Experts have said that digital women entrepreneurs in the developing countries of the world need ‘’network and resilience’’ to thrive in a digital economy, and in a post-COVID-19 context.
To this end, advocates from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) eTrade for women initiative are working hard to ensure that happens.
The first virtual masterclass for East African women digital entrepreneurs, which was held from July 8-10, was well-timed to advance this cause.
It brought 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 shared 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.
UNCTAD’s Technology and Logistics Director, Shamika N. Sirimanne, says “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.”
The e-commerce potential
Following the first two in-person masterclass sessions in North Macedonia and Cote 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.
The three-day event targeted established women digital entrepreneurs from selected East African countries and includes networking, learning and policy engagement sessions.
It was 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 held on July 10 was open to the public and was broadcasted 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.