Online shops help entrepreneurs with disabilities meet COVID challenges

As COVID-19 reshapes the world of work, ILO is helping vulnerable people in Indonesia to stay competitive and improve their livelihoods.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (ILO News) – Sitting at her laptop, Laura Lesmana Wijaya is busy building her first online shop. The portal will be used to promote and sell household products made by local blind and deaf people.

Until now the embroidered cooking gloves, tablecloths, and doormats produced by these workers have been sold through bazaars and exhibitions, but Wijaya has greater ambitions. “Having an online shop can boost the sales of these products through online marketing and transactions and, in turn, improve the livelihoods of its members,” she said.

Using digital applications is not new for Laura. She specialises in training deaf teachers to teach sign language to those who can hear, and is familiar with a variety of online applications.

The 29-year-old, who is herself deaf, was one of 19 people with disabilities selected to take part in ILO training programmes on creating online shop applications and online shop administration. The sessions covered key skills including online store design, platforms, databases, transaction and customer management, inventory and sales administration as well as digital marketing. Coaching by business mentors and technical advice from programmers was also available. Wijaya participated in the training on creating online shop applications.

The aim was to improve incomes and create more sustainable livelihoods in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the virus has made the training even more relevant due to many businesses being forced to close their physical locations.

In total, 624 people from throughout Indonesia joined the online training that took place in six batches from May to August 2020. As well as the group with disabilities, the trainees included business owners and laid-off workers. 58 percent of participants were women.

The programmes were offered as part of the ILO’s Women in STEM Project , which aims to help women gain quality employment and support their career advancement, particularly related to information technology. They were delivered in partnership with the Indonesian Retail Association (APRINDO).

ILO research has found that women workers have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, both in their paid work and in the additional care responsibilities they have had to take on.

“Women are more vulnerable to lose their jobs compared to men as they are employed in the worst affected sectors such as accommodation, food, sales and manufacturing,” said Navitri Putri Guillaume, the ILO’s Project Officer for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “While both women and men have lost their income, we prioritize assistance to women as they are more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 outbreak.”

Laura agrees that women – particularly those with an added hurdle created by disabilities – can be particularly vulnerable to changes created by new technology. She sees the training as a chance to update and upgrade her skills and improve her chances of staying competitive as COVID-19 reshapes the world of work.

“One of the reasons I joined the training is to show that women, including women with disabilities, are adaptive to the changes. If we are given a chance, we can also improve our digital skills,” Laura said.

The Women in STEM Workforce Readiness and Development Programme (2017-2020) funded by the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation seeks to provide women in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines with critical soft and technical STEM-related skills, employability and leadership training.

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