A game-changer advocating for gender-inclusive digital ecosystems

Woman digital entrepreneur from Côte D’Ivoire makes a mark by helping more women benefit from the digital economy and making their voices heard in policy circles.


Patricia Zoundi Yao, a digital entrepreneur from Côte d’Ivoire, became an UNCTAD eTrade for women advocate in 2019.

Assuming this role marked the beginning of a journey that has allowed her to inspire and support the next generation of women digital entrepreneurs across francophone Africa and beyond, and to take a seat at the policy table to voice women’s concerns in the digital economy.

Ms. Yao and other advocates work with the UNCTAD-led eTrade for Women initiative to build a more inclusive digital economy by empowering women entrepreneurs in developing countries.

A game-changer

Ms. Yao is a game-changer in a country where only 22.2% of senior and middle management positions and only 11.4% of the parliamentary seats are held by women.

She founded Quick Cash, which takes fintech to rural areas and allows farmers and workers in the informal sector to make money transfers.

She also started Canaan Land, a social enterprise that provides farmers, especially women, with access to land and trains them on sustainable farming techniques. The company supports about 400 farmers across Côte d’Ivoire, 86% of whom are women.

Sitting at the policy table

As an advocate, Ms. Yao contributes to more gender-inclusive digital ecosystems.

“Ms. Yao’s trajectory is a testimony of the positive impact that women leaders can have  and how the United Nations can provide a platform for business leaders like her to influence policymaking,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

Ms. Yao has participated in consultations led by the Ivorian government on trade and the digital economy, such as those on the eTrade Readiness Assessment prepared by UNCTAD and the eTrade for all partners.

She has also established relationships with policymakers in the region, earning a new perspective on the importance of the collaboration between public and private sectors.

“Often, policymakers aim at helping businesses, but they don’t have easy access to businesspeople who can inform them about the challenges private companies face and how to make their decisions more effective,” Ms. Yao said.

Her appointment as an advocate is a recognition of the work she has done for years as a woman entrepreneur. “It was a sign of confidence and trust. As a result, decision-makers started paying more attention to what I had to say,” Ms. Yao said.

Voicing concerns of small digital enterprises

As an advocate, she has voiced the concerns of digital small and medium enterprises (SMEs) regarding the regulation of consumer protection and the use of personal data.

“This was a very technical topic. But by having access to legislative texts, I was able to learn and make relevant contributions on how such measures would impact SMEs,” Ms. Yao said.

She sought to ensure the legal measures wouldn’t be too constraining for SMEs.

Capitalizing on a unique network

Ms. Yao said the role has allowed her to tap into the network of other advocates, who are inspiring women digital entrepreneurs, and learn how she could replicate their successes in her own region.

“I understand now that I am in a position to influence decision-making processes and positively impact the digital ecosystem of my country,” she said.

By accessing unique global platforms at the UN or corporate level, she also realized the advocates can help change the narrative on women’s concerns and promote more gender-oriented policies and frameworks.

One milestone was hosting a regional masterclass in February 2020, when she shared her knowledge with women digital entrepreneurs in francophone Africa.

She said interacting with peers and younger entrepreneurs is eye-opening and reinforces her desire to be a role model for others. She usually advises them to take risks, dream big and be willing to transform their societies.

Looking ahead

After over two years as an advocate, Ms. Yao’s mandate will end in May 2022. But her journey to champion digitalization as a source of inclusive growth will not stop.

She’ll join the Advisory Board of the eTrade for Women initiative, as she remains committed to making an impact by creating awareness about the potential of digitalization and amplifying women’s voice in policymaking.

Ms. Yao was recently elected president of the Executive Council of the Small and Medium Businesses Movement of Côte d’Ivoire, which represents over 2,500 SMEs in 25 sectors. She’s the first woman to hold this position in the organization’s 40 years of existence.

She’s also the Innovation Ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire, another opportunity to make a difference. “I feel like doing more to impact more people and remain an agent for change in favor of the digitalization of the region, and to level the playing field for women,” she said.

UNCTAD will announce the next cohort of advocates in May 2022. The eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

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