a Masterclass at the end of 2021, geared towards women who are ready to craft their own business plan for the tech sector.

The goal is to identify and train women leaders from the tech sector and across the continent, who can, in turn, positively impact other women within their own countries and communities. The multiplier effect would ensure an increase in women-led businesses and ventures, explains Ms. Sierra. Ultimately, promising projects would be pitched to investors.

The city of Quito, Ecuador.
UNESCO/Francesco Bandarin
The city of Quito, Ecuador.

Words of wisdom

For Pierangela Sierra, the single biggest mistake she made as an entrepreneur was not having done it before.

“For me, entrepreneurship is about freedom. The drive for that freedom, that balance that we often seek as women, emanates from our passion, from our dreams; but mainly from being able to contribute enthusiastically towards building a better future”.

The founder of Tipti highlights that the most important thing for women is to learn to believe in themselves and in their dreams.

“And that would be my message to all the people who doubt themselves: find the inspiration within yourselves to launch your own business and let that force drive you towards freedom and making your dreams come true”.


Has eCommerce created more opportunities for women? To grow online businesses, what do female sellers require differently vs. males? What are the opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs selling on e-commerce platforms? Join Alexa Roscoe, Disruptive Technology Lead of International Finance Corporation (IFC), as she addressed women’s participation and progression status on eCommerce platforms and shared advices to women entrepreneurs on ways to best capture the opportunities in this industry.



Heathertex, a medium-sized clothing company in Egypt, has experienced a loop of challenges and adversity to keep their business open.

Director Alaa Hamdy explains that in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit Egypt, she knew that the impact would not only relate to health and the economy, but that it would also affect women and vulnerable communities socially.

Established in 2018, Heathertex employs around 350 people, 80% of whom are women. “Being a woman myself, I understand women’s needs and the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders. More than ever, our company had to be a strong and reliable employer,” says Hamdy.

She explains that since the COVID outbreak, they have not dismissed or reduced the salary of any of their employees, “on the very opposite, we are planning to build a nursery on our premises, so all mothers have a safe place to leave their child. A small but crucial service that will have a major, positive impact on their personal and professional lives,” Hamdy proudly emphasizes.

Heathertex production comprises knitted and woven wear like scrub tops, bottoms, work uniforms for men, women and children. The company exports 100% of its products, mainly to America as well as to Italy and Greece in Europe. “In our two first years, we have achieved impressive results selling our products to famous international brands,” comments Hamdy. The director argues that despite all the challenges, 2020 was surprisingly a positive year for her company. “We restructured our production and operations to respect all health and safety measures. Our sales increased by 23% during the pandemic,” says Hamdy.

With the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Alexandria-based company has progressed thanks to the initiatives led by the Global and Middle East and North Africa Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX/MENATEX).

For Alaa Hamdy, receiving support through the GTEX/MENATEX project made a real difference during COVID-19. She explains that the increase in export is related to reducing the company’s lead-time, a methodology they learned at a training.

“The GTEX/MENATEX project brought insightful ideas and know-how to our company. We are currently implementing the techniques we learned in the Lean Manufacturing and Material Sourcing training courses,” says Hamdy. She also explains that Heathertex will apply environmental management measures designed during the resource efficiency and circular production coaching (RECP), as well as add more sustainable practices in their production.

“We are looking for green solutions in our electricity and water consumptions. In addition, we plan to improve our resource efficiency and enhance our waste management to increase our profitability.”


Yasmine Helal, GTEX/MENATEX National Project Coordinator for Egypt, emphasized the dedication of the participating companies and their achievements.

“In 2020, despite the pandemic, many companies were eager to learn and adjust with the new trends and norms. Eleven companies made massive changes to their digital presence following the digital marketing and access-to-market coaching the ITC project provided, including three who developed their online stores,” says Helal.

The national coordinator also highlights that five companies reported improved operations and lead-time. “They increased the efficiency of their operations by 10% to 15%, following the lean manufacturing training. Another five companies reported receiving export orders from new international buyers as a result of the funded participation to virtual exhibitions with others in progress and/or in negotiation phase,” concludes Helal.

GTEX/MENATEX Egypt plans for several activities and training courses including a boot camp on access to finance for textile and clothing companies in July. The two-days event will provide companies the opportunity to improve their knowledge on finance and accounting, as well as acquiring skills and confidence to design and pitch a project to financiers through role play and matchmaking sessions. Following national health authorities’ guidelines, the event is expected to take place in Cairo in a hybrid format.

The Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and the Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) are implemented by the International Trade Centre until December 2022. They are co-financed by the Swiss and Swedish governments, respectively.


New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What is the Generation Equality Forum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we move from commitments to action?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook is a practical how-to guide on leveraging the market system development approach to decrease the digital and financial divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunities, and to help to transform women into builders of emerging digital economies.

It contains a wealth of research on the common constraints faced by women in least developed and emerging economies, and concrete examples of interventions that can address those constraints.

The playbook brings together research and practice by many of the leading organizations working to achieve financial inclusion and gender equality.

The Playbook highlights decades of expertise and learning shared by development organizations, and draws on UNCDF’s experience using a market development approach to identify market constraints to gender equality, with a focus on women’s digital and financial inclusion.

The aim of this version of the playbook is to serve as a handy reference that lays out the market constraints for women and the potential interventions to address them. The playbook highlights interventions, or plays, that can be used individually or together to address constraints. It combines innovative new approaches with tried-and-tested methods that can be replicated in new markets.

It is intended to be a living document that evolves with experience. It should serve as a starting point for dialogues, programme design and planning at the country and programme levels. This should be regarded as a working draft and further feedback is welcome.

The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook was developed by Nandini Harihareswara, Senior Advisor on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, UN Capital Development Fund, with assistance from Anushree Deb and Rose Payne. This tool was produced through the Women As Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies approach within UNCDF.

Read Full Publication HERE.


Booksie was born from Edem Torkornoo’s idea to make high-quality books written by African authors accessible to children, from newborns to young adults. Booksie is the first pan-African online children’s book shop in Ghana. It is also a book subscription service and a literacy canter.

Edem has always been a bookworm. Once her sister and friends started to have kids, she realized how important it is to educate children about their heritage. However, finding books written by African authors was not easy. To be able to find them, she decided to create her own website, on which she delivers a careful curation and offers sales of high-quality books.

While selling books worldwide, Booksie is not a mere e-commerce platform: it is also a space where children are celebrated and where Edem teaches children to read so that they “can fall in love with books”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Booksie has experienced a continuous growth in sales. This is mostly because of its readiness to sell online and mastering social media as a tool to connect with customers and build brand awareness. WhatsApp has also been a key element in the owner’s survival: the company has used it to assist customers, clarify offers, answer questions and promote events.

Tips for digital entrepreneurs

Edem participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series “E-commerce Tips from Peers” where she provided a series of tips. For Edem, social commerce has been key.  She encourages other entrepreneurs to explore social platforms and implement innovative techniques.

“Some of my customers just prefer to have a direct contact. WhatsApp or Instagram messages are a good way to be more approachable and meet the need of your customers. Moreover, you have the chance to carry on the conversation instantly”, says Edem.

However, Edem has also experienced a series of obstacles in logistics. Distribution prices remain quite high, and delays can still happen. The key is to have a smooth customer service system, inform customers about delivery times and be as transparent as possible.

Edem also suggests that entrepreneurs build a quality network of people operating in their respective field. Thanks to being part of an author’s associations, she has partnered with other businesses in Africa to tackle the high prices in deliveries. Only when joining forces, they managed to obtain discounts from one of the biggest delivery companies operating worldwide.


The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the trade ecosystem for women in the developing world

When COVID-19 lockdowns started and borders closed in March 2020, Euphrosine saw her sales of avocado oil plummet in Rwanda. So she created an online shop on her company’s website to continue selling her products.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on livelihoods, businesses and trade in least developed countries (LDCs) have been particularly pronounced. According to a WTO report, LDCs saw a 10.3% decline in exports in 2020 compared to 2019, and a 10.5% decline in imports, which led to a significant loss of income. Established and burgeoning tourism industries were brought to a halt, and economic activity suffered with international tourist arrivals collapsing by 67% in LDCs. Business ties were also severed by a lack of connectivity.

This picture of gloom has manifested even more gravely for women entrepreneurs in these countries, as they suffer more acutely from any distortions in the trade ecosystem, and this has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women, trade and COVID-19

Business and trade rely on a vast ecosystem with various stakeholders. For women traders and entrepreneurs in LDCs, this includes participants along the value chain such as suppliers of raw materials, cooperatives, transporters, warehouse managers and airlines, to mention a few. Elements such as clear customs procedures, established banking systems and good internet connectivity are equally vital.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted these systems and stakeholders. Women entrepreneurs had to creatively devise means to continue doing business while navigating the complexities that arose from closed borders and lockdown orders. Traditional models of doing business involving physical movement of persons to facilitate transactions were no longer viable, and e-commerce and digital trade were catapulted to the fore as the most viable means of trade. Euphrosine reacted by partnering with other businesses to share the shipping costs of the bottles she needs to sell her oil.

Digital literacy remains low in LDCs, especially among women, and the general ignorance about benefits accrued from digital trade is high. Internet connectivity is very expensive and IT infrastructure are not well distributed. Studies confirm that internet penetration rates globally are 48% for women, compared to 58% for men. But even with more people in developing countries starting to use the internet, the digital gender gap is actually growing. In LDCs, only 14% of women use the internet, compared to 24% of men.

When the pandemic hit, women in LDCs lacked means of digital connectivity. Many women who had been using their mobile phones for everyday communications were not using the internet for business purposes. Important gaps existed in skills such as online marketing.

The pandemic as an impetus to go digital

Women are resilient, adaptable and quick learners. Small-scale traders at fruit and vegetable markets in Kampala, Uganda, illustrate just that. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, sales via digital and online platforms were almost non-existent. Following the start of pandemic and noting that business had ground to a halt in markets due to restrictions on movement, the Jumia e-commerce platform and UNDP partnered to connect women vendors to online consumers. This initiative was launched in conjunction with the Ministry of Trade, a key partner of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) in supporting Uganda’s efforts to integrate into the global trading economy.

Many of the women vendors had little formal education and limited, if any, exposure to online platforms for business transactions. The initiative started by introducing the e-commerce platform to vendors in five markets, but within three weeks two more markets joined. Each market includes over 700 women across the agricultural value chain, from producers to wholesalers, retailers and exporters. The impact of introducing Jumia was powerful, and allowed women to continue earning incomes even during the lockdown.

Initiatives such as the above offer opportunities, but uptake has its challenges. Not all the women who could have benefitted have a smartphone. According to the 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, women across low- and middle-income countries are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 165 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone.

The challenges are further compounded by societal and cultural expectations that women should attend to domestic chores after they return from their businesses. It’s not always possible for women to juggle their caretaking and business roles.

Leveraging the local to go digital

Creative and innovative approaches are required to quickly address some of the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in LDCs who want to enjoy the benefits of digital trade and e-commerce.

Simple solutions such as ensuring that digital platforms embrace the use of local languages provide a level of trust for women to gain interest in connectivity. Almost all women traders in LDCs subscribe to an association or business membership group. The members of these groups will usually possess varying levels of exposure to information technology, with younger women more proficient compared to older groups. Those with higher levels of exposure can be urged to support their peers through mentorship trainings, so they provide simple explanations and where possible transact on their peers’ behalf as part of on-the-job training to help them gain confidence.

Hybrid strategies combining new digital approaches with traditional approaches should be harnessed and escalated by governments and development partners to address present day challenges, particularly for women. The EIF in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has launched a programme called Tech as a Driver of Women’s Economic Opportunities in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti targeted at building digital skills for women and closing the digital gender gap. More of these interventions are needed, especially in LDCs, to help increase the number of women in business and trade, while deepening their understanding of the complexities around sustaining a successful business. These efforts will help pave the way for the women already in trade to break into regional and international markets.

A better future can be developed by building digital skills capacity, supporting gender specific digital policies that enhance women’s economic empowerment and enabling business mentorship programmes . Then the pandemic could, having wreaked havoc on business and trade, also worked as an enabler of digitalization – with women as its main benefiters.

As for Euphrosine, after a steep digital learning curve establishing the online shop for her business, she has also joined other e-commerce platforms in Rwanda to help drive sales of her avocado oil business.


The British Standards Institution and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East-Asia have joined the eTrade for all initiative.


The UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative is going from strength to strength. Two new members – the Economic Research Institute for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East-Asia (ERIA) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) – have joined the initiative, raising its membership to 34.

The new members will bring new substantive areas of focus and strengthen the initiative’s efforts to leverage partnerships across the digital economy’s global landscape in supporting developing countries, particularly least developed ones, to use and benefit from e-commerce.

UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant welcomed the two organizations and said: “The eTrade for all initiative only exists because of the collective engagement of its partners. We connect the dots among organizations with various expertise and interests and we offer a neutral platform for an inclusive dialogue on how to ensure that the digital economy brings benefits to all.”

Ms. Durant said the initiative would continue to advocate for a more inclusive digital economy and broaden its areas of work with the active involvement of its two new partners.

About the new members

ERIA, an international organization established by 16 East Asia Summit countries, conducts research, policy analysis and advice and capacity-building to support economic integration across the ASEAN and East Asia and wider regional community building.

ERIA investigates, among others, issues related to innovation and technology in development, such as e-commerce, digital marketplace, ICT advancements, renewable energy, the circular economy, cyber security, and interactive learning.

“ERIA is honoured to join eTrade for all. We look forward to strengthening our collaborations with UNCTAD and other eTrade for all partners and contributing to various areas and activities by building on our longstanding work on digital trade and e-commerce across ASEAN and East Asia,” said the organization’s president, Hidetoshi Nishimura.

ERIA has conducted analysis and provided policy support and capacity-building on trade, including digital trade and e-commerce, across ASEAN and East Asia for over a decade. It’s also committed to playing an active role in the upcoming Asia eCommerce Week (17-21 October), one of the key events for eTrade for all partners.

BSI represents the United Kingdom’s interests in standards development across global standards organizations. It helps improve the quality and safety of products, services and systems by enabling the creation of standards and encouraging their use across all sectors.

In a world of rapid technological change, BSI’s collaborative and consensus-based approach with industry experts, government bodies, businesses of all sizes and consumers ensures trust in and speed of adoption of new technologies.

It has been particularly active in developing standards for digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, digital ID, blockchain, cyber security and more, which facilitate international trade and enable market access.

“We are pleased to join the UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative, and look forward to working with the network to build trust in the digital economies of developing countries by promoting awareness, development and use of international standards,” said Scott Steedman, director-general of standards at BSI.

BSI recently released a whitepaper, “The Role of Standards in Supporting the Transition to a Digital Economy and Facilitating Digital Trade – Transforming Systems using Standards”, which is focused on the needs of LDCs.

The paper highlights the role that international standards can play in building national digital resilience and promoting trust in e-commerce.

It recommends the development of a standards-based toolkit to help sectors and companies in LDCs prioritize the adoption of standards in key areas such as digital ID, network security, interoperability, data sharing and the provenance and tracking of products in a global value chain.

COVID-19 has led to a surge in e-commerce

E-commerce is playing a growing role in the global economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its expansion impacts the UN Sustainable Development Goals, bringing both new opportunities and challenges.

As social distancing and restrictions on movement have become the new normal to contain the pandemic, businesses and consumers have increasingly “gone digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online.

The share of e-commerce of global retail trade is estimated to have surged from 16% in 2019 to about 19% in 2020.  And the accelerated shift to e-commerce is expected to be sustained during recovery from the pandemic.

Initiative more relevant than ever

Against this background, the eTrade for all initiative – launched in 2016 – is more relevant than ever.

Since its inception, it has served as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on e-commerce information and resources – through its dedicated platform – and as a catalyser of partnerships.

Positive spill-over effects have also emerged, such as the eTrade readiness assessments and the eTrade for Women initiative.

The most recent example of a collaborative effort was the global review of the impact of COVID-19 on e-commerce and digital trade. In this first research-oriented project of the initiative, a group of partners joined forces and collectively produced a global report and four regional reports.

The research resulted in a snapshot of the pre-pandemic situation, identified early mitigation strategies adopted by governments and businesses in the first stages of the pandemic, and highlighted policy recommendations on how to cope with the fallout from the crisis in the area of e-commerce.

eTrade for all funding partners

The partnership and its spin-off activities have been funded by Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.

More information about the partnership’s impact and activities can be found at, as well as a repository of useful resources dedicated to the impacts of COVID-19 relating to e-commerce and the digital economy.


eTrade Readiness Assessments (eT Readies) provide a snapshot of the e-commerce ecosystem in developing and least developed countries and regions for each of the seven pillars of the eTrade for all initiative, which are key to embrace their digital transformation: e-commerce assessments, ICT infrastructure, payment solutions, trade facilitation and logistics, legal and regulatory frameworks, skills development and access to finance. They also address challenges related to gender equality and measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.


The technology industry is booming – in the first quarter of 2021, global venture investments reached $125 billion (a 94% year on year increase). But if a rising tide lifts all boats, why has the inclusion and participation of women in tech not also shot up?

According to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report, it will now take 135.6 years to reach gender parity, up from about 100 years in 2020. Here, we meet 8 women CEOs and 2021 Technology Pioneers, who are working to change this statistic.

Amena Ali, CEO, Airside

On the work she is doing now

Airside’s Digital Identity Network provides secure and convenient digital identity management in a way that protects personal information and meets privacy regulations.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“I have come to find that creating a business and scaling it will not always be an ‘up and to the right’ dynamic. Setbacks are inevitable, whether on the front with a customer, partner, or your own team. To learn and bounce back from challenges, it’s critical to do retrospectives with the team. Doing so is key to building the company’s perseverance and resilience, and as a leader, you need to model that for the organization. In some ways, I think women can keep everyone’s egos in check and behave in a way that best leads the way through organizational challenges.”

Luan Cox, Founder and CEO,

On the work she is doing now

FinMkt is revolutionizing point-of-sale consumer lending through its omni-channel, multi-lender, software-as-a-service platform.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“It needs to start with changing the perception of what qualifies ‘a founder’ within our global culture: This begins by teaching and coaching young people that successful entrepreneurs are not classified or limited by gender. If young males are taught early that females can be impactful leaders and entrepreneurs, they will be more supportive and better able to recognize success. Young women should learn that they are equal to men, and can and must dream big: women must know that they can be even better business builders (especially in technology, life sciences and finance). Additionally, venture capital firms and angel investor groups would do well to create and invest in mentorship and training programmes in their communities that provide tools and guidance that encourage more young females to start their own companies knowing they are supported by an inclusive network.”

Mikela Druckman, Co-founder and CEO, GreyParrot

On the work she is doing now

GreyParrot provides AI-based computer vision waste recognition software to monitor, audit and sort large flows of recyclables at scale.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“Firstly, we have to stop celebrating hyperbolic visions of founders and value different metrics of progress and success. Women will have a tendency to downplay or be more cautious in their projections, but are equally capable of building great ambitious companies. Secondly, we need to normalize the combination of family life with entrepreneurship. Many women will hesitate to start a company because of the perceived all-consuming lifestyle of a start-up founder and expectations of investors. In reality, a good founder will lead a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle that allows to build a company over five-10 years, and this should include the possibility of having a family. The ecosystem should celebrate female or male founders having families and discourage the narrative of the sleep-deprived, over-worked founders as the only way to success. Finally, we need more women in partner positions in VC firms to create a more balanced investment community that is attractive and welcoming to female founders too.”

Maria Carolina Fujihara, Founder & CEO, SINAI Technologies

On the work she is doing now

SINAI Technologies is mitigating climate change by enabling organizations with digitized tools for intelligent carbon emissions measurement, reporting and mitigation option assessment.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“Besides being a female founder, I’m also a Brazilian female immigrant. I moved to the US four years ago (I bought my own ticket!) and had to build an entire life from scratch, not only a company. Latin female founders represent only 4% of all female founders in the US. The biggest challenge was at the very early stages, when I was still trying to figure out my own voice and didn’t have the baggage needed to position myself, I was constantly judged because of the way I look, my gender, my accent. I tried to make friends, but I didn’t have the money to hang out with them, go out for dinners and mingle. Being very focused on my decision, trusting myself and my passion, listening to my intuition, my gut, and being my authentic self no matter what, was the only way to overcome the judgement, the exclusion and the fear of being an impostor.”

Priya Lakhani, Founder and CEO, CENTURY Tech


On the work she is doing now

CENTURY develops world-leading AI-based learning technologies. Its team of teachers, neuroscientists and technologists develop AI tools for schools and colleges, as well as for learning and development environments.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“If we are to encourage more girls to consider careers as start-up founders, we need to start by encouraging them to take more calculated risks from an early age. There is no part of start-up life that doesn’t include taking big, calculated risks, so it tends to only attract people who are more inclined that way. That tends to lean towards men, at least partly because of how we raise girls with far more caution. It stems from everything like protecting girls when playing more than boys, which research has found to be prevalent among parents, to the types of role models girls see in these industries. But I am confident that we are heading in the right direction and that being a start-up founder is an incredible opportunity regardless of your gender.”

Nita Madhav, CEO, Metabiota

On the work she is doing now

Metabiota harnesses data science, provides analytical tools and delivers hands-on support, helping governments and businesses around the world mitigate and transfer the health and economic risks posed by infectious disease.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“This might sound like a cliche, but whether it’s establishing technical credibility or a presence in the boardroom, I’ve often felt that I’ve had to strive to be extraordinary and prove myself to a greater degree, working 10 times harder just for people to take me seriously. I don’t know if the main reason is due to being female, or if it is my understated, introverted personality, but I feel like some combination thereof means I don’t fit the preconceived notion of what a CEO is, and it can be difficult to overcome other people’s biases, whether they are implicit or explicit. It’s been my observation that a person who fits the more ‘traditional’ CEO mold seems to be given a certain amount of assumed baseline credibility, while for those who don’t fit the mould, it is not just a given, and it can be a battle just to get there.”

Ruth Poliakine Baruchi, Founder and CEO, Myndyou

On the work she is doing now

MyndYou’s AI-powered virtual care assistant takes population health and patient care management to an entirely new level.

On the strengths of women founders

“Every entrepreneur, regardless of gender, has different skills, experiences and goals. But in my experience, female entrepreneurs are reliable, responsible and attentive. Relationships and collaboration are important to them. I think, too, that women entrepreneurs tend to see how a solution, product or technology can benefit society at large. My company built a groundbreaking commercial solution, but it grew out of my desire to improve the life, health and independence of older adults who are living at home.”

Jutta Steiner, CEO, Parity Technologies

On the work she is doing now

Parity Technologies is a core blockchain infrastructure company. It is creating an open-source creative common that will enable people to create better institutions through technology.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“I’ve gotten this question a lot, and the key for me is that rather than asking, “Why aren’t there more women? or “How do we get more women interested?”, we should highlight the great work being done by women already here, and use that as an invitation for others to come and build on our successes.”


Establishing the right mindset is the key to digital transformation

“The most important e-commerce challenge that women entrepreneurs are facing in Tunisia is finding the right mindset for digital transformation,” says Samia Ben Abdallah, an e-commerce advisor in Tunisia.

“The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) ecomConnect programme is raising awareness among women about the importance of going digital and planning strategically, which is key to earning stable incomes. The project is very timely”.

Samia, who is also the founder of AwA – a Tunisian company that produces beautiful handmade jewelry, is one of the consultants who has been trained by ITC’s ecomConnect team to help women-led businesses in Tunisia sell online. This project is funded by the World Bank and provided by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) initiative.

Having the right mindset is essential, despite the obstacles

The project aims to use e-commerce as a way to alleviate some of the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Indeed, more than 100 SMEs are receiving in-depth training in selecting and listing in the online marketplace. Although e-commerce has already shown its potential for small businesses, it comes with its own challenges, such as: the level of shipping costs, the availability and cost of international payment solutions, the lack of streamlined customs duties and clearance procedures for low-value items, and also the lack of information and capacity regarding available platforms. In MENA, women have even more limited access to technology than in other regions, which makes e-commerce challenging.

From Samia’s experience with the programme’s beneficiaries, she highlights the additional challenge of the lack of planning and strategic vision: “most Tunisian women do not dare to take the risks that would allow them to progress well. The main issue here is not knowing the real challenges of e-commerce. For example, the women entrepreneurs I work with tend to underestimate the efforts to be made in digital marketing, therefore, they do not know how to create quality digital content.

Tackling the lack of knowledge

Hajer Aissi, a beneficiary of the programme and founder of Art Artisanat in Tunisia, sees the project as an opportunity to increase the visibility of her business and access to international markets. “The training is helping me to know the different platforms better and to understand people’s preferences and how to reach them. I am also learning how to create beautiful photos for my products and write complete and impactful descriptions in order to attract new customers.”

The project addresses this knowledge gap by building capacity and providing online tools. ITC trains advisors who, in turn, train women-owned businesses through group trainings and advise them individually through one-on-one coaching sessions.

After reviewing their market research and e-business strategy, the beneficiaries were able to apply their research findings to create content tailored to the selected target markets and sales channels. Now that the content is ready, the consultants help the companies select the most appropriate market for each of them.


Digital Literacy Coaching Programme taps into post-pandemic opportunities for women entrepreneurs to bridge the digital gender divide through training and skills development…

The informal sector in Bangladesh accounts for 85.1% of employment, and 91.8% of employment of female workers.

These findings from a recent survey into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women-owned businesses (WOBs) in Bangladesh reveal the urgent need for enhancing digital literacy across the country.

Most Bangladeshis, particularly women, have been vulnerable to restrictions on businesses and places of work, pushing them into economic crisis. Moreover, women are disproportionately represented in sectors severely hit by the pandemic, highlighting the need to not only increase the number of opportunities online, but also to make them more accessible to women.

Recognising these challenges, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative partnered with Visa to launch a Digital Literacy Coaching programme for women-owned businesses in Bangladesh, with a special focus on the textile and apparel, information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries. The coaching will better equip women-owned businesses with digital skills and expertise to respond to market disruptions and external shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme

The programme comprises of three virtual training workshops followed by one-to-one coaching sessions offered to the group of WOBs. It began in March 2021 and will run for 12 weeks. Upon completion, each business will have the opportunity to define and develop their own digital strategy, with the support of subject matter experts, trainers and coaches.

The webinars will cover topics including online presence optimization (digital marketing), e-commerce and key considerations when conducting business online.

WOBs will acquire skills to expand their business offerings online by improving their sales channels and connecting to global markets through e-commerce. The SheTrades and Visa digital literacy coaching programme aims to leverage the learning tools and resources offered on as well as Visa’s valuable expertise in digital technologies and online payment solutions to close the gap and help women owned businesses to thrive. The collaboration between Visa and SheTrades will use this as a pilot to be replicated in different countries.

For queries regarding SheTrades or the coaching programme, please email: .

For more information, please visit

For more information, about and Visa on Facebook


Johannesburg, South Africa — Africa’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $14.5 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today. The report finds this can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support to help them match sales made by men.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Africafound that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Africa and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges.

For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from leading e-commerce firm Jumia, as well as from surveys of vendors in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Nigeria.

“E-commerce in Africa is thriving, yet we are already seeing a widening gender gap in the sector. IFC’s report not only highlights the gap, but also shows how it might be addressed so that women entrepreneurs can succeed in this important and rapidly growing marketplace,” said Sérgio Pimenta, IFC’s Vice President for the Middle East and Africa.

Juliet Anammah, Chairwoman Jumia Nigeria and Group Head of Institutional Affairs, said, “It is absolutely essential for women to be factored in, given the future of e-commerce. Africa is just at the start of its e-commerce growth trajectory. Now is the time to ensure women entrepreneurs are the leaders of Africa’s digital journey.”

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Africa, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Jumia platform, just over a third of businesses in Côte d’Ivoire and over half in Kenya and Nigeria are owned by women.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the first year of the pandemic, women-owned businesses in the three countries studied suffered reduced sales of 39 percent, compared to a 28 percent drop for men-owned businesses.

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit


Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $280 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today with data from e-commerce company Lazada. This can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Southeast Asia, found that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges. For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from Lazada, as well as from surveys of vendors in Indonesia and the Philippines.

“E-commerce in Southeast Asia is thriving. Since 2015, the market has tripled in size, and it is expected to triple again. In this research, IFC shows that this growth could be even higher if we invest in women entrepreneurs on e-commerce platforms”, said Alfonso Garcia Mora, Vice President for Asia and Pacific, IFC.

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Southeast Asia, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Lazada platform, about a third of businesses in Indonesia and two-thirds of businesses in the Philippines are women-owned.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the Philippines, for instance, the sales numbers of women-owned businesses had been higher than those of their male counterparts but, due to COVID-19, fell to just 79 percent of those of men.

“In Southeast Asia, e-commerce became a lifeline for individuals’ daily essentials as well as a natural business strategy pivot for vendors and brands when offline operations were affected by Covid-19 safety measures,” said Chun Li, Chief Executive Officer of Lazada Group and Lazada Indonesia. “With the exponential growth opportunities available in the region, we are committed to providing women entrepreneurs with easy access to knowledge and tools to embrace and benefit from the digital economy.”

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC
IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit


Sweden has donated $480,000 to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for more donor funding in this area, as it has shown the huge gaps that exist in countries’ readiness to engage in the digital economy.

“We greatly appreciate Sweden’s long-standing support to our work on e-commerce,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director. “This work is now more important than ever in view of the rapid evolution of the digital economy and existing digital inequalities.”

Sweden has supported UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy for many years. The additional funds will, among other things, boost UNCTAD’s ability to support women digital entrepreneurs through the eTrade for Women initiative, develop new courses to raise awareness on e-commerce and improve the measurement of the digital economy.

Enhancing developing countries’ capacity

“We’re proud to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy,” said Mikael Anzén, Sweden’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to enhance developing countries’ capacity to participate in the digital economy, not least through stronger involvement of women digital entrepreneurs as producers and traders,” Mr. Anzén added.

UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme provides a unique platform for generating research and better statistics to enable governments and other stakeholders to understand the implications of economic digitalization for sustainable development.

It also assists developing countries to prepare for and adapt to digital disruptions and fosters global multi-stakeholder dialogue and a more coordinated approach on e-commerce and the digital economy from a development perspective.

Its activities include the biennial Digital Economy Report, the eCommerce Week, eTrade for alleTrade for Women and eTrade readiness assessments.


“During my work with artisans in Kenya, I realized the challenges they are facing to access markets and gaining exposure. I asked myself, how can I support them? Using my creativity, I started to work with them and help them be seen.”

This is how Shop Nanjala, a home-décor and customized gift shop in Kenya, came into being. With over two decades of experience in the creative industries, the shop’s owner Teresa Lubano felt it was the right time to build a legacy that would inspire others. She created a one-stop e-commerce solution, selling environmentally conscious products that helped local artisans and craftsmen obtain exposure and opportunity. All of Shop Nanjala’s work is locally sourced and made in Kenya.

During COVID-19, even with the economy negatively affected by the pandemic, the business witnessed a record 514% growth in revenue compared to 2019. By March 2020, the company’s number of online conversions had increased exponentially. “Due to the pandemic, people rely more on online platforms and are more prepared and ready to use them for their convenience”, explains Teresa.

No beginning is easy, however. During its first four years of existence (2015-2019), the brand was mainly selling offline despite the efforts of optimizing its e-commerce brand. The team used the first years to build a consistent brand image and create a loyal audience thanks to an efficient customer service strategy.
For Teresa, social media, and especially Instagram, has been key for her company’s success. Most of the buyers start their customer journey on a social media channel, where they discover the products, and then move to the website to complete the purchase.

The business got a boost on social media when it benefited from the first prize of the E-commerce Story Pitch Contest in 2020, organized by the International Trade Centre’s ecomConnect project with the support of Charicomm, a digital marketing agency for sustainable businesses. Training during the contest looked at setting goals and using paid campaigns on Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Teresa also participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series E-commerce tips from peers, where she shared tips with new entrepreneurs.
1) stressed the importance of creating high-quality content and a consistent content plan, especially on social media
2) highlighted the relevance of tracking metrics to measure performance and embracing innovation;
3) and urged other entrepreneurs to offer outstanding customer service.
The founder also shared that her best secret is having a team of creative, visionary people.

Shop Nanjala’s dream is to see the day when Kenyans will buy products Made in Kenya: it is the team’s firm belief that these products have global quality standards and echo sustainable ethos.

Interested in finding out more on how to succeed in your e-commerce journey? Join the International Trade Centre’s next Facebook Live event here.


Digital jobs are opening up important new work opportunities for youth with disabilities in developing countries.  The COVID‒19 pandemic has accelerated the expansion of jobs which offer flexibility, accommodations for disability and functional access for remote communities.

In our new report “Digital Jobs for Youth with Disabilities,” S4YE highlights strategies that programs have used to increase inclusion of youth with disabilities in digital jobs.

Here are five reasons why recent developments in digital work opportunities may present an opportunity to ramp up efforts to include youth with disabilities

1.    New forms of work through flexible, remote, digital gig jobs can provide opportunities to include those with disabilities 

Technological advances have given rise to a growing digital economy, creating new forms of digital job opportunities such as business process outsourcing and digital ‘gig’ jobs. An impact sourcing model, taking offshored digital work and directing it towards workers and areas that would not typically access it, can provide a meaningful business-led approach to engage youth with disabilities.  e.g., Digital Divide Data(DDD) in Cambodia and  Enablecode in Vietnam are both social enterprises which work with youth with physical disabilities to connect them to outsourced digital jobs.

Microwork can be especially helpful as a starting point for remote populations, like those in fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) contexts,  with low digital skills, mobility constraints and limited access to  local jobs. Online work experience can help youth with disabilities establish a work history and develop a professional network that can help expand more opportunities in future.  Recent studies have found that, online work can also help youth with disabilities to build a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is combined with feelings of creativity, and social contribution.

2.    Recent developments in assistive technology solutions can help level the playing the field

Digital tools can support people with disabilities to perform tasks that they might otherwise be unable to do effectively.  Thus, making  youth with disabilities suitable candidates for jobs, irrespective of their disability, and create more inclusive workplaces. Some examples are below.

Tech solutions for different types of disabilities
Tech solutions for different types of disabilities. Source:

An increase in accessible online recruitment platforms (e.g., JobAbility) can offer youth with disabilities direct access to employment and employers, thus  expanding their access to the traditional labor market.

3.    Technology solutions can be used to provide experience with life like situations, essential to develop skills for work

Youth with disabilities who have been beneficiaries of charities often lack confidence when entering a workplace. Innovative simulations like in Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Academy, which does skill building though bite-sized, gamified modules with relatable characters, help provide youth with disabilities a safe learning environment and build confidence.

Also, business simulations, like Youth Business International’s ‘The Digital Entrepreneur Experience Simulator’ (DEES), have the potential to train youth with disabilities on entrepreneurship skills. These have been used extensively to train workers in finance, hospitality etc. and provide persons with disabilities the opportunities to experience personalized learning close to real-life business development process.

4.    Digital entrepreneurship opportunities, although limited, may also become more inclusive over time.

With the emergence of online platforms, new possibilities of digital entrepreneurship have emerged. Youth with disabilities with digital enterprises may now have more opportunities to find and interact with clients and sell their goods and services across physical and infrastructural barriers  (e.g., Alibaba). Accessible mobile applications for financial transactions can allow entrepreneurs with disabilities to mainstream their operations and improve efficiency. Private sector engagement in supplier diversity programs can also improve access to markets for youth with disabilities. For example, Google runs a small business supplier diversity program that includes disability-owned small businesses.

5.    Digital jobs can especially  help provide young women with disabilities, an opportunity to earn income. 

Digital jobs can be advantageous for young women with disabilities who experience additional workplace discrimination, limiting their advancement opportunities , and facing societal or family pressure that discourages their formal employment.

Digital skills can help young women with disabilities who are often homebound to access income-earning opportunities through online outsourcing and e-lancing. 

While digital jobs offer many new opportunities for youth with disabilities, there are also challenges for policymakers to consider. These include lack of accessibility and affordability of digital tools, inherent but unspoken biases of online platforms, lack of adequate social protection measures, and risks of isolation.

This blog is part of a series about jobs for youth with disabilities. In our next blog, we will discuss a few ways of engaging the private sector to hire more youth with disabilities


Women and girls have been discussing how to acquire cutting-edge ICT skills during an online seminar backed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Google.

The webinar, focusing on digital literacy, digital entrepreneurship and digital leadership in three interactive panel sessions, highlighted the need for governments, civil society and the private sector to increase their efforts to build the digital skills of women and girls.

Held on 22 April to coincide with the international ‘Girls in ICT Day’, this event was the third in the Secretariat’s Data, Technology and Digitalisation series, targeting both policymakers and the public with over 100 participants.

Providing an overview of key digital technologies and the skills required to harness their full potential in the Commonwealth, the panels addressed gender equality, the empowerment of women and the strengthening of partnerships to support Commonwealth member countries.

Short films showcasing the impact of empowering women and girls were screened, with women sharing the benefits of being digitally empowered.

Benefits of being digitally empowered

Sajeda Begam, from India, is one of many women from across the Commonwealth who has benefitted from digital skills, helped by Google’s ‘Women Will’ initiative.

She said: “When I got my first smartphone and started using it to access the internet, I realised that there’s so much to learn. It gave me the self-confidence to teach others.”

Sajeda shared her experience of using the internet to help coordinate relief efforts with the authorities when her village was flooded and related how she passed on tech skills to other women and girls.

Nishma Robb, Google Director of Brand and Reputation Marketing, said: “I can never get tired of reading about these amazing stories of these women who’ve been given the opportunity and access to information.

“The opportunity to learn can fulfil not just dreams and ambitions but create more helpful opportunity for their families and communities. That’s the progress we need.”

Impact of digital inclusion

Joining the webinar, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Patricia Scotland said: “Attaining digital literacy lays the foundation for women and girls to then move on to careers in the digital world, digital entrepreneurship and to become digital leaders.

“We know, too, that digital inclusion has a significant impact for younger girls.

In education, the increased use of digital platforms and computer-centred resources means there is a potential for digital literacy to spread from schools to families and the larger community.”

The Secretary General added: “Digital inclusivity embraces the many ways in which we can cooperate and work together to tackle issues of knowledge, skill, opportunity, and access, relating to the design and use of technology and digital solutions .”

Three separate panel sessions of the seminar reached the same conclusion – that government and stakeholders should focus on programmes or initiatives that provide digital literacy for women and girls, digital entrepreneurship for financial independence and by extension, digital leadership.

Watch plenary sessions

Click the image to watch the video

Tell us about your experiences

The Commonwealth is inviting women and girls to share their experiences with the digital world in a short video message.

Click here to learn more and join the #DigitalSkillsForHer campaign. 


This May, the African Development Bank Group is launching a call for proposals for projects enhancing the viability and sustainability of women entrepreneurship enablers.

Women’s business associations, incubators, accelerators, and cooperatives that advance women’s entrepreneurship, can apply for funding for innovative projects or programs to bolster the skills of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) owned and run by women across Africa, the Bank announced.

Entrepreneurship enablers, which include business associations and civil society organizations, play an important role in empowering women to establish bankable SMEs and other businesses. However, the enablers themselves often face challenges, such as long-term growth plans and lack of financing, which reduce their reach, impact and sustainability.

“Women business enablers are critical to creating a viable enabling environment in which women entrepreneurs can grow and create businesses that generate jobs for the continent. Through the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative, the Bank is committed to supporting enablers to strengthen the business and financial skills as well as wealth-creating capacity of their members,” said Esther Dassanou, manager of the program, also known as AFAWA.

The Bank will assess applicants’ track record in supporting women SMEs, innovation and strong development impact, as well as their capacity to mobilize other sources of funding. Eligible organizations may request funding of between $100,000 and $250,000, provided through the Bank’s Gender Equality Trust Fund.

Applications must be received by midnight on 30 May 2021.

“This call for proposals is an opportunity for direct and concrete support for women entrepreneurship enablers to scale up their growth and impact, and advance women’s financial inclusion on the continent,” said Vanessa Moungar, Bank Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society.

While all countries will be considered, proposals from the following countries that already align with the ongoing AFAWA Guarantee for Growth Program pipeline are strongly encouraged to apply: Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia.

For more details on the process and to access the proposal application click here.

AFAWA aims to unlock $5 billion in financing for small and medium enterprises owned and managed by women by 2026. AFAWA is supported by the Bank’s partners and donors, the Group of Seven (G7) countries as well as the Netherlands and Sweden, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The funding, which aims to strengthen the ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship, is in line with the Bank’s agenda to further gender equality and women’s empowerment.


We are living through a decisive moment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world.

And a defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. Chief Technology Officers can say that the pandemic has done their job for them, accelerating the digitalization of economies and societies at an unimaginable pace.

The digital transformation has gone hand in hand with the rise of digital technologies. These technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes at pace and scale. They have enabled e-health and online education, and they are helping businesses continue to operate and trade through digital finance and e-commerce.

However, ensuring that the digital transformation happening all around us does not become another facet of the deep inequalities of the countries in Asia and the Pacific is probably one of the greatest challenges we face as countries start to rebuild.

That is why inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation if the promise to “leave no one behind” is to be met. In particular, we need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.

Chances are you are reading this on your laptop or mobile phone, giving you access to the digital world. It is hard for most of us to imagine what life would be like during the pandemic if we didn’t. Sadly, this is a reality for over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. And among those two billion are some of the most vulnerable groups. For example, some 20 per cent of students in East Asia and the Pacific and almost 40 per cent of students in South and West Asia could not access remote learning this past year. This will have lasting effects that perpetuate inter-generational inequality and poverty.

To address the digital divide, our Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative focuses on four interrelated pillars: infrastructure connectivity, efficient Internet traffic and network management, e-resilience, and affordable broadband access for all.

However, Internet access alone is not enough. There is a persistent and still expanding digital skills gap in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the top ten most digitally advanced economies in Asia and the Pacific, around 90 per cent of their populations use the Internet. At the beginning of the century, this share stood at around 25 per cent. By contrast, for the bottom ten economies, Internet users have grown from around 1 per cent in 2000 to only 20 per cent today.

In response, our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping policymakers and women and youth with digital skills by conducting demand-driven training programmes.

On digital finance, while the percentage of digital payment users has increased over recent years, the gap between men and women users persists. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a US$1.3 trillion formal financing gap for women-led enterprises.

And while the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a leading force in the global e-commerce market – with more than 40 per cent of the global e-commerce transactions – these gains have been led by just a few markets.

As a response, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project addresses the challenges women-owned enterprises face by developing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic. We have supported a range of digital finance and e-commerce solutions through this initiative – such as a digital bookkeeping app and an agritech solution – providing more inclusive options for women entrepreneurs to thrive. To date, the project has supported over 7,000 women to access financing and leveraged over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

Inclusion is undoubtedly central to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) technology and innovation work that focuses on addressing the core foundations of an inclusive digital economy.

The recent ESCAP, ADB and UNDP report on “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No country Behind” underlined the key role digital technologies played during the pandemic and how they can also play a critical role in building back better. However, the report shows that digitalization can also widen gaps in economic and social development within and between countries, unless countries can provide affordable and reliable Internet for all and make access to the core foundations of the digital economy central to building back better.

While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment, and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.


The term “digital economy” will soon become a redundancy, because economies will be largely, if not entirely, digital. But how can we ensure that digital economies are also inclusive and resilient? Three practices leaders in UNCDF’s Policy Accelerator Team–Ahmed Dermish, Olivia Kelly-Lonkeu and Amani Itatiro–discuss the importance and complexity behind supporting policy ecosystems that ensure digital economies are inclusive versus exclusive, particularly in the world’s least developed countries.


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.


The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on livelihoods, businesses, and trade in least developed countries (LDCs) have been pronounced. LDCs were cut off from markets when borders closed in March 2020. They lost significant export income due to canceled orders. Their tourism industry was brought to a halt and their economic activity suffered a similar stagnation. Their business ties were severed by a lack of connectivity.

This picture of gloom has manifested more gravely for women entrepreneurs who suffered from the distortions in the trade ecosystem arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trade ecosystem under Covid-19

Business and trade rely on a vast ecosystem involving various stakeholders. For women traders and entrepreneurs in LDCs, the ecosystem will include different participants along the value chain such as suppliers of raw materials, cooperatives, transporters, warehouse managers and airlines, to mention a few. Elements such as customs procedures, banking systems, Internet connectivity are equally vital.

Following Covid-19 disruptions, women entrepreneurs had to devise means to continue doing business while navigating the complexities that arose from closed borders and lockdown orders. Traditional models of doing business involving physical movement of persons to facilitate transactions were no longer viable and e-commerce and digital trade were catapulted to the fore as the most viable means of trade.

Digital literacy remains low in LDCs, especially among women, and the general ignorance about benefits accrued from digital trade is high. Internet connectivity is very expensive. IT infrastructure are not well distributed and as such, once women return to their homes in rural areas, they are unable to continue engaging online. Studies confirm that Internet penetration rates globally are 48 per cent for women, compared to 58 per cent for men. But as more people in developing countries start using the Internet, the digital gender gap is actually growing. In LDCs, only 14 per cent of women use the Internet, compared to 24 per cent of men.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, sales via digital and online platforms were almost non-existent. Following the pandemic that grounded businesses to a halt due to restrictions on movement, a Jumia e-commerce platform and UNDP partnership was conceived to connect women vendors to online consumers.

Many of the women vendors had little formal education and limited, if any, exposure to online platforms for business transactions. However, their response to the initiative was overwhelming. The initiative started by working with vendors in five markets, but within three weeks, two more markets joined. Each market includes more than 700 women across the agricultural value chain, from producers to wholesalers, retailers and exporters. The introduction of digital platform allowed women to continue earning an income even during the hardships of lockdown.

But not all the women who could have benefited from the opportunity have a smart mobile phone. According to the 2020 Mobile Gender Gap Report, women across low- and middle-income countries are eight per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 165 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone.

Simple solutions such as ensuring that digital platforms embrace the use of local languages will provide a level of trust for women to gain interest in connectivity. Almost all women traders subscribe to an association or business membership group. The members of these groups will usually possess varying levels of exposure to information technology, with younger women more proficient compared to older groups.

Hybrid strategies combining new digital approaches with traditional approaches should be harnessed and escalated to address present day challenges, particularly for women.

Fastracking digitisation

Lillian Olok of Yaa Oils Uganda used the downtime to strengthen her relationship with her customers. She increased communication via WhatsApp and e-mail which kept the orders coming. She did not see a decline in demand for her cold-pressed shea butter, sold in bulk. In the past year, she gained new customers in DRC and Kenya, all via word-of-mouth from her happy customers. She currently exports to Rwanda, Kenya, DRC, Japan, UK and Canada.


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


Achini Perera makes sure she is carrying her protective facemask as she sits behind the wheel of her car, ready to take on another day at work.

Making her way through busy Colombo traffic, she soon arrives at the premises of Web Lankan, the company she co-founded with her husband.

She now serves as Director of Digital Marketing and Finance of Web Lankan, which provides web development services and digital marketing solutions to clients in Sri Lanka and abroad.

I am glad that we have managed to create an environment where we all flourish together.

Young, educated and with an open mind, Achini has always had ambitions.
Achini recalls her urge to do something meaningful with her life.
“I knew I could do much more than just keeping a job. Thinking out of the box enabled me to become an IT entrepreneur.”

She goes around the floor, briefly discussing the issues at hand with her strong workforce of 25 men and women.
“I am glad that we have managed to create an environment where we all flourish together.”

Our sales have increased two-fold.

Providing innovative web-based solutions is not an easy task.
As is the case with most start-ups, Web Lankan had its share of teething problems.
“Finding sources of funding, engaging suitable human resources, obtaining market insights and keeping pace with competitors were matters that needed immediate attention when we started.”

Within a few years, the start-up has grown into a stronger and more competitive business than Achini could have hoped for.
“Our sales have increased two-fold.”

Consultants from the International Trade Centre put us in the right direction.

Finding the right technical support for her company was an urgent and real need.
Achini succeeded in getting help by enrolling in the International Trade Centre’s EU-Sri Lanka Trade-related Assistance Project

Working with the project, Web Lankan achieved greater heights, especially through meeting international market requirements to cater to customers abroad.

“Consultants from the International Trade Centre put us in the right direction. We received inputs for obtaining the required security certification as we planned to go international.”
Achini and her team also received sector branding guidance to build and position the company brand next to developing promotional material including brochures and visiting cards, which grabbed the attention of potential customers.

Despite COVID-19, Web Lankan was able to seize opportunities in the digital space.
The company expanded its customer base through targeted support.
“We identified digital marketing as an ideal solution for clients during the pandemic. It works well for gaining new clients who are still with us today.”
After a few more meetings, Achini is ready to go home to her husband and children. Family is her priority, but she also has a clear vision for her business.

“I want my company to be the best digital marketing agency in Sri Lanka, catering to clients from all over the world. We are also in the process of developing a product that will target the international market.”

The entrepreneur believes in taking everyone along.
Empowering and building capacities of her young work force is Achini’s true reward. “Achieving this, Web Lankan will continue to grow.”

Hundreds of small businesses in Sri Lanka, including Achini’s Web Lankan, increased their trade competitiveness in the European Union and regional markets with the support of the recently concluded EU – Sri Lanka Trade Related Assistance project.

The project has strengthened the Sri Lankan macro-economic framework, expanded the export economy and promoted investment within Sri Lanka’s National Policy Framework.


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.


ERIA marks the International Women’s Day by releasing a video on access and participation of women in the digital economy across ASEAN, based on findings from recent ERIA publications.

The ASEAN region is one of the fastest-growing digital economies in the world, and this transition towards digital technologies is being accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To build inclusive digital economies and societies, it is crucial for women to have equal access to opportunities offered by digital technologies, especially in terms of more sophisticated forms of access, such as access to skills, entrepreneurship opportunity and leadership positions in both the private and the public sector.

Equal representation in policymaking bodies regulating and shaping the digital economy is also crucial to make sure different points of views are taken into account and to effectively tackle potential biases and discriminations associated with new digital tools affecting women. The video has been realized thanks to the financial support of Australian Aid.

Watch YouTube Video



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.


Today, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), and SHE Investments are pleased to announce the launch of the KOTRA- Riel bookkeeping app – the first tool designed to support Cambodian micro-entrepreneurs plan, manage cash flows and access formal financial services.

One of the greatest barriers women entrepreneurs face in growing and scaling their business is access to finance. Limited collateral, lack of financial history, and low digital literacy are key challenges facing women micro-entrepreneurs. KOTRA-Riel works to tackle these challenges by creating a simple, user-friendly experience that allows those who are not technically savvy to track business earning and expenses at the click of a button.

ESCAP and UNCDF initiated the Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund in 2019 to support FinTechs, financial service providers, and innovators to develop, test, and scale solutions that support women entrepreneurs to succeed. Over the past two years, the Fund has provided financial and technical support to SHE Investments; a Cambodian social enterprise whose mission is to build a gender-inclusive ecosystem that enables women-led Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to scale and create social, economic and environmental impact.

SHE’s core activities include business incubators, accelerators, and investment-readiness programs designed for Cambodian women and introducing innovative tools to improve digital and financial inclusion and financial management, which is where KOTRA-Riel comes in.

The KOTRA Riel app is the idea of SHE’s founding team, particularly Lida Loem, who leads the delivery of SHE’s incubator and accelerator programs. “The women we work with are always complaining about not knowing how to effectively manage their money,” says Ms. Loem. “There are digital tools designed for very educated people, for business-people, for English-speaking people, but not for them.” This led SHE Investments to identify a critical gap in the tools available for the hundreds of entrepreneurs supported by SHE Investments. A simple, Khmer-language application that enables women to track income, expenses, inventory, cash-flow, generate reports for financial institutions, and – perhaps most importantly – separate their household finances from business finances.

“Too many women entrepreneurs in Cambodia and the region are at a disadvantage because they simply don’t have access to the digital and financial tools and knowledge that they need to operate their businesses effectively,” said ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Kaveh Zahedi. “We are proud to have supported SHE Investments in developing this bookkeeping solution that is tailored to the needs of local women entrepreneurs. We hope this initiative can inspire and be used by the countless women entrepreneurs that are looking to build their digital and financial skills to access formal finance and in the end to just grow their businesses.”

UNCDF SHIFT Programme Manger Rajeev Kumar Gupta added, “The KOTRA- Riel app will help women MSMEs in Cambodia to reduce their reliance on fixed asset collateral. KOTRA-Riel is an innovative solution that uses business transaction data as an alternative to fixed collateral to make credit assessments. Given the COVID-19 impact on the overall Cambodian economy, this app can be instrumental for the recovery of MSMEs by providing them easier financing opportunities.”

The development of the KOTRA-Riel app was supported by the ESCAP Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship initiative, funded by the Government of Canada and the UNCDF SHIFT ASEAN programme. The app will be rolled out across the country through face-to-face training, bridging the digital and in-person experience, which allows women entrepreneurs to enhance their financial and digital literacy. ESCAP, through its Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT for Development (APCICT), and SHE Investments will partner with training providers in disseminating and expanding the reach of the mobile app to women entrepreneurs.

For more information on KOTRA-Riel, visit:

Note to Editors:

About the Partnership

This initiative is implemented under a regional programme initiative titled ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP. For more information, visit

The Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is jointly implemented by ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme, in partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund’s (UNCDF), under its ‘leaving no one behind in the digital era’ strategy.  The fund is financially supported by the Government of Canada, the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO) and Visa Inc.

About SHE Investment

SHE Investments is a social enterprise with headquarters based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Launched by three Australian and Cambodian co-founders in 2015 with a pilot SHE Incubator Program, the first gender-focused, culturally tailored incubator for women entrepreneurs in Cambodia. Alongside the SHE Incubator program, they also design and deliver Accelerator, Financial Literacy, Digital Literacy, Investment Readiness and other programs and innovative tools designed to build a gender inclusive ecosystem to enable women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and create social, economic and environmental impact for their communities.


New insights call for an urgent need to develop the global skills needed to address new risks, new jobs and new technologies.


The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has released the 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights, a collection of articles by international experts on the impact of digital transformation on capacity and skills development. In eight articles, the publication reviews the interrelationship between digital connectivity and digital skills, as well as the correlation with education, gender, digital divides and the transformative aspects within the labour market. None of these should be addressed in isolation but be part of a holistic approach to ensure countries’ successful transition to a digital economy.
“Digital Skills Insights” 2020 provides a body of knowledge that will facilitate academic research and innovation; inform policy debates and decisions among policy-makers and regulators; and help the private sector to anticipate and plan for human capital requirements and skills.
“The vital importance of digital skills to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals has been brought into sharp perspective during the COVID-19 crisis”, said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “The expert contributions in ‘Digital Skills Insights‘  are helping to ensure that digital skill gaps do not exacerbate existing inequalities.”
According to ITU data, in 2019, 46 per cent of the world population was not using the Internet.[i] This number increases to almost 80 per cent in least developed countries. A large majority of the global population (93 per cent) lives in an area covered by at least a 3G mobile signal/service, [ii] however, the lack of skills is a barrier for many to use the Internet’s full potential.[iii]
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) said: “In the wake of COVID–19, the importance of digital skills has never been so evident, nor so urgent. Those lucky enough to enjoy fast connectivity took refuge from the global health emergency by moving to a virtual environment for economic continuity, education, and interpersonal contact. However, those lacking access to digital networks and skills were left even further behind. I hope this publication stimulates important discussions on the best strategies to rapidly strengthen the capacities and skills required to profit fully from the benefits of digital transformation.”
How to address digital skills gaps
“Digital Skills Insights” provides concrete suggestions and recommendations on how some of these challenges can be addressed to better understand and bridge the digital divide, such as:
  • Governments, businesses, educational systems and society need to work together to support a dynamic workforce and constantly redefine the skills demanded by future jobs.
  • Further training and retraining will be necessary since employees will have to engage in lifelong learning if they are to be capable of responding to changes in skills requirements triggered by automation and digitization.
  • Data literacy among citizens should be tackled by policy makers and practitioners through targeted data literacy programmes to enhance citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital society.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, building human capital, specifically in digital skills, is critical for the region to leverage the benefits of the digital economy.
  • Female participation in digital skills capacity development programmes can be increased by including more women in the programme design, reaching out to parents and community leaders in the recruitment of participants, and engaging female career role models.
  • Bridging the digital gender gap relies on gender-responsive ICT policy and therefore the digital capabilities of policy-makers need to be strengthened for them to better understand the barriers to Internet access women face, and to equip them with the tools to promote more gender-inclusive public policy.
Note to Editors:
The 2020 edition of “Digital Skills Insights” covers four thematic areas. The first two articles analyse the type of digital skills needed in the digital economy and future labour market, and how they can be obtained.
The third and fourth articles examine new jobs that have been created and the associated digital skills requirements, such as those related to AI automation or to transportation platforms as part of the gig economy.
A fifth article explores data literacy and the use of online information, stressing the necessity for citizens to learn how to critically assess the quality of information that is circulated.
The three final articles focus on gender and digital skills, covering the digital gender divide and the gender skills gap. The articles illustrate successful programmes and opportunities that address these issues.
All eight articles stress the importance of strengthening and enhancing digital skills to successfully manage the accelerated use of digital devices within social and economic activities. Those skills range from basic to advanced digital skills and must be evenly distributed among populations and gender.
The publication is available on the ITU Academy platform.

Partnership aims to accelerate access to, and usage of, digital financial tools, services and enabling technologies to help low-income women build economic resilience


Women’s World Banking and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) today announced a strategic partnership to enhance financial inclusion and access to digital financial services for women and girls, specifically in emerging markets and least developed countries. The partnership will support economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, which encourages women’s economic empowerment through equal rights to financial services, enhanced use of enabling technology, and policies to promote gender equality.

The partnership comes at a critical time as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set back progress made in gender equality by decades. Women’s financial inclusion represents an incredible opportunity for sustainable development and economic resilience for global economies, with more than 1 billion women remaining outside the formal financial system. Women are more likely to lack formal financial accounts or to work in the informal sector, meaning that their ability to navigate economic shocks like COVID-19 is greatly diminished. By combining their collective strengths in innovative finance and digital financial solutions, as well as their global reach, UNCDF and Women’s World Banking will work towards addressing the barriers that prevent women’s economic empowerment and participation in the world’s most challenging markets. Specific focus will be placed on investment tools to increase financing for women entrepreneurs; utilizing and advancing digital financial solutions to expand financial inclusion; and supporting public and private sector partners to enhance government-to-people payments (G2P).

Women’s World Banking is a non-profit organization that designs and invests in financial solutions, institutions, and policy environments in emerging markets to create greater economic stability and prosperity for women, their families, and their communities. Working with 51 institutions across 28 countries, Women’s World Banking connects low-income women with financial services to encourage their financial inclusion and economic empowerment. Commenting on the partnership, President and Chief Executive Officer Mary Ellen Iskenderian said: “While great strides have been made recently to create more inclusive financial systems, women around the world remain perilously close to economic hardship and life-altering reversals as a result of their inability to access and use full suites of financial products and services. COVID-19 has put this lack of access into sharp relief. Our partnership with UNCDF presents an ideal platform from which to advocate to policymakers and financial service providers around the world to place even greater emphasis on putting the financial tools in women’s hands so they can participate and contribute economically as equal partners. Only then will our societies become fairer and our economies more stable.”

UNCDF is a UN agency with specialized expertise in making finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries (LDCs), notably with its capital mandate and instruments that unlock public and private resources to reduce poverty and support local economic development. UNCDF’s Financial Inclusion Practice Area (FIPA) is focused on building inclusive digital economies that leave no one behind. “Gender equality continues to be a key focus for UNCDF as we are very focused on addressing the market constraints to digital and financial autonomy for women in our partner countries. We are pleased to enter into this strategic and technical partnership, which will help deepen our commitment to advancing gender equality in least developed regions. This is critical to our work on advancing ‘Women as Builders of Digital Economies’,” says Henri Dommel, Director of UNCDF FIPA.

On the occasion of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly and Celebration on October 1st high-level meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to advance the transformative global agenda for gender equality and along with the theme “Accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” Women’s World Banking and UNCDF announce their partnership towards the achievement of these goals.

Women’s World Banking and UNCDF will focus immediately on identifying solutions, opportunities, and partnerships to accelerate women’s access to financial services in light of the pandemic. In the next year, the two partners will work to share learnings, increase respective networks, and convene experts to make practical and tangible recommendations to guide and focus the partnership. They will also invite collaboration with other entities, working with interested partners aligned and committed to these recommendations—including governments, development finance institutions, financial service providers, fintechs, and investors—to deliver concrete, impactful solutions.

The partners will also look to further add to UNCDF’s leadership role in the Generation Equality Forum—the campaign led by UN Women to leverage public, private, and civil society leaders to drive systemic change that will reduce gender inequality—as a platform for their efforts. UNCDF was selected by UN Women earlier this year to be the UN lead for the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition within the Generation Equality Forum. UNCDF and Women’s World Banking will look to the Forum to apply their solutions to strengthen the Action Coalition’s efforts.


Source :


We need trust, fairness, and to include women in decision-making.


Anyone with a mobile phone understands the potential of digital services at your fingertips.

And yet we also know that digital technologies are not always inclusive or fair. Women, in particular, have not equally benefited from digital technologies in their everyday lives. This is especially the case in financial services in Africa – and especially now in the time of COVID-19.

Improving choices for women

The economic activity of women and girls often goes unrecognized. However, women are actively engaged as economic actors across value chains: as producers, consumers, business owners, or community members who influence markets and policy (UNHLP 2016).

Creating equitable financial and economic systems recognizes women’s role as pillar of the economy and enables them to contribute in even larger ways, to the benefit of everyone — by to saving for the future, taking credit to fund a business, or making school payments. Digital technology can help do this. But it must be applied in a way that is inclusive and fair.

Creating an inclusive financial sector

Many variables impact the creation of an inclusive financial sector. For example, investment in necessary interoperable payment infrastructure, equitable ID systems, and rules that promote access and trust of services. The G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa is an excellent example of how governments, development actors, and services providers are coming together to address each variable, so the outcome is more than the sum of its parts.

UNCDF Policy Accelerator‘s role is to support governments reform their policies and regulations in order to accelerate digital financial inclusion and specifically women’s. There is no simple process to accelerate digital financial inclusion, but it highly depends on two crucial factors:

1. Policies and regulations

Policies and regulations play a critical part in promoting women’s financial inclusion because, they create space for digital financial services that women need, while keeping the system secure. Government policies have an outsized impact on how inclusive markets develop and leverage new technologies. Smart policies and regulations can address the built-in biases that often prevent women from accessing and using financial services.

There are many policies and regulations the impact financial inclusion, and among them several ‘basic’ regulatory enablers that are pre-conditions to large scale digital financial inclusion. Of these ‘basic’ regulatory enablers, making it easier to open an account and designing consumer protection rules to promote trust and fairness are critical to women’s economic empowerment.

Easy account opening

Account opening should be widely accessible, with or without identification. This is made possible if regulations are risk-based and establish thresholds limits that are affordable for women. There is a clear global precedent for risk-based account opening standards. Many markets need to adapt these to the local context.

Trust and fairness

Promoting trust and fairness is equally important but perhaps less clear. Defining ‘trust’ and ‘fairness’ in financial consumer protection regulation can be a murky process. Yet this should not dissuade regulators from doing so. Women are more likely to use new services when their privacy is protected and have recourse when mistreated. Services providers are responsible for building this trust, while governments are responsible for setting standards of practice and holding providers accountable.

2. Women are part of the process

Women need to be in the room when important decisions are made.

Governments should support female policymakers and regulators to develop their skills to design, govern, and adapt rules that promote inclusive financial services. Building the capacity of women in decision making roles is critical but also insufficient. Women’s groups and their representatives should also be consulted in designing and implementing policies that will directly impact them. This is particularly the case for consumer protection regulations, where privacy, transparency, and fairness are addressed directly.

It is also in the interest of governments to strive to understand the unique experiences of different groups of women in their markets so policy reforms are more targeted and meaningful. For example, women in cities will have a different experience than those in rural areas, while female entrepreneurs will likely suffer different limitations than stay-at-home mothers.

The process of empowering women to control their financial lives will not end with a single regulation or access to identification. Government reforms need to sustain the pace of change that is accelerating with the rise of digital services. That’s how today’s reforms will pay off in the long term.

UNCDF’s commitment

As a member of the G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, UNCDF is committed to pursuing these avenues of change through its Africa Policy Accelerator project. In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the French Ministry of Finance, the Policy Accelerator supports governments to design (or improve) consumer protection and account access regulations to serve women’s financial needs in Africa. We will do that by, among other activities, helping governments learn more about women’s needs in their local markets through research, while ensuring that women have a seat at the table.


A group of WTO members agreed to establish an Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender on 23 September, marking the next phase of an initiative kickstarted in 2017 to increase the participation of women in trade. The online meeting to launch the new WTO working group was held at the invitation of Iceland and Botswana.


Iceland Ambassador Harald Aspelund, co-chair of the International Gender Champions (IGC) Trade Impact Group, introduced the proposal  to establish the WTO Informal Working Group. This proposal, he said, stemmed from consultations with WTO members who expressed support for following-up on the commitments contained in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment. The declaration established an initiative to remove barriers to women’s participation in trade and was supported by 118 WTO members and observers at the 11th Ministerial Conference in 2017. It now counts 127 signatories.

The Informal Working Group’s objectives will be to continue to share best practices among members on increasing women’s participation in trade, consider and clarify what a “gender lens” is in the context of international trade and review how a gender lens could usefully be applied to the work of the WTO, review and discuss gender-related analytical work produced by the WTO Secretariat, and explore how best to support the delivery of the WTO Aid for Trade work programme. It will convene for its first meeting in the second half of 2020 and establish a schedule of activities and themes to be discussed in the run up to the 12th Ministerial Conference.

“The Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment has become a vital part of the WTO’s work to make trade more inclusive,” Deputy Director-General Yonov Frederick Agah said at the meeting. “Today marks an important new phase in moving this work forward on a continued transparent, collaborative and open basis.” Read his full remarks here.

Botswana Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme, likewise a co-chair of the IGC Trade Impact Group, summed up members’ interventions at the meeting, saying that she found there to be strong support for the formation of an Informal Working Group and that concrete activities and timelines are needed next.

Dorothy Tembo, executive director ad interim of the International Trade Centre and co-chair of the IGC Trade Impact Group, further noted that work must continue to expand the group beyond the 127 current supporters.


French speakers are now able to access all functionalities on to help them grow their businesses

by ITC News

The International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative today announced the release of the French version of their online platform. Recently forging a presence in a number of French-speaking countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Senegal, the rollout of a French-language platform will now enable more women entrepreneurs, buyers, and partners to participate fully in the successful initiative.

By joining the SheTrades community on, French-speaking users can register to access various modules, participate in numerous webinars, and access past recordings at any time. The main training hub for the initiative – SheTrades Virtual Learning – is also navigable for French-speaking users. This contains free, high quality e-learning modules that have been designed by experts, and guide women entrepreneurs through the entire export journey. This means that regardless of their stage of export-readiness, they are able to access and learn relevant knowledge and skills. Funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the SheTrades West Africa project supported the development of French e-learning modules covering topics such as managing cash flow, managing quality of exports, developing an export plan, and designing a strategy for success. In addition, all publications, success stories, news, as well as user-generated content, is automatically translated for French-speaking users. SheTrades West Africa aims to improve the livelihoods of 10,000 women working in the cashew, cassava and shea value chains. To learn more about the project, visit:

Beyond the e-learning components, is also a place where women entrepreneurs can showcase their products and services, network, meet buyers, and strike deals. Not only this, they can also discover the exciting opportunities that the initiative has to offer, like part taking in international trade fairs and in-country workshops.

In 2019, under their partnership, ITC SheTrades and UPS told the inspirational stories of three women entrepreneurs through three compelling films by director Malcolm Green. Watch the film with French subtitles at: and become a member of SheTrades at

*Download the free app via Google Play or App Store.

Watch a short video to learn about the SheTrades Initiative with French subtitles at:


Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming many spheres of human activity and financial services is no exception.

In one of the lesser developed regions of China, Xin’An Bank, UNCDF’s partner organization under the i3 Program funded by MetLife Foundation, is testing one such AI technology — natural language processing (NLP) to uplift the lives of women entrepreneurs and improve their financial security.


Ms. Zhang, a vegetable vendor busy at work on a Tuesday morning in Anhui.
Photo credit: Mr. Yunbo Yan, Digital Finance Expert, UNCDF China


Investing in female-run enterprises: The “Goddess AI” loan

On a busy Tuesday morning, Ms. Zhang sells vegetables to her customers. Most women of Anhui have businesses like Ms. Zhang’s. Due to a lack of employment opportunities in Anhui province, many men emigrate to other regions of the country in search of work and send back remittances. This has meant that a large number of women stay back in Anhui to take care of their households and their enterprises. As a supplement to remittances, the women of Anhui run micro and small businesses such as vegetable stalls to keep their households in Anhui going. These women, like Ms. Zhang have financial aspirations for themselves, their families and businesses but often lack the economic wherewithal to fulfill them.

Women entrepreneurs have long been unseen in Anhui. In comparison to other parts of China, Anhui is a more traditional society, where women’s roles are confined to the household. Yet, even as women choose livelihoods that they care about and that can support their families, they struggle. For one, they manage household responsibilities including caretaking, allowing them little time to devote to their entrepreneurial ventures. Second, if they muster the resources to set up a venture, they face bottlenecks along the way to fully realize their entrepreneurial dreams. One of the biggest challenges they face is lack of access to affordable and instantaneous business credit.

Enter Xin’An Bank. Recognizing the entrepreneurial potential of the women residents of Anhui as well as the distinct challenges they face, Xin’An Bank teamed up with UNCDF earlier this year to develop financial services to enhance the financial health of these women. UNCDF has been supporting this engagement by applying a financial health approach, where aspects like customer centricity and an understanding of financial behaviours are at the heart of developing a financial product or service.

With its celebratory product, aptly titled “Goddess AI”, Xin’An Bank processes small amounts of loans to women entrepreneurs, over a mobile app, in under 24 hours. This is especially important for women short on time with limited mobility due to their many responsibilities and roles. The collection of data from potential applicants and its eventual processing is all done online. Women entrepreneurs in need of a loan merely engage with the mobile app, record voice responses to questions and upload requisite paperwork such as identity and business documents.

Upon receipt of the application, Xin’An Bank uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology to verify the authenticity of submitted documents using searchable government databases. In addition, it uses natural language processing (NLP), a form of artificial intelligence that reads, understands and derives emotive and cognitive meaning from human languages to interpret the various responses of potential credit customers. For example, the response to the question, “purpose of loan” will be scoured by the NLP for evidence of hesitation, out of turn pauses and repeated corrections.

Facial expressions are also studied by the NLP to supplement voice responses, and traits such as familiarity with business and self-efficacy are tested. Responses fed into the NLP are analyzed real-time and a credit decision is instantaneously made. Both the OCR and NLP checks work in tandem, helping Xin’An Bank make a fully informed credit decision. In the event of a negative credit decision, Xin’An Bank uses its discretion to examine factors underlying a rejection and re-engages with potential borrowers on a case-by-case basis. Once a loan is approved, loan documentation including registration of mortgage and the transfer of funds are done online, and within a few hours.

Anhui Xin’An Bank is a partner organization of UNCDF under the i3 Program, funded by the MetLife Foundation.

Jaspreet Singh
Regional Technical Specialist — Asia

Audrey Misquith
Data & Insights Consultant

Source :



The joint initiative seeks to leverage tech as a driver of entrepreneurial support for women

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) have launched a cooperative project to enhance the digital ecosystem and build digital skills for women in Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The project will address the ongoing gender digital divide which, while narrowing in developed regions, has widened in developing nations and the LDCs since 2013. Across Africa, the proportion of women using the Internet is 12% lower than the proportion of men; in African LDCs, the disparity broadens to a 31% gap.

Combining their resources, ITU and EIF will enhance efforts to benefit women in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti. This will be achieved by building capacity at the policy level, increasing governments’ ability to mainstream gender and information and communication technologies (ICTs), and by expanding the horizons of thousands of women entrepreneurs in sectors such as textiles and apparel, and the coffee and cocoa value chains.
“More than ever before, digital technology is a key driver of women’s economic opportunities,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This partnership between ITU and EIF will result in vital policy support to ensure sustainable expansion of ICTs where it is most needed and will benefit women as they access and use ICTs to participate fully in their economies.”
The project will focus on nationwide fieldwork, specifically:
  • Working with governments and other decision-makers to ensure that digital economy policies are gender-responsive;
  • Working with organizational partners and other members of the local ecosystem to prepare working-age women to navigate in the digital world; and
  • Working with the private sector to create economic opportunities for working-age women in the digital world.
For example, the project will develop national curricula for train-the-trainers programmes, creating a system for distributed education ranging from the most basic use of major information/knowledge platforms to digital solutions for clothing and garment design, smart tailoring, production line, e-commerce solutions for small- and medium-sized enterprises, mobile banking, design thinking and technology innovation, and the Internet of Things for entrepreneurship.
“Building digital skills for women in Least Developed Countries can help women take advantage of growing opportunities – for business expansion, increased market connectedness and enhanced employability. This is why I am so pleased that EIF is embarking on this effort together with ITU and the governments in Burundi, Ethiopia and Haiti as a part of its Empower Women, Power Trade initiative, which supports innovative work with women across the LDCs,” remarked EIF Executive Director Ratnakar Adhikari.
“Finding innovative ways to close the gender digital divide is critical. We need to empower women in local communities to properly use ICTs and to maximize impact at the economic and social level. This project focuses on the right sectors, the right communities, and the right entrepreneurs to do just that,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “By joining with EIF to increase women’s access, capacity and use of ICTs, we hope to support many working-age women to be change-makers in their communities.”
Improving the policy and regulatory environment that affects the selected countries’ digital society will be key to the project’s success. To start the conversation on what actions are needed to achieve this improvement, an open discussion is planned among key stakeholders, including women entrepreneurs and women employed in the relevant sectors, officials of ICT ministries, trade sector representatives, sector associations in textiles and apparel, cooperatives in the agriculture sector, and private sector companies.
This joint project, a contribution to the EQUALS Global Partnership and part of EIF’s Empower Women, Power Tradeinitiative, will help to match job market supply and demand, and facilitate the entrepreneurial activities of women through the use of ICTs. It will be conducted in close collaboration with local partners such as cooperatives and business associations to ensure that support for women continues and strengthens after the project is complete. EQUALS partners will be included in the work at the national level, bringing additional expertise to the project planning and execution.
About the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the specialized United Nations agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established over 150 years ago in 1865, ITU is the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit
About Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF)
The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) partnership of 51 countries, 24 donors and eight partner agencies works closely with governments, development organizations and civil society to assist LDCs use trade as an engine for growth, sustainable development and poverty reduction. For more information, visit
About Empower Women, Power Trade
EIF’s initiative aims at transforming the economic lives of women in least developed countries (LDCs). It focuses on female entrepreneurs and producers, cross-border traders and women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).  At the foundation of this effort is the building of the evidence base to support gender-sensitive policies through EIF’s country-specific trade studies. Strategic support is directed at sectors in which women are predominantly engaged, so female-owned businesses can expand and access new regional and global markets. For more information, visit
The EQUALS Global Partnership is made up of more than 100 members from international organizations, governments, the private sector, civil society and academia, all committed to working together to achieve gender equality in digital access, digital skills and leadership opportunities in the tech sector. For more information, visit

Story Highlights

  • New trends in global trade—especially the rise in services, global value chains, and the digital economy—are opening up important economic opportunities for women.
  • Trade has the potential to expand women’s role in the economy, decrease inequality, and expand women’s access to skills and education.
  • But for women to reap these rewards countries need to adopt reforms in trade policy that reduce discrimination against women while building the significant human capital that women represent.

Trade can dramatically improve women’s lives, creating new jobs, enhancing consumer choice, and increasing women’s bargaining power in society. But women’s relationship with trade is complex, as it can also lead to job losses and a concentration of work in lower-skilled jobs To ensure that trade enhances opportunities for everyone—regardless of gender—policymakers should assess the potential impact of trade rules on various groups of people and develop policy responses based on evidence.

Research on gender equality and trade has been held back by limited data and a lack of understanding of the connections between the economic roles women play as workers, consumers, and decision makers. Building on new analysis and new sex-disaggregated data, this report aims to advance understanding on the relationship between trade and gender equality and to identify a series of opportunities through which women can gain from trade.

Women and Trade: The Role of Trade in Promoting Women’s Equalitya joint report by the World Bank Group and the World Trade Organization—marks the first major effort to quantify how women are affected by trade through the use of a new gender-disaggregated labor dataset. This analysis helps governments understand how trade policies will affect women and men differently.

Download the report

“Over the past 30 years trade has been the engine of poverty reduction. This report shows that, provided the right policies are in place, it can also provide an engine to reduce the gender gap”, said World Bank Managing Director Mari Pangestu. “Trade can expand women’s role in the economy and decrease disparities with men by giving women more and better employment opportunities. Seizing these opportunities will be even more important in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Mari Pangestu
World Bank Managing Director

Key Findings

Trade can expand women’s role in the economy, decrease inequality, and improve women’s access to skills and education.

  • Exporters employ more women: In developing countries, women make up 33 percent of the workforce of exporting firms compared with just 24 percent of non-exporting firms.
  • Trade creates better jobs for women: When women are employed in sectors with high levels of exports, they are more likely to be formally employed in a job with better benefits, training and security.
  • Trade increases women’s wages and increases economic equality: Developing countries that double their manufacturing exports—a typical increase for developing countries that open themselves to trade—would see women increase their share of total manufacturing wages from 24% to 30% through a combination of increased employment and higher salaries.




When Countries Trade, Women Win

By increasing trade, countries can help promote a more equitable future that benefits everyone.

Despite many advances, women across the world hold fewer jobs, are paid less, and are more likely to experience worse job conditions than men.

  • Fewer than one in two women works.
  • Among those who do work, 80% occupy medium- and low-skilled jobs.
  • Women are also overrepresented in the informal sector, with up to 90% of women informally employed in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  •  Just 3% of female employees in low-income countries are skilled workers.

Trade policy is inadvertently biased against women, resulting in lower levels of employment and higher prices for consumer goods.

A woman that is employed at a hotel in Papua New Guinea smiles while sitting at her computer

New trends in global trade—especially the rise in services, global value chains, and the digital economy—are opening up important economic opportunities for women. Photo: © Conor Ashleigh/World Bank

The lack of gender-specific data reinforces biases against women in trade policymaking. Sex-disaggregated data is necessary to assess how different policies and obstacles impact women and men differently.

  • This report makes use of a new dataset that for the first time allows researchers to see labor data at the industry level by gender, reducing subjectivity of trade-related analysis.
  • This data sheds light on how women are employed, in which industries they work, what their income is and whether or not they are involved in global trade.
  • This analysis helps governments understand how trade policies will affect women and men differently.

The changing global economy offers new opportunities for women through services, GVCs and digital technology.

  • More than two-thirds of women in developed countries were employed in the services sector in 2017, up from 45 percent in 1991. In developing countries, the proportion of women in the service sector jumped to 38 percent from 25 percent over the same period.
  • Countries are becoming more integrated with global value chains, which tend to create jobs and increase wages for women. GVC jobs tend to have positive, indirect benefits on other aspects of women’s livelihoods, such as education.
  • Digital technology and new online platforms create opportunities for women to bypass traditional trade barriers, expand their entrepreneurial skills and develop flexible careers that enable them to manage both work and household responsibilities.

Find also at WTO News

Original Post : World Bank News


Recently launched ecommerce training program and portal will help hundreds of women entrepreneurs in South Asian LDCs become part of regional and global supply chains.


It’s 1am and Thinley Yangzom has 60 boxes of teabags to pack. Her special superfood blend of ginger and the rare cordyceps fungus had been a hit with the tourists staying at her mother’s riverside farmhouse in Paro, Bhutan, but finding time to tend to her new business venture while rearing her eight-month-old son had not been easy.

“My business needs to be able to fit around my responsibilities as a mother, as a daughter and as a wife. This often meant that I was working on my business once everyone else had gone to bed,” said Yangzom.

As her business – Bhutan Super Food and Herbs – grew she saw an opportunity to sell her products to customers outside of Bhutan. But for this she would need an online store, and some help to set it up.

“While I am an IT graduate, setting up an online business is more complicated than just creating a website,” she said.

“The founder of a women’s entrepreneur association invited me to a workshop where other women entrepreneurs like me would be taught the basics of ecommerce. I was excited to learn more about this modern approach to business.”

And so, on a cold winter’s day in February, Yangzom arrived at the City Hotel in Bhutan’s capital ready for a two-day deep dive into the emerging world of ecommerce. Run by the South and South-West Asia Office of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), New Delhi with support from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), the national inception workshops are the first step in building an ecommerce training program for women entrepreneurs across South Asia.

“We have run workshops in NepalBangladesh and Bhutan so far with the aim of bringing together policymakers, women entrepreneurs, experts, industry and civil society to better understand and recognize each country’s challenges inimplementing ecommerce,” said Rajan Sudesh Ratna, Economic Affairs Officer at UNESCAP, New Delhi.

“These insights have helped us to develop tailor-made ecommerce training programs and an ecommerce portal that will assist at least 100 women entrepreneurs across Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to sell their goods and services online and become part of regional and global supply chains.”

Covering the basics

Most women in South Asia are employed in informal sectors, where they lack job security and a permanent income. When it comes to entrepreneurship, there is often a lack of societal support for women working outside their home.

“Ecommerce makes flexible working arrangements possible. It’s a powerful tool for empowering South Asian women entrepreneurs socially and economically,” said Deepali Gotadke, a consultant to the UNESCAP program who was the first ecommerce entrepreneur in her area of North Karnataka, India.

During the national inception workshops, Gotadke ran a session on digital marketing and ecommerce and found many of the women entrepreneurs lacked the technical skills needed to expand their businesses.

“As a result, we decided to offer an introductory course and manual for women entrepreneurs in our program that will cover the basics of ecommerce, social media and digital marketing,” she said.

While a taste of the course to come, Gotadke’s marketing session has already inspired Yangzom to think more strategically about using social media to market her products.

“We are thinking about getting famous people to review our products, which will help us reach a wider customer base,” she said.

Restrictive regulations

Workshop participants also identified policies that are making it challenging for ecommerce to flourish.

“From not allowing online transactions in international currencies, to central bank laws that make it hard for suppliers to offer refunds, it’s clear that some regulatory changes are also needed,” said Ratna.

“We are encouraging these changes to take place by initiating dialogues with policy makers in parallel with the capacity building program,” he said.

One of the ways that UNESCAP is working around such regulatory challenges is to develop an ecommerce portal that will host the online shops of women entrepreneurs participating in the programme.

“The portal will assist women with digitising and cataloguing their goods and services, it will provide a single payment gateway and it will give their businesses international exposure. This is all the more important for women entrepreneurs in this hour of crisis due to COVID-19,” Ratna said.

Outside world is waiting

Godatke sees lots of international potential, with the “outside world waiting for the handmade items these women have to offer.”

“When we open the portal to international markets, I would expect to see their business revenue doubling within 2-3 years,” she said.

After a year, the program will then assess the performance of the women and devise an advanced training course.

“We’ve had a strong response so far, with 150 women entrepreneurs already registered to take part in the program,” Ratna said.

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions, the online course and virtual trainings for the women entrepreneurs will start in July 2020.

While COVID-19 has significantly slowed down Bhutan’s tourism industry and therefore Yangzom’s key customers, she sees ecommerce as a key way for her business to recover.

“Being able to sell online will not only make it possible for me to reach international customers, but it will also make my products more affordable for local people,” she said.

“With the support provided by this program, it will be faster and easier to grow my business than if I was to do it alone.”

by Michelle Kovacevic

Original Source : EIF News



The International Trade Centre today announced the release of the Spanish-language online platform of its SheTrades initiative. While having been active in Spanish-speaking countries for several years, the rollout of a Spanish-language platform will now enable more women entrepreneurs, buyers, and partners to participate fully in the successful initiative.

ITC SheTrades is continuing to boost its online offerings in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In parallel, it is also expanding its presence within and across Latin American countries. Now, users are able to fully navigate, the initiative’s online platform, in Spanish.

By joining the SheTrades community on, Spanish-speaking users can register to participate in numerous webinars, including many delivered in Spanish, and access past recordings at any time. For example, in a 10-webinar series entitled ‘La Ruta de la Exportación’ (2019), experts from various SheTrades partner organisations took women entrepreneurs through key aspects of becoming export-ready. This year, as the COVID-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on millions of businesses, ITC SheTrades and partners have come together to deliver an emergency webinar series on how to cope. One of these series – ‘Preparando su negocio para después de COVID-19’ – has been adapted for a Lain American audience, and the region’s ‘post-COVID-19’ situation.

The main training hub for the initiative – SheTrades Virtual Learning – is also navigable for Spanish-speaking users. This contains 25 free, high quality e-learning modules that have been designed by experts and guide women entrepreneurs through the entire export journey. This means that regardless of their stage of export-readiness, they are able to access and learn relevant knowledge and skills. In addition, all publications, success stories, news, as well as user-generated content, is automatically translated for Spanish-speaking users.

Beyond the e-learning components, is also a place where women entrepreneurs can showcase their products and services, network, meet buyers, and strike deals. Not only this, they can also discover the exciting opportunities that the initiative has to offer, like part taking in international trade fairs and in-country workshops.

For example, women entrepreneurs in Mexico have the possibility of applying to be part of the SheTrades-UPS project, which harnesses expertise from both ITC and UPS to support women exporters and their technical competitiveness. Besides UPS, SheTrades partners in Latin America include AMMJE, Global BMT Consulting, FUNDES, ASPEN, 10,000 Mujeres por Mexico, WEConnect International, AMEXME, Ulead/OWIT Mexico, ProChile, ProColombia, PROMPERÚ and PRONAFIM. Stay up to date with the offers of these partnerships on

In 2019, SheTrades produced three inspiring films to highlight the ‘Faces of SheTrades‘ sponsored by UPS and directed by Malcolm Green, a celebrated film director. In conjunction with the launch of in Spanish, SheTrades and UPS have released ‘The Bee Queen’, a film featuring Anselma Chaleuan, a Mexican honey producer. Producing and exporting special Melipona honey from her small village of Xcunyá in the Yucatan province, Anselma’s strongest sense of purpose lies in preserving the endangered native Melipona bee population and empowering other women in her community. Watch the film at: and become a member of SheTrades at

Watch a short video to learn about the SheTrades Initiative with Spanish subtitles at: 

Original Source : ITC News



Deadline to submit applications: 31 August 2020, 23:59 ICT

Application Calendar

  • Posting date: 24/7/2020
  • Deadline to submit questions: 21/08/2020
  • Final deadline for applications: 31/08/2020 23:59 ICT

For any questions regarding the application process, please send inquiries to:

Applicants are encouraged to first read the Call for Research Proposals Guidelines. Applications must follow the submission format as outlined in the Proposal Application Form and Budget Proposal.

Applications must be returned to ESCAP by email to no later than 31 August 2020, 23:59 ICTPlease do not send files larger than 10 MB.


United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is issuing a Call for Research Proposals to undertake human centered design inspired research. The research should explore the nuanced challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in accessing financing at different stages of their enterprise journey and offer solutions to those challenges. The end objective of this applied research is to identify innovative financial solutions that can be developed or tailored to best address the needs and demands of women entrepreneurs.

The research outcome should address gaps in knowledge and improve the understanding of the business environment and financial constraints facing women entrepreneurs’ access and usage of financial services, in at least one of the following countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and/or Viet Nam.

The research findings will be used to inform the design of private sector solutions that enhance different groups of women entrepreneurs’ access and use of financial services, as well as inspire replication of proposed solutions in the market. Additionally, the research will be made publicly available to contribute to the body of literature on barriers women enterprises face in accessing finance.

Research Approach

ESCAP encourages human centered design inspired research and welcomes applicants to devise innovative partnerships, strategies and alternative data collection approaches to gain granular demand-side insights from women entrepreneurs and validate these findings. For example innovative partnerships could consist of universities or non-profits, partnered with telecommunication service providers, financial service providers or other relevant institutions.

It is important for applicants to consider cost effective, timely, yet robust methodologies for data collection. These can include but are not limited to big data analysis, lean data methodologies with enabling technologies such as SME or computer-assisted telephone interviewing, etc.

Applicant Benefits

Successful applications will receive:

  • Up to US$ 25,000 in funding to undertake the research;
  • Support from ESCAP’s Research Technical Advisory Group, which will provide technical advice in research design and peer reviews of the research outputs;
  • Publication of the research, subject to United Nations standards and publication guidelines;
  • The chance for the research to inform the design of private sector financial solutions for women entrepreneurs.


Applicants are encouraged to create coalitions and partnerships to undertake the research. The lead applicant, must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Not-for-profit organization
  • Government entity
  • United Nations entity or multi-lateral organization
  • Individual researcher

Private sector institutions are also encouraged to apply, however must partner with one of the 4 categories of eligible “lead partners” listed above. The private sector applicant must therefore be a partner to the lead applicant.

Geographic Scope of Research

Applicants can be based anywhere globally, however the research must focus on women entrepreneurs in one or several of the following countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Nepal, Samoa and/or Viet Nam. No other geographic coverage will be considered for funding.

While applicants can be based anywhere globally. It is encouraged that applicants who apply from countries other than 6 target countries, partner with a local institution.

Application Guidelines

Before applying please download the Call for Research Proposals Guidelines, which provides full details on the application process and requirements.

It is also suggested to review the Background Note which provides information on the key challenges facing women entrepreneurs in the respective countries and highlights research gaps and sample research questions.


Please download and complete the following documents as part of the application process:

  1. Proposal Application Template
  2. Budget Proposal
  3. Annex 1: Submission Confirmation Letter

Applications must follow the submission format as outlined in the Proposal Application Template and Budget Proposal template.

Please also ensure that the following annexes are submitted with the application (no template has been provided for these documents and the applicant is welcome to use any format):

Annex 2 – Resume/CV’s of all project team members involved in the project

Annex 3 – Proof of the organization’s not-for-profit status (if applicable)

Annex 4 – Partner institution letter of intent (if applicable)

Additional Information

The winning applicant is expected to sign a Letter of Agreement (Grant Agreement) with ESCAP or in the case of individual applicants, the individual will enter into a consulting agreement. A sample of the ESCAP Agreement Terms and Conditions for Letters of Agreement has been made available and a sample of the General Conditions of Contracts for the Services of Consultants or Individual Contractors has also been made available.


This research call is part of the Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on STI Policy (ARTNET on STI Policy). ARTNET on STI Policy is the knowledge platform on science, technology and innovation policies for sustainable development. By means of research, information dissemination and capacity building, ARTNET on STI provides guidance on STI policies to researchers and policymakers in the Asia-Pacific region.

Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship

The Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project is a five-year initiative, aimed at addressing three key overarching barriers faced by women entrepreneurs: (1) enabling policy environment and regulatory challenges, (2) access to finance, and (3) use of information and communication technologies (ICT) by women entrepreneurs. Overall, the project aims to crowd-in investment capital, competition and innovation, and increase the range and reach of services supporting women entrepreneurs.

The project is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.


ICTs are a powerful tool to alleviate barriers faced by women entrepreneurs.


The impact of the COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on doing business worldwide since the beginning of 2020 have made the need to use ICTs imperative for the survival of small businesses. The digital platforms provide a large scope of opportunities for women entrepreneurs to set up and expand their businesses, maintain and create new networks in order to develop and implement their ideas in many sectors, from advertisement and the provision of various services to consulting industries and agriculture. By acquiring knowledge on how to manage and navigate digital technologies women entrepreneurs are becoming more competitive and resilient to abrupt changes.

How to use these tools and make them work for gender equality were among the key questions discussed at the international online workshop “Use of ICTs for the Promotion and Implementation of Gender Equality in Small Business Development” (22 June – 2 July)  organized by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) and MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in cooperation with UNECE. It is part of a long-standing fruitful cooperation with MASHAV and MCTC on gender activities in the areas of information sharing and capacity building for professional women from Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

23 women and men from government institutions and SME’s support and innovation agencies, NGOs dealing with small business support and development, private sector and chambers of entrepreneurs met virtually to widen their knowledge and acquire new skills on how to use ICTs and implement them in projects and activities with a gender lens.

Workshop participants received training in specific tools and digital applications, networking and business psychology; they explored and discussed various business models that can help them to set up and successfully manage their businesses. They addressed ways in which new technologies can influence small business management, discussed networking skills, gender mainstreaming and the use of ICTs, and business thinking development. Participants shared their experience in developing platforms, projects and programmes which include women both as providers and beneficiaries of these services.

Representatives from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan discussed opportunities and current obstacles for women entrepreneurs to advance in using ICTs. While progress in applying ICTs with a gender lens varies across countries, rural and urban regions, as well as economic sectors, a range of common barriers exist. Lack of financing, insufficient information and insufficient role models for women using and developing ICTs, were highlighted as key challenges in many sectors and countries.


Original source : UNECE News


Negotiators can use this new report to lift the participation of women in trade through free trade agreements.

It’s no secret that mainstreaming gender in free trade agreements creates more inclusiveness. Yet most accords don’t even mention gender – and those that do, typically fail to offer women the same opportunities as men to participate in trade.

The International Trade Centre’s new report, Mainstreaming Gender in Free Trade Agreements, addresses this shortfall with 10 key recommendations for the design, content and scope of trade deals.

Drafting accords with gender explicit preambles, explicit access to skill development and compulsory dispute settlement mechanisms are among the recommendations in the report, launched at a joint event with the Organization of Women in International Trade.

‘This publication answers the call of policymakers and trade negotiators to provide a practical guide to create more inclusive accords,’ said Dorothy Tembo, ITC Executive Director a.i. ‘Gender mainstreaming ensures that these agreements promote more equitable opportunities rather than perpetuate inequalities.’

More than a quarter of the 292 agreements in force today and notified to the World Trade Organization have at least one provision that explicitly mentions gender. ‘The last three years have been phenomenal in this respect,’ the report says.

This report builds on analysis of 73 trade pacts in Commonwealth countries, and the results are similar.  Just 28% use best practices to mainstream gender concerns, meaning they have considerable scope to improve. Only 5% are advanced, as they use best practices and need little or no upgrade, and 40% make no explicit reference at all to gender considerations.

Change is under way, however, as governments increasingly recognize that taking account of the differences between men and women makes good business sense, the report says.

Tools for policymakers, negotiators and researchers

The most important takeaways from the analysis are summarized in 10 recommendations showing where to embed gender provisions in an accord, what specific actions are needed to create equal opportunities for women and how to ensure that the measures have teeth.

Ten model clauses accompany the recommendations, providing ready-made legal language to simplify the work of policymakers and trade negotiators.

The report also features a tool that allows policymakers and researchers to track national performance on gender in existing trade agreements, as well as new agreements underway.

Among the challenges to mainstreaming gender in trade agreements are a lack of awareness that these accords empower women, and too little data that tracks specifically the impact on women in business. In some cases, the lack of political will or inadequate expertise on gender issues among negotiators is a factor, the report says.

‘The impact of gender mainstreaming on women and trade will only become visible with the passage of time,’ it says. In the meantime, the guide presented in the report can help countries move in that direction.

Original Post ITC News



For over 25 years working across Africa, we’ve seen that women are disproportionally excluded from essential services, despite their potential as catalysts for socio-economic development.


While they are not a homogenous group, their needs are systematically overlooked – and governments can change that. We are reminded every day that policies and regulations are critical to ensure financial inclusion, especially in a dynamic globalized economy.

A year ago, in July 2019, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) published a groundbreaking report outlining how the seven leading global economies (G7) can support the financial inclusion of women in Africa. It describes how governments, central banks, and financial institutions can build inclusive, sustainable, and responsible digital financial systems to ensure financial inclusion for 400 million people, nearly 60% of whom are women. The report, A G7 Partnership for Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa offers recommendations in three areas: infrastructure, regulation, and planning.

Who could have imagined that, exactly a year later, a pandemic would accelerate the adoption of digital financial services (DFS) to fight the contagious virus. While this trend is encouraging, it also brought to the fore longstanding questions of inequalities, and we must remain vigilant to avoid creating a new digital divide.

High levels of collaboration, innovation, and ambition are crucial to advance this agenda. We are partnering with the BMGF and the French Ministry of Finance to support governments seeking to promote safe, competitive, and inclusive DFS. Through the UNCDF programme Africa Policy Accelerator, we provide policymakers and regulators in 18 countries the technical inputs and assistance to implement digital financial regulations that address the needs of low-income communities.

Boosting women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment is an integral part of that mandate. UNCDF has been chosen as one of the organizations to play a leadership role in the Generation Equality Forum, a civil society–centred, multi-stakeholder global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. We are ready to co-lead the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition and will join the rallying point on 7 July 2020 to symbolically mark the initial opening date of the Forum in Paris, which was meant to gather gender equality actors from around the world, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

As the world grapples with unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, we need to sustain efforts to expand digital financial inclusion to women across the African continent. When women – especially those living in poor and marginalized communities in Africa – can access financial services, it opens up opportunities and builds resilience. They can secure payments for healthcare and education, store savings safely, borrow to start or develop small businesses or insure and protect their families against life’s hazards such as medical emergencies and natural disasters. An increasing number of African governments consider gender-inclusive finance to be a high priority. It is time to fix the financial inclusion gender gap.

About our vision for Women as Builders of the Digital Economy

Original Source : UNCDF News



Amel Saidane is a Tunisian entrepreneur and a digital transformation expert. She is also the President of Tunisian Start-ups, and member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.

In July 2020, she will be a speaker in the Spotlight Session of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) international online conference, “Women in Industry and Innovation”.

Saidane wasn’t always the open-to-unknowns entrepreneur role model she is today. She spent the first ten years of her professional life in a corporate environment, where the problems were manageable by design.

From a corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur

When she first decided to start her own business, she was scared. “I loved it because I could move without boundaries,” she says. “But the parameters were countless and unpredictable. How should I manage it?”.

This problem required a whole new mind-set: Saidane realized that, as an entrepreneur, she had to let go of micromanaging. “If you’re building something from scratch, you can’t control everything,” she says, “So don’t do it, and welcome all the steps”.

Which to her means moving forward and knowing that even a misstep could bring new competences. “The keyword is resilience. We should never step back in a crisis,” she says.

This is the reason why Saidane is convinced that during the coronavirus outbreak we could learn a lot from entrepreneurs, because of their capacity to manage things in unpredictable times.

Female entrepreneurs as multidimensional talents

Saidane believes women to be very good at handling multiple tasks simultaneously. She observed that her best performances came with having a set of different tracks she could connect.

“The plan is not linear, but multidimensional,” she explains, and invites her peers not to be afraid to test new things. “You’ll fall and stand up again” is her motto.

It is no surprise that Saidane encourages women to pursue tech careers and fight for leading positions, if they want to.

She believes women’s natural inclinations to fit the profile required for leaders in the digital age. In her vision, the old pyramid-shaped system will be replaced by flatter organizations divided into sub-groups, and this type of agile structure will require a lot of flexibility and more of a listening-and-giving-space approach to communications –  “something that women leaders can do very well”, she explains.

Why women are underrepresented in top jobs

Unfortunately, women are still under-represented in top jobs. “I think it’s a chicken-and-egg problem,” Saidane comments.

She believes that, as long as women are not equally represented in policymaking, policies will be defined by a male-only perspective.

She also states that women are not equally represented in funding and investing either. “More than 95% of capital investment in the world is invested by men in men and this leaves peanuts to women,” she clarifies.

In Saidane’s vision, as long as women are not deciding what kind of projects are going to be funded, female leaders will be a minority.

She appreciates the fact that UNIDO is bringing women’s perspectives in women-related debates. “It is not about discussing women issues for the sake of it, but about having the proper discussion and include women” she says.

The African tech response to Covid19 and the idea of a Digital Arabian Network

Going back to technology, Saidane has recently joined the UN Economic Commission for Africa analyzing the tech response to COVID-19. She reports that coronavirus has been a sort of wake-up call to move faster.

“We have noticed that we should have used technology more,” she points out, adding that the importance of digital transformation in Africa is now more evident than ever.

A deep knowledge of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and being a self-defined, “digital transformation enthusiast” also brought her to believe that the MENA countries should strategically think of digitalization as an opportunity to unite and become one digital partner state.

She’s sure that if the MENA countries keep bringing their own “mini and not meaningful” platforms, they will never be able to compete. “The countries with the largest platforms have access to the largest amounts of data and control everything in the world,” she underlines.

Therefore, she hopes for a digital collaboration between the MENA countries and this idea is not only theoretical because Amel Saidane is also a member of the Digital Arabian Network, which is inviting the digital players of the region on board under the motto “Connect. Transform. Create.”.

We Mean It

Saidane’s aim for the future is to have new projects developed and to keep advising on the potential of the MENA region, in terms of technological innovation.

Her final message relaunches UNIDO’s tagline for the Promoting Women’s Empowerment campaign: “We mean it,” Saidane says, “Be serious about meaning it, because we seriously mean it.”

by Lucia Conti

Original Source : UNIDO Stories


The eTrade for all initiative has been further strengthened, with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Labour Organization joining the partnership.


COVID-19 has irreversibly changed the way we do things, showing the critical role of digital solutions that have kept businesses running and helped reduce the spread of the virus.

However, many developing countries are still struggling to make use of e-commerce and other digital tools.

At the same time, the momentum to ensure the digital economy becomes more inclusive is growing, championed by the eTrade for all initiative, which has just welcomed the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to its fold, increasing its membership to 32 organizations.

The partnership, marking its fourth anniversary this month, has become even more important in light of the pandemic as countries seek to foster new strategies for economic recovery.

E-commerce is expected to be at the vanguard of the recovery efforts as the world moves farther online.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat is delighted to join the eTrade for all community,” said chief of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Patricia Scotland.

“Without our collective efforts, there is a real risk that many individuals, businesses and even countries may be left behind by digitalization and excluded from participating effectively in the digital economy,” Ms. Scotland said.

She added: “By leveraging the strengths of multiple stakeholders, we can help ensure individuals, entrepreneurs and businesses across the world are empowered to harness the benefits of e-commerce for inclusive and sustainable development.”

The ILO is actively engaged in the debates on the digital economy and identifying knowledge gaps related to digital skills, working conditions and social protection.

“We’re excited to join the partnership and look forward to making an important contribution to it,” said Vic van Vuuren, director of enterprises at the ILO.

“E-commerce is a futuristic catalyst for economic growth, reducing the social deficit and caring for the planet whilst entrenching a decent work agenda,” he said.

Strong commitment, consolidating efforts

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi commended the partnership for its strong commitment to ensuring no one is left behind in the digital economy despite the vagaries of the global landscape.

“I’m delighted to witness the increasing number of eTrade for all partners in all of the initiative’s growing activities,” Dr. Kituyi said.

“To ensure no one is left behind in the digital economy, the international community needs to work more, not less, together,” he added.

The partnership has grown and deepened. In the past year, it reached a significant milestone, with two external evaluations held over the last few months lauding its sterling work in leveraging the expertise and resources of all partners working together.

The evaluations acknowledged that the partnership is making the digital economy more inclusive, thanks to its role as a transparent and efficient “global digital help desk”.

The first virtual eWeek 2020, held in April, to which many eTrade for all partners contributed, illustrated that, even with various lockdown measures and travel restrictions, it’s possible to hold global, multistakeholder development dialogues.

The event comprised a set of 14 online webinars and high-level policy dialogues that discussed, among others, how to leverage the contribution of e-commerce to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Solid and trusted catalyst for partnerships

The eTrade for all initiative has evolved into a solid, trusted, neutral and useful source of information and a potent catalyst for partnerships across the digital economy’s global landscape.

Through shared purpose, the partners have collaborated to connect the dots for gainful benefit from e-commerce and the digital economy in developing countries.

They have also generated widely acknowledged and critical programmes, such as the eTrade readiness assessments and the eTrade for Women initiative.

The partnership and its spin-off activities received funds in 2019 and 2020 from Australia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.

Learn more about the partnership’s impact and activities carried out in the past year in its Year in Review 2019-2020.


Masterclass seeks to empower and build the skills of women digital entrepreneurs in East Africa as well as explore opportunities amid the COVID-19 crisis.


Advocates from UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative are working hard to ensure women digital entrepreneurs in the developing world are building both the network and resilience they need to thrive in the digital economy now and in a post-coronavirus context.

The first virtual masterclass for East African women digital entrepreneurs, to be held from 8 to 10 July, is well timed to advance this cause.

It brings together women founders of digital businesses from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, reflecting the dynamism and variety of the digital landscape in the region.

The women share the drive to acquire new skills, make a positive impact in their communities and help them recover better from the economic blow of COVID-19.

While the pandemic is a human health and economic tragedy, it is also an accelerator for digital transformation and e-commerce.

“We need to use this moment to ensure women, especially those in the developing world, have a seat at the table and are able to harness the digital gains,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.

The e-commerce potential

Following the first two in-person masterclass sessions in North Macedonia and Côte d’Ivoire, the masterclass for East Africa seeks to tap into and build on the digital momentum in the region.

Like much of Africa, the region has low internet penetration. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2019 only 28% of Africans used the internet.

Of the total African population, 34% of those using the internet are men, while only  23% are women.

Online shoppers are also relatively few. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries where the share of online shoppers exceeds 8%. In most other countries, it is below 5%.

Internet subscriptions and smartphones are relatively costly, contributing to the low rates of e-commerce in the region. Other factors include weak and unsupportive policy and regulatory frameworks.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating digital transformation globally, the window of opportunity offered by e-commerce is widening.

Learning to thrive in times of crisis

The three-day event targets established women digital entrepreneurs from selected East African countries and includes networking, learning and policy engagement sessions.

It will be hosted by eTrade for Women advocate for anglophone Africa, Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda, CEO and co-founder of HeHe Limited, in conjunction with eTrade for all partners, thanks to support from the Netherlands.

Emphasizing the role of the digital economy in promoting development, Ms. Iribagiza said small businesses need technology to level up.

“Small businesses create lots of jobs and help solve local problems,” she said. “But they face many challenges such as high cost of production, lack of access to energy and poor infrastructure. Technology can help reduce their costs and enable them to operate more efficiently.”

Ms. Iribagiza said the masterclass would help women digital entrepreneurs better harness the benefits of the digital transformation of their economies and societies.

Tackling urgent business needs

The masterclass will tackle the entrepreneurs’ most urgent business needs, from designing a value proposition canvas to rebooting business post-COVID-19 and going from local to regional markets, offering them practical solutions for their businesses.

Experienced trainers will lead sessions tailored to help the entrepreneurs thrive in the digital economy while operating more resilient businesses in times of crisis.

In addition, the event is a unique opportunity to examine gender-related challenges and foster more inclusive policymaking.

It includes a high-level policy dialogue on creating a vibrant digital economy in times of COVID-19, which will feature case studies and best practices from some East African countries.

The session to be held on 10 July is open to the public and will be broadcast live.

The masterclass is one of the ways that UNCTAD is helping build communities of female digital entrepreneurs in developing countries, while advocating for an environment conducive to more inclusive digital policymaking.

The eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the Netherlands and Sweden in cooperation with eTrade for all partners.


Rwanda is renowned as a pioneer for gender equality. In 2020, it was the only African country ranked in the top 10 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. It ranked in the top four in the Report’s political empowerment category, in recognition of the high proportion of Rwandese women lawmakers and ministers.


The country therefore seemed a natural fit for a 2018 pilot program of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment initiative, with Nigeria, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

The Coding for Employment flagship program is establishing 130 ICT centers for excellence in Africa, training 234,000 youths for employability and entrepreneurship to create over 9 million jobs.

Hendrina C. Doroba, Manager in the Education, Human Capital and Employment Division at the Bank, explains how Rwanda is empowering women in technology.

How has the government of Rwanda enabled women to pursue careers in technology, and STEM in general?

The government of Rwanda has been a foremost champion of women in ICT and in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM), by driving initiatives like the establishment of the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa campus, for which the Bank provided funding. Students from 17 different countries pursue highly specialized ICT skills at the Africa campus.

The country also hosts the African Institute of Mathematics (AIMS) which is now recruiting balanced cohorts of women and men. Lastly, the Bank-funded University of Rwanda College of Science and Technology has for many years produced women leaders in the ICT sector in Rwanda and globally.

Rwanda’s government also supports initiatives such as the Miss Geek Rwanda competition, an initiative of Girls in ICT Rwanda, which aims to encourage school-age girls, even those in remote areas, to develop innovative tech or business ideas and to generally immerse themselves in ICT. The Miss Geek initiative has now been rolled out in other countries in the region.


What role has the Bank played in supporting Rwanda’s digital strategy, especially in relation to women?

The strategy of the Bank’s Coding for Employment center of excellence in Rwanda has been to join forces with the Rwanda Coding Academy through a grant agreement to support the school’s activities, like ICT equipment, teacher training and career orientation. The Rwanda Coding Academy started in January 2019 and has so far enrolled one cohort, which is now going into their second year.

Besides the Rwanda Coding Academy, the Bank’s Coding for Employment program held a two-day masterclass for girls and young women entrepreneurs at the 2018 Youth Conneckt summit, where over 200 beneficiaries were trained in using digital tools to amplify their businesses. The session was attended by women entrepreneurs as well as students from girl schools in Kigali, including those from White Dove School, which is an all-girl school fully dedicated to training in ICT. The masterclass culminated into a pitching exercises from various groups who presented their ideas to a panel of judges.

What lessons can other African countries learn from Rwanda’s approach to the 4IR, in particular the role of women?

The government of Rwanda has been a trailblazer in using innovation to improve public services across the country using the e-governance platform Irembo, to bring government services closer to citizens. In addition, the government is driving national digital skilling campaigns by championing digital ambassador programs and platforms such as Smart Africa, which has organized the annual Transform Africa summit since 2013.

Still, gender equality remains a concern, and gender gaps are evident even in schools. Rwanda’s ambitions extend to piloting the Kigali Innovation City, also Bank-funded, to serve as the country’s knowledge and innovation hub by attracting new businesses and incubating ideas. At the same time, the country has created a business environment which is pro-entrepreneurship and welcomes global inventors to test their ideas and concepts. Zipline, a company which uses drones to deliver medical supplies in remote areas, is one example.

Lastly, Rwanda promotes women leaders in the ICT and innovation sector. The country’s Minister of ICT and Innovation is a woman, as is the CEO of the Irembo platform. Appointments such as these are helping to dispel the myth that women are not as capable as men in ICT.

Original Source : African Development Bank Group News


Why did we have to wait for a pandemic of this magnitude to realize that digital access should be universal? Why do people tend to assume that tech is gender neutral? These are some of the questions asked at a recent World Bank Live event cohosted by the World Bank Digital Development Global Practice and CES, the global stage for innovation, in the context of a Global Tech Challenge cosponsored by both organizations.

“I can’t think of a better cause than contributing to close the digital gender divide. This is particularly the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, when digital technologies have become our lifeline. The crisis may in fact reinforce the digital gender divide, including through its impact on girls’ education. Now is the time to do something about it,” said Boutheina Guermazi, director of Digital Development at the World Bank, who gave the opening remarks. At 51% (versus 67% in 2017), South Asia still holds the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s widest gender gap, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, at 37%. Why should we be worried? The answer is simple: the digital divide could increasingly prevent women from accessing life-enhancing services for education, health, and financial inclusion in a world that has become virtual overnight.

Ellen Savage, Vice President of Membership, for the Consumer Technology Association, the trade association representing the U.S. consumer technology industry and host of CES, shared her excitement to see the tech and development community join forces as part of a Global Tech Challenge which calls on the tech community to help tackle gender inequality through access to digital technology.

Amrote Abdella, regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika and Regina Honu, a software entrepreneur from Ghana and founder of Soronko Academy, the first coding and human-centered design school in West Africa, both insisted on the importance to encourage girls to pursue STEM as a career while continuing to challenge gender norms.  “You can’t have women in tech if you don’t have girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), said Abdella, “which is why it’s so important to promote STEM within the education system.” Regina Honu shared that her entrepreneurial journey started with a lot of self-doubt but pointed out that she was able to take an innovative idea and impact millions of people just with a click of a button. “Tech is the new superpower,” she said. But women and girls need extra attention. For instance, during the pandemic, Honu realized that some of the girls who were attending her digital skills program couldn’t spend as much time online because they had to help with household chores. “We had to find innovative ways to spread content via WhatsApp and ways to keep mentoring them,” she said.  “We have to keep the momentum going. This is not a one-time engagement. This is a lifetime commitment,” she added.

Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), and longtime advocate of gender equality in development, gave a passionate plea for bridging the digital gender gap. “Did we really need COVID-19 to show the world that digital inequality was the reality that we live in? I don’t think we need COVID-19 for that. But because we have it, we need to make the best of it,” she said. “What this crisis shows is that if you call something a crisis, people start mobilizing and acting. Why don’t we do that on an ongoing basis? How can we ask governments from Panama to Uganda to South Africa to not only implement policy actions that will bring connectivity to women because there is a crisis but have them realize that addressing the real needs of women and girls in their countries should be part of their day-to-day policymaking?,” she asked.

Now should have been yesterday. It’s time to mobilize.

Original Source : World Bank News


How women entrepreneurs are availing the opportunity to go on-line for doing business in the COVID-19 era

Shifting to e-commerce is now crucial for many small and medium businesses. But making online sales requires more than just a website. It is vital to invest in digital marketing to draw significant customer traffic.

For women entrepreneurs, it has become a question of survival.

As small and medium-sized companies find themselves looking for innovative ways to keep their business alive during these tricky times, women entrepreneurs, in particular, have been hit hard economically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that there are solutions. It’s just a matter of timely and effective adoption.

A remarkable example is being set in Central America with support from the International Trade Centre. To make the purchase of virtual products closer to the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, Central American women entrepreneurs are using high quality material and embracing technologies that augment product reality. They are developing new products, optimising their online shops and launching social media campaigns to keep their business alive to increase their customer base.

During the last few months, some of these businesses have received more than 170 online orders through their own web shops, Etsy or eBay stores from customers in Europe, USA, Puerto Rico, Canada, Russia and Australia.

Securing raw materials and supplies at a time when their traditional sources are at risk of disruption is equally important.

In addition, to help Central American businesses keep up their production during the pandemic, the International Trade Centre (ITC) together with the Secretaria de Integración Economica Centroamericana (SIECA)  organised a week of virtual business-to-business meetings.

Held late last month, these meetings connected over 150 suppliers of raw materials and handicraft businesses through the Red Centroamericana de Comercio (RCAC). More than 60 women craft businesses identified new sources of supply and gained insight into the input offerings in the region. The suppliers were able to display their products and services via the online platform. More than 300 virtual business meetings took place.

A similar event will be organized at the end of the year for an online sale of finished products.

The international Trade Centre is supporting women craft businesses in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama to increase their presence online.

Central American women craft businesses are also receiving remote support through e-commerce community engagement platform developed by the ITC e‑commerce programme “ecomConnect” where they are connected with e-commerce experts and e-commerce businesses, access free e-commerce learning resources and stay up to date with the latest tech news.

The initiative is part of the EU-funded project, Linking Central American Women-Owned Businesses with the Global Gifts and Home Decoration Market which is implemented by ITC in collaboration with SIECA and local partner institutions.

Original Source : ITC News



In today’s ultra-connected world, the fact that the mobile gender gap has significantly narrowed is welcome news. Recent research by GSMA shows that in low-and-middle countries, women are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men,  down from 27% three years earlier, a reduction driven primarily by a significant improvement in South Asia. While this is cause for celebration, we have way more work to do in order to close the gender gap. This is particularly the case during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), when digital technologies have become our lifeline. The crisis may in fact reinforce the digital gender divide, including through its impact on girls’ education. Now is the time to do something about it.


Three hundred million fewer women than men in low-and middle-income countries have access to mobile internet. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of the United States. At 51% (versus 67% in 2017), South Asia still holds the unfortunate distinction of having the world’s widest gender gap, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, at 37%. Why should we be worried? The digital divide could increasingly prevent women from accessing life-enhancing services for education, health, and financial inclusion in a world that has become virtual overnight.

As the digital transformation affects economies and changes the nature of work, strategies to make sure technology becomes a great equalizer—rather than a divider—are essential.

Continue reading on World Bank Blogs


Digital platforms have been the hidden hero of the COVID-19 crisis.


Global networks are being taxed to the limit. Operators and platforms are reporting huge surges in traffic, as the world transitioned almost overnight to online working, schooling, shopping and socializing.

Some providers are reporting demand spikes as high as 800% – surge levels that would have surely quickly knocked out other kinds of infrastructure.

We understood that digital resources were going to be absolutely critical in this global health emergency, and we moved quickly to set up our REG4COVID platform to serve as a repository of emergency actions that the digital community around the world is taking to ensure the continued availability, accessibility and resilience of networks and resources.

The list of actions and initiatives is impressive – and it continues to grow.

Here are just some of the latest examples:

  • An emergency session of the UN Broadband Commission announced three-pillared Agenda for Action for governments and the digital community to support not just first-response efforts, but the rebuilding of the global economy, post-crisis, focusing on access, resilience and online safety.
  • The World Bank, GSMA, the World Economic Forum and ITU launched a 5-point Action Plan to leverage digital technologies and infrastructure to support citizens, governments and businesses; stressing the need for bandwidth, accessible connectivity, digital financial services, online trust and safety, and big data.
  • We also found ways to tap into the 2G market by partnering with WHO, UNICEF and global operators to deliver accurate and timely health messaging via mobiles to the estimated two billion people who still rely on a 2G connection.

With 1.5 billion children now out of school, we’re working to accelerate our efforts with UNICEF and governments to expand our GIGA partnership to connect every school, with the aim of also making schools into community hubs for the delivery of vital services.

Continue reading : ITU News


Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya and member of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community, shares how the business has adapted to the coronavirus crisis, bouncing back stronger from the shock


“My first thought was, ‘How will we survive?’” says Youma Dieng Fall, co-founder of PayDunya, an e-payment solution company based in Dakar, Senegal.


The date was 23 March and the country’s president, Macky Sall, had just declared a nationwide state of emergency to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus in the west African country.

Within a week, 70% of the company’s clients had ceased their business activities.


“As a startup in a fast-moving, competitive market, we had overcome many challenges,” she says, “but nothing prepares you for something like this.”


Since opening in 2016, PayDunya had enjoyed steady growth. The company’s employees increased from zero to more than 50 in less than four years, and its portfolio of clients spread beyond Senegal’s borders, into Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.

But many clients were in the tourism industry – one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic – and no longer required the company’s web and mobile payment solutions.

Youma Fall
Ms. Fall at the UNCTAD masterclass in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire


“I had never imagined such a scenario,” she says. “It was like watching a movie. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”


New doors open

Just as some doors closed, others began to open as social distancing and heightened concerns over hygiene restricted cash transactions and pushed more business operations online.


“We started receiving phone calls from businesses desperately in need of digital payment solutions,” she says. Many were from new sectors, such as agribusinesses and pharmacies. Others had been wary before.


In recent weeks, the company has picked up a record number of new clients. Ms. Fall and her team are helping west African businesses limit financial loss from the crisis and advance financial inclusion in a region where more people have mobile money accounts than bank accounts.


“Our goal is to simplify the digitalization of sales, payments and management for all African companies regardless of size or field of activity,” she says, “knowing that they are all operating on a continent were more than 60% of the population is unbanked.”


The company has not only faced major business challenges but has also had to overcome the difficulties of confinement and telecommuting – a new way of working for most employees.


“Working from home isn’t common in Dakar or other areas where we operate,” she says, adding that the company is providing internet credit on employees’ work phones to help ensure they have a reliable connection outside the office.


Lessons from the crisis

PayDunya’s experience offers lessons that could help businesses in the region mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic, which could cost Africa about 20 million jobs, according to a study by the African Union.


“The crisis is creating many challenges but also opportunities for those who can work digitally,” Ms. Fall says.


When the crisis hit, PayDunya quickly put in place measures to ensure business continuity and staff safety.

Youma’s Tips

  • Strengthen hygiene measures
  • Prioritize teleworking
  • Be a compassionate leader
  • Step up client support

Besides applying the hygiene measures recommended by the World Health Organization, the company limited exposure at work by having all employees shift to teleworking and stopped face-to-face sales meetings, unless absolutely necessary.


“We also prescribed for all employees a number of health measures to observe while working at home or for when they absolutely must meet with clients in person,” Ms. Fall says.


Importantly, she says, the management team took such decisions proactively, before the government’s measures, allowing PayDunya time to test teleworking before the country was put in partial lockdown.

Ms. Fall adds that in a remote working scenario, discipline and leadership become even more essential as team members juggle work with new responsibilities at home and cope with isolation.


“There’s now no one around to see what you’re doing,” she says. “And managers can’t rely on spontaneous discussions or office visits to check on their team.”


She recommends holding daily calls and debriefs to make sure everyone understands the priorities and tasks a hand, and to quickly identify potential setbacks.

It also helps keep team morale up and allows managers to make sure staff are adjusting, professionally and personally.

Ms. Fall says PayDunya knows it must take care of its employees if they are going to in turn watch after the clients during these difficult times.


“We strive for our clients, especially in times of crisis,” she says. “We’ve established a financial and logistical support plan for those most affected.”


eTrade for Women community

Ms. Fall is part of UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women community in Francophone Africa.

She participated in the masterclass held in Abidjan in February, which allowed her to build new business relationships with other women digital entrepreneurs across the region, such as Elodie Atekossode from Benin, whose software development company has since agreed on a revenue sharing arrangement with PayDunya.

The UNCTAD eTrade for Women initiative aims to harness the promise of digital technologies and the power of female entrepreneurship to accelerate wealth creation and poverty reduction in developing countries. It’s part of the eTrade for All initiative and supported by the Netherlands.



Today is global Girls in ICT Day – and as the world continues to face the COVID-19 global health emergency, it is more important now than ever.

At a time when schools, offices and places of social activity are closed around the world, technology is helping us communicate, work, learn.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights exactly why girls and women need to be empowered to use technology.

There is a substantial divide between women and men and between girls and boys in Internet access and use today. In 2019, ​the proportion of women using the Internet globally is 48 per cent, compared to 58 per cent of men.

When women and girls have access to the Internet, they have the opportunity to start new businesses, sell products to new markets, find better-paid jobs and access education as well as health and financial services. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this takes on new importance: If women do not have access to the Internet, they are unable to access vital health information, along with education and employment.

That is why we believe that every day is Girls in ICT Day.

International Girls in ICT Day is an ITU initiative and global movement to promote the exciting career opportunities waiting for girls and young women in the tech sector. Since 2011, more than 362,000 girls and young women have taken part in more than 11,000 celebrations in 171 countries worldwide.

This year is no different. Because we cannot celebrate Girls in ICT Day 2020 in person, virtual celebrations are taking place all over the world to encourage and empower girls and young women in tech.

People around the world are getting creative on TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, with engaging messaging, images, videos and more. They are connecting on Zoom, Skype, Jabber, Facetime, Houseparty and other collaboration platforms to connect remotely to discuss effective strategies to bridge the digital gender divide and get more girls into tech.

The 24-hour World Tour of Girls in ICT Day Celebrations highlight some of these events from Spain to Mali, Belarus, Jamaica, Mexico, and beyond!

EQUALS will host a Twitter chat focusing on ‘Digital Superheroes’ who serve as role models and build programs to help girls follow their tech dreams. Watch live on the @EQUALS Twitter feed from 15:30 – 16:30 CEST on 23 April 2020, and participate using the hashtags #GenderTechImpact and #GirlsinICT.

In the meantime, let’s work to Make Every Day a Girls in ICT Day!

(It is important to note that while technology and specifically the Internet can provide many benefits and endless supply of knowledge and information, it may pose many risks and harm, especially where children are concerned. That is why ITU and COP partners have created Guidelines for Child Online Protection (COP), for a safer and more secure cyber world.)

Original Source : ITU News


The coronavirus speeds up the transition to a digital economy while exposing the digital gap between countries and societies.

The global crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed us further into a digital world, and changes in behaviour are likely to have lasting effects when the economy starts to pick up. But not everyone is ready to embrace a more digitized existence.

new analysis from UNCTAD maps the changing digital landscape since the last major global calamity, the 2008/09 financial crisis. It looks at how a digitally enabled world is working for some, but not all equally.

According to the analysis, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the uptake of digital solutions, tools, and services, speeding up the global transition towards a digital economy.

However, it has also exposed the wide chasm between the connected and the unconnected, revealing just how far behind many are on digital uptake.

“Inequalities in digital readiness hamper the ability of large parts of the world to take advantage of technologies that help us cope with the coronavirus pandemic by staying at home,” said UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director, Shamika Sirimanne.

“This situation has significant development implications that cannot be ignored. We need to ensure that we do not leave those who are less digitally equipped even further behind in a post-coronavirus world.”



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete article at


The use of technology and digital trade has great potential in helping women start businesses and increase incomes – and then GDP follows. However, in 2019, only 13.9% of women in LDCs have access to the internet, compared to 87.6% of men and 86% of women in developed countries. How do we make sure that women in LDCs are not left behind amid the current tech revolution?

Read this piece by Deanna Ramsay on what we need to know and need to do –



Written By Deanna Ramsay, EIF

In Uganda, a businesswoman is using Pinterest to keep track of trends in the U.S. and Europe for her basket designs. In Comoros, a perfumer promotes her locally sourced and scented beauty products on Facebook, trying to garner buyers. And in the Solomon Islands, one family’s remote beach bungalows can now be reserved online.

Yes, the internet now allows — some of — us to digitally crisscross the globe. But information about the ways we use digital tools, and about who is benefitting from them and who is not, remains elusive for many parts of the world and for many segments of the population, even with all of our innovations.

Take the examples above of women who hail from what the United Nations identifies as least developed countries, or LDCs, because of the structural impediments to development and low incomes. These women’s entrepreneurial efforts are notable, but knowing of one, two, or three standouts isn’t enough.

Source : EIF News Release
Orginally published on DEVEX Global Views | Focus on: Gender data



200 women led-businesses, 6 countries in Central America, 1 goal: Increase the global impact of Central American businesses through online sales.

Our hashtagEcommerce project in Central America links women-led businesses in the handicraft sector with the international markets, using online channels. We work closely with these female entrepreneurs to provide encouragement, support and guidance – helping them globalize their businesses and share their beautiful, handmade products with the rest of the world.

To find out more, follow the project here:

Source : ITC LinkedIn


‘Generation Equality’. It’s the theme – and dream – of this year’s International Women’s Day. We’ve come a long way since the UN’s landmark Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. And yet, a full quarter of a century on, not one single nation can be said to have achieved true gender equality. And in many of the world’s developing countries, women’s fundamental circumstances have changed very little.


As we approach the Beijing +25 milestone, I believe digital technologies represent the most powerful opportunity humanity has ever had to finally overturn the many barriers to women’s social and economic inclusion.

But to leverage the power of that technology, we need three things. We need to ensure that women have access to digital devices and platforms. We need to ensure that they are empowered with the digital skills to use that technology to improve their lives. And we need to ensure that they have the chance to share equally in employment and leadership opportunities in the world’s fastest-growing sector.

These three pillars of women’s digital empowerment are the foundation of EQUALS, the global partnership dedicated to promoting digital gender equality founded by ITU and its partners ITC, UN Women, the GSMA and the UN University. The EQUALS movement now spans over 100 governments, private sector players, NGOs and universities, all committed to promoting technology as the vital catalyst for a gender-equitable world.

Read the complete article at ITU News



UNCTAD eTrade for Women initiative’s first masterclass in Africa equips entrepreneurs to reap more benefits from the digital economy.

Christelle Assirou, a serial entrepreneur from Côte d’Ivoire, is revolutionizing e-commerce in her country and beyond.

Ms. Assirou runs a business development and digital services firm, ICTINA, founded in 2015. An activist for the empowerment of women in the digital economy, last year she was named by UNESCO as one of the most remarkable women in technology.

Building on her success, Ms. Assirou has joined efforts to help women entrepreneurs in francophone Africa build the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the digital economy.

She is among 19 participants in UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative’s first masterclass in Africa taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from 26 to 28 February.

She has contributed to the development of Côte d’Ivoire’s internet and digital ecosystem as one of the pioneers of the promotion of free and open-source technologies in the country and francophone Africa.

“The masterclass will help us promote gender-inclusive wealth creation by involving more women in the digital economy,” Ms. Assirou said.


Rural banking made easy with the Mama Bank Access Points.

Difficult geographies, a lack of physical infrastructure and limited technological skills are major reasons as to why people in Papua New Guinea are still underserved and underbanked. Only about 37% of the population has access to financial services.

Supply and access coupled with confidence and trust issues and the lack of disposable income to save have also been a hindrance to financial inclusion.

The Women’s Microbank Limited (WMBL), set up five years ago, is faced with these challenges every day. Issues such as how to increase trust in financial institutions and how to design a product that people with even limited disposable income can use?

With support from the UN’s Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) a solution was designed to boost access and usage of financial services for customers of WMBL; primarily women living in rural areas in Papua New Guinea.

Click here to read the complete article from UNCDF News


Partnership will help women reap greater benefits from increased participation in value chains and expand reach of ITC’s SheTrades initiative.

The International Trade Centre (ITC) and The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) today announced they are teaming up to boost the livelihoods of women farmers in West Africa.

A new project, ‘SheTrades West Africa: Improving Women’s Livelihoods Through Inclusive Value Chains’, will initially focus on supporting 10,000 women in the cashew sector in Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, shea butter in Guinea and cassava in Liberia. KOICA’s contribution of US$5.54m allows ITC to establish new operations in West Africa under ITC’s SheTrades Initiative. Globally, the goal of the SheTrades Initiative is to connect 3 million women entrepreneurs to markets by 2021.

Using cash crops as an entry point, the project will deploy diverse and integrated farming and livelihoods strategies to enable poor rural households to better manage risk, ensure food security and increase the quality of produce going to market.

To ensure impact across the region, ITC will be working directly with women farmers, but also in partnership with local and regional small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), cooperatives, farmers’ associations, and trade and investment support institutions. Crucial to the project’s success will be, in collaboration with the governments of the four countries, the creation of a more supportive business and policy environment that caters better to women farmers and women-owned SMEs.

ITC Executive Director Arancha González said: ‘At ITC, we are pleased to join forces with KOICA to ensure greater economic opportunities for women in West Africa. Through this new project, we look forward to empowering more women to trade and connect them with global value chains.’

Jiyoon KIM, KOICA Director-General for Multilateral Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance, said: ‘On behalf of KOICA, I would like to congratulate on the initiation of the SheTrades West Africa project in a close cooperation between KOICA and ITC. I believe that this project can improve women’s livelihoods in four countries by supporting to create more inclusive value chains. Also I am looking forward to strengthening our partnership between KOICA and ITC through this first collaborative project.’

A lack of opportunities for women in Africa’s agricultural sector is limiting productivity, trade performance and economic growth. While women in West African countries make up a majority of the agricultural labour force, they often have less control over and access to productive resources, as well as over their own incomes.

The four countries selected for the project – Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – all rank in the bottom 10% of the Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme. Poverty rates hovers above 45% and they face significant food-security risks. Rural population, above all women, are particularly vulnerable.

Through SheTrades West Africa, ITC and KOICA will address the economic and social barriers facing women across the region. Women participating in the project will receive technical training, to help them increase the value of their products and create new market linkages. The project will also seek to establish a more inclusive policy environment and develop a supportive ecosystem for women farmers and SMEs.





Call for papers on Multinational firms and gender equality!

Transnational Corporations is a longstanding policy-oriented refereed research journal on issues related to investment, multinational enterprises and development. It is an official journal of the United Nations, managed by UNCTAD. As such it has a global reach, a strong development policy imprint, and high potential for impact beyond the scholarly community.

Transnational Corporations aims thus to provide a bridge between academia and the policymaking community. It welcomes contributions from the academic community, policymakers, research institutes, international organisations, and others.

The journal provides a unique venue for authors’ research to contribute to, and impact on, regional, national and international policymaking processes.

More information on the Journal here.

A special issue of UNCTAD’s Transnational Corporations Journal  will focus on the role of multinational firms in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality across the world.


Please submit here: