Women entrepreneurship is considered as a basis to economic growth due to its multiplier effects such as job creation, increase in labor force participation and uplifting families out of poverty and can contribute to achieving several SDGs, especially SDG 5. But many women entrepreneurs in South Asian region face challenges relating to access to finance, ICT and are not able to expand their businesses and become part of a wider regional and global supply chains mostly due to lack of knowledge and limited scale of their businesses (micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME)).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of e-commerce as a means of conducting business has multiplied, and e-commerce has developed into a crucial instrument for women-led MSMEs to market and grow their businesses. E-commerce has dramatically changed the way business is conducted these days and has brought a greater opportunity for women entrepreneurs to excel and explore global and regional markets, thus empowering them. It can be a powerful tool for bringing in greater gains to women entrepreneurs since it addresses the outmoded barriers of geographic isolation and limited access to information and financing along with empowering South Asian women entrepreneurs socially and economically.
With an aim to facilitate and support women entrepreneurs, United Nations ESCAP and Enhanced Integrated Frameworks, Geneva under the project “E-Commerce Capacity Building for Women-led MSMEs in South Asia” undertook a multifaceted approach towards empowering women entrepreneurs in South Asia in becoming part of new local, regional and international supply chains through the use of e-commerce and digital marketing tools. The project aims to enhance the knowledge and capacity of women entrepreneurs belonging to micro, small and medium enterprises, in the application of e-commerce platforms to expand their business exports and participate in supply chains. Through the ESCAP EIF project, women entrepreneurs have access to online e-learning courses on e-commerce and digital marketing (https://www.unescap.wesellonline.org/), an e-commerce training portal (www.wesellonline.org) for women entrepreneurs, and a beginner’s manual on digital marketing and e-commerce (https://www.unescap.wesellonline.org/Ecommerce-manual/). Additionally, a series of virtual and in-person workshops on e-commerce and digital marketing for women entrepreneurs are being conducted that aim to build the competence of female entrepreneurs. The target countries in the project are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal but due to COVID-19 related restrictions, workshops were conducted online and women from other South Asian and African countries have also benefitted. Till date, about 1900 women entrepreneurs have been trained. These training also enabled to establish regional networks amongst the women entrepreneurs by providing an opportunity to showcase their products, and services and share their entrepreneurial journeys with an aim to inspire and motivate fellow women entrepreneurs. Additionally, as part of online support, a helpline contact desk has been established along with real time support among fellow female participants through WhatsApp and Facebook groups. A Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/wesellonline.org), currently with around ~680 followers, has been established to encourage female entrepreneurs to share their entrepreneurial stories as well products and services, and share further guidance on the various aspects of e-commerce. Conducting these trainings has resulted in building effective partnerships between various stakeholders such as the Government, UN country teams, Commonwealth Secretariat, policy makers, civil society organisations, chambers of commerce and industry and women chambers etc. A collective effort by all in giving these trainings has encouraged many women to shift to e-commerce. The positive long-term impact of this project on empowerment of women in the participating countries will facilitate a replication/implementation of similar projects in the region and contribute towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.
This two-day event has been organized as a culmination of this project. With an aim to advance towards achievements of SDGs, this workshop shall bring together stakeholders with varied expertise for thought-provoking dialogue and policy advocacy on various aspects impacting women entrepreneurs and evoke discussions on the way ahead.