By Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General, UNCTAD
Technology has changed our lives, and to a greater degree during the current pandemic, but the gap between the connected and the unconnected has grown even wider. A gap that is an even greater obstacle for the potential development of women entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, and even more so for women operating in the male-dominated digital sector. Cultural gender biases, lack of representation or unequal access to funding, are common challenges faced by women digital entrepreneurs. Addressing these gaps would help unlock the potential of digitalization for women and contribute to reducing gender inequalities.
Difficult for them to succeed, yes, but not impossible!
How are a small group of influential women leaders in various regions of the world, the eTrade for Women Advocates, contributing to this effort?
I invite you to listen to the six advocates in the video, leaders in the digital sector representing different region of the world, and you will realize what it means, how powerful, committed and persuasive they are.
They act as role models for the current and next generation, they change the narrative about women digital entrepreneurship, they send a powerful message to policymaker at all levels. Indeed, business leaders and pioneers, women digital entrepreneurs are in the “front seat” of the digital transformation of their countries and markets. Their perception of the changes that are taking place, and of the issues at stake is critical. If we hear what they say and provide the support they need, they can help us, the international community and policymakers, put a finger on what does work and what does not work for women entrepreneurs, what can be done to unlock their potential and how to shape more supportive policy and legal environments.
Only by working with them will we be able to build stronger and more inclusive economies.
The most recent regional masterclass that the eTrade for Women, a network built by UNCTAD, organized took place – virtually, of course – for Latin America and the Caribbean, animated by Pierangela Sierra, who started Tipti, the fastest growing e-commerce company in Ecuador. I would like to thank her for the valuable work she did for the masterclass and congratulate her business success.
Pierangela’s Tipti Market is an e-commerce marketplace which sells supermarket and fresh food products through digital channels (mobile applications and website) with home delivery. Its mission is to give people more time for their families and for themselves (the name “Tipti” is a pun around “Tiempos para ti” or “more time for yourself”), while ensuring purchase and delivery of produce. How does it work? The list of groceries and household items can be ordered online. Tipti receives the order and sends it to its network of "shoppers", who select and buy and deliver the products. Tipti is present in Ecuador and Panama. Since its creation in 2017, the company has been striving to use digital tools and Artificial Intelligence to innovate and provide an individualized service to its clients. The company puts a lot of focus on its "shoppers" who are trained to select high-quality fresh products. While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated its growth, during the lockdowns the company was also able to provide targeted services to the community, for instance by developing a delivery service to the elderly who were not connected online.
As an advocate, Pierangela took an active role in both preparing and delivering the masterclass: she helped build the masterclass programme to select the most relevant topics and mobilized her network to identify relevant speakers, including top entrepreneurs and policymakers. She was present throughout the masterclass and lead a learning session on “Consumers as a means of communication”. She also engaged in an interactive inspirational session with participants, where she shared powerful learnings about her entrepreneurial journey and she represented the business perspective, through the gender lens, in the customary policy dialogues that is organized in the context of the masterclass.
The virtual masterclass was organized as a three half-day online journey combining a set of training, peer-learning and inspirational sessions as well as a policy dialogue.
- The learning sessions were designed to allow women entrepreneurs to strengthen their skills to leverage digital solutions for their businesses. Presentations looked at recent trends in the digital sector in the region and reviewed concrete tools to adapt participants’ business practices in order to meet changing customer demands, gain visibility, generate additional revenue, and become more competitive in their markets in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Inspirational sessions were designed to help participants build confidence and learn from seasoned women actors of the digital economy. Speakers shared their experience and advice on how to develop the right strategies to cope with some of the key challenges they have faced as entrepreneurs, such as limited access to assets and capital, or managing work responsibilities and family duties. Networking and peer-learning sessions allowed to continue the conversation in small groups.
- The policy dialogue was designed to help participants better understand how the policy and regulatory environment affecting e-commerce can help build a more inclusive digital economy in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as how small and digital SMEs can play a key role in the recovery. The policy dialogue also offered a platform where women entrepreneurs had the opportunity to interact with policymakers and representatives from international organizations, in order to emerge as a credible voice in the policy debate.
A masterclass is not a lecture. It requires the full commitment of each participant. Out of a total of more than 110 applicants, 14 women digital entrepreneurs based in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Perú were selected.
They discussed, exchanged tools, analyzed good and bad experiences, failures and success, various markets characteristics, ways to improve their access to finance, business models of digital market, work life balance, marketing, scaling up, audacity and support that they need.
While the masterclass is a one-off event, we engage with the advocate and the participants afterwards – actually the masterclass is just the beginning. After completing a masterclass, participants are invited to join the eTrade for Women Communities the regional networks of women digital entrepreneurs managed by the initiative. During the masterclass, the eTrade for Women team presents the mission and vision of the communities and introduces some of the upcoming activities planned for participants to continue benefiting from extended support and networking opportunities – with the support of the advocate.
The advocates support the mission and the vision of eTrade for all in different ways, including through attending high-level speaking engagements where they can call for more inclusive digital policymaking and in actively rolling out activities in their respective regions.
advocates are also invited to join the eTrade for Women Advisory Board at the end of their tenure so as to continue building the initiative and influence the next course of action based on real needs and trends.