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Report Synthesis: "Empowering Women Entrepreneurs through Information and Communication Technology"

Report Synthesis: "Empowering Women Entrepreneurs through Information and Communication Technology"

Thanks to Alisa Niakhai for creating this wonderful report synthesis.


Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are emerging as increasingly valuable business tools for women entrepreneurs in developing countries. Making sure that women entrepreneurs are equipped to make productive use of such technologies is important from the perspective of achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 on Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and MDG 8 on a Global Partnership for Development to make available the benefits of ICTs.

The rapidly changing ICT landscape, the influx of new innovations, infrastructure challenges and their interface with persisting age-long barriers relating to socio-cultural norms, and institutional, systemic and legal gender inequalities which have impeded women’s potential to start and grow their businesses is a complex terrain. Compounded by the scarcity of data on women’s entrepreneurship and ICTs, gaining a clear picture of the status of women entrepreneurs and their use of ICTs is often difficult for policymaking purposes.

For this reason, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) partnered to develop, for the first time, a framework for the assessment of women’s entrepreneurship development (WED) that systematically integrates the ICT dimension. The framework and methodology, which were launched in 2013, strives to fill a void for WED practitioners and policymakers – including development agencies, government ministries, SME partners and the donor community – interested in formulating more effective policies in this area.

Click to download full report

Click to download full report

A. Introduction:

Intended as an executive summary of a comprehensive UNCTAD Guide, this brief seeks to improve reader’s general understanding of ICT’s role in promotion of women’s entrepreneurship and introduce practical assessment techniques. Specifically, it presents an overview of Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Framework (further referred to as the Framework), its main components and functionalities. For readers interested in diving deeper into these issues, the UNCTAD Guide on Empowering Women Entrepreneurs through ICT would serve as a wonderful source of detailed information. It is available online free of charge: http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/dtlstict2013d2_en.pdf

B. What is the Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Framework (WED)?

The Framework was developed by UNCTAD in partnership with the ILO to illuminate some underlying ICT dynamics that are of relevance for women's entrepreneurship; and to set out a method for the assessment of women’s entrepreneurship development.

The Framework is comprised of six key areas or conditions for appraising the extent to which a policy environment favourable for women entrepreneurs exists in a particular country. Each of the conditions systematically integrates the ICT dimension. This systematic tool will be of value to evaluation and policy practitioners, allowing them to identify gaps and challenges in the policy environment and formulate responsive evidence-based policies. For example, the Framework can be used during the regulatory impact analysis, helping to assess the effects of policies, laws or regulations on women entrepreneurs.

C. Why focus on women entrepreneurs and ICT?

The promotion of micro and small-scale enterprises (MSEs) constitutes an important strategy for reducing poverty and gender inequality, while advancing economic empowerment of women. At a national level, many governments recognize small business as engines of economic growth and job creation. At the household level, women’s microenterprises and small subsistence businesses play a key role in ensuring the survival of poor families, and in building up women’s confidence, skills and socioeconomic status with benefits accruing to the community and future generations.

At present, women own approximately one third of registered businesses in the world, half of which are in developing countries. In fact, women’s share of business ownership is even larger if one counts the many women working in the informal sector or for subsistence businesses. Women entrepreneurs are offered new opportunities by ICT to start and grow their business. Through new as well as traditional forms of ICT, entrepreneurs can reach out to new customers, become more efficient, decrease business administration cost, gain access to training and information in areas such as business development, pricing information and production technologies. The potential effect of ICT on entrepreneurship in developing countries has been multiplied by the ‘mobile revolution’, which led to ICT tools becoming increasingly accessible to various segments of population, including the rural poor. In Africa, for example, the number of mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants surged from 39 in 2008 to 72 in 2012. Effective use of ICTs can also help women entrepreneurs to overcome persistent barriers and address their specific needs. Among these specific constraints are limited access to financing, time poverty, constraints on physical mobility and limited access to education and training. ICTs can help women entrepreneurs obtain information about possible financing options, send and receive money via mobile applications, offer greater flexibility and capacity to combine work and family responsibilities, provide opportunities for online networking and communication as well as remote access to training.

D. Taking a closer look at Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Framework.

As previously mentioned, ILO’s WED methodology highlights 6 conditions for assessing the extent to which a policy environment is favourable for women’s entrepreneurship exists in a country:

  • Gender sensitive legal and regulatory environment that favours economic empowerment of women.

  • Effective WED policy leadership and coordinations.

  • Access to gender-sensitive financial services.
  • Access to gender sensitive business development support.
  • Access to markets and access, ownership and usage of technology.
  • Representation of women entrepreneurs and participation in policy dialogue.

These conditions were chosen because they counteract the limitations and restraints outlined above and are deemed necessary for improving capacity of women entrepreneurs to earn autonomous income, tap into new opportunities outside of home, improve literacy, participate in decision-making process within and outside of their homes, gain ownership rights and access to economic resources.

Below you will find a brief description of each condition, subcomponents and examples of how ICT factor is integrated in the WED assessment. Detailed information on subconditions and indicators for scoring can be found in Annex 1 of the UNCTAD Guide (see link in the intro section).



ICT Examples

Condition 1: Gender sensitive legal and regulatory environment that favours economic empowerment of women

A.Labour laws and regulations

B.Business registration and licensing regulations and procedures

C.Property and inheritance rights

If a country’s legal and regulatory framework is wrought with gender inequality, bias and discrimination or fails to take into account gender differentials where necessary, it will be challenging for women’s entrepreneurship to advance.

A. In January 2013, the Supreme Court of India ruled that states’ prohibitions on girls’ and women’s use of mobile phones was unlawful. The establishment of a formal legal system that upholds women’s right to have and use technology is a foundation to creating favourable environment for women entrepreneurs.

B. Online business registration through a “one-stop” website addresses time and mobility constraints of women entrepreneurs, specifically in rural areas. For example, Tanzania Innovation Center has recently set up “Tanzania E-regulations” website.

Condition 2: Effective WED policy leadership and coordination.

A. WED is a national policy priority.

B. Presence of a government focal point for promotion and coordination of WED and support actions.

A segmented and silo-oriented structure of policy making frequently leads to policies and programmes in which cross-cutting dimensions, such as gender, are poorly integrated. This can easily occur in entrepreneurship policies being perceived as “gender-blind”.

B. Within government and in its interfaces with partners and stakeholders, ICTs can facilitate more effective communication channels and feedback mechanisms. The use of e-mail, teleconference, webinar enables policy leadership, such as government focal point of contact, to keep in close contact with members across the country.

Condition 3: Access to gender sensitive financial services.

A. Women-entrepreneurs’ participation in generic financing programmes.

B. Financing programmes specifically targeted to women-owned businesses.

Women face commonly attitudinal barriers and mismatch between financial services and their needs. Socioeconomic factors and laws, particularly in developing countries, often disadvantage women in their ability to access financing from the formal banking system. Access to financing improves capacity to invest in and grow business.

A.Generic financing programmes can be promoted through mobile phones, TV and internet.

B.Mobile money makes it easier and secure for women to receive money from family and friends and save, which are among the main sources of financing for women owned microenterprises in developing countries. For small and micro businesses mobile money saves time, makes logistics more efficient, allows for better record keeping and safety - all factors benefitting women entrepreneurs.

Condition 4: Access to gender sensitive business development support.

A. Womens’ access to mainstream BDS.

B. Mainstream BDS services responding to the needs of women entrepreneurs.

C. Presence of women-focused BDS services.

Business Development Support (BDS) service are often not gender services - do not address women specific constraints. This leads to a low uptake of development support services among women.

B. ICTs can improve uptake by offering flexible BDS such as “just in time” training instead of 9 to 5 workshops. Training entrepreneurs on how to use ICTs enables them to benefit from BDS. ICT training should target specific needs and be mindful of time and mobility constraints. For example, using mobile apps instead of traditional classroom training, SMS notifications, and Skype facilitated face-to-face interactions

Condition 5: access to markets and access, ownership and usage of technology.

A. Export promotion for women entrepreneurs

B. Government procurement programmes actively targeting women-owned enterprises

C. Global supply chains and linkages that integrate women led businesses

D. ICT and technology access, usage and ownership for women entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs tend to be concentrated in low-entry, lo-exit and low-yield markets. Supporting their access to markets and technology can help them enter high growth sectors, both local and global, and be more competitive. In ICT sector opportunities for women entrepreneurs has emerged in the following service sectors: mobile information agents, mobile phone sales and tech support, electricity recharging services, mobile money agents, women-friendly IT service provision. Additionally, the spread of broadband has also given a rise to ICT enabled services including social outsourcing, government outsourcing of IT services, freelancing and microwok.

B. Some governments opened opportunities for micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs to bid for public procurement contracts. For example, in an effort to reduce poverty through women entrepreneurship development, the State Government of Kerala, India, outsourced IT training, data entry and digitization to enterprises formed by women from below-poverty-line families.

D. In Baku, Azerbaijan, there have been a growing number of women-owned Internet clubs. Thee clubs are essentially women-only internet cafes where women can work on the computer and access Internet. They represent an emerging version of women friendly Internet access points, which also create business opportunities for women in the ICT sector.

Condition 6: representation of women entrepreneurs and participation in policy dialogue.

A.Representation and voice of women in mainstream business/sector associations

B. Presence of women entrepreneurs’ associations and networks

C. Representation and influence of women entrepreneurs in public-private sector policy dialogues.

There has long been a pattern of women's exclusion from key decision making processes.This makes it important to ensure that proper mechanisms exist for women entrepreneurs to actively partake in policy dialogue. Active participation facilitates better understanding of specific needs and perspective leading to a stronger and more relevant policy responses.

A. ICT can be leveraged to facilitate participation and engagement through online meetings, online discussion groups, social media, call-in radio programmes.

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