Access to digital technology key to empowering women entrepreneurs

Women should be encouraged to access digital technology to empower them to go into their target business or expand the reach of their existing operations, according to women entrepreneurs in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

While women-led entrepreneurship is gaining momentum in the region, challenges in facilitating women’s access to finance and their use of e-commerce platforms remain, according to the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA).

Further, more needs to be done to debunk gender stereotypes and foster digital inclusion to achieve gender equality online, and to inspire more women-entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of going digital for their businesses, it said.

As digital commerce will continue to be an integral part of the region’s growth, empowering female entrepreneurs in the e-commerce sector has become critical for post-pandemic recovery, according to women entrepreneurs at a recent forum organized by ERIA.

Mel Nava, co-founder & CEO of 1Export, a one-stop cross-border trade and fulfillment services agency based in the Philippines, highlighted how the pandemic has affected the export activities of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the country, pushing most brick-and-mortar retail stores to close and move online.

Nava said that to navigate the digital world, women entrepreneurs should not limit their mindset to just serving the local market.

She also underscored important skills that women entrepreneurs who want to go digital must cultivate. They should be able to listen to their customers and understand their needs, grow their business sustainably, adapt to unprecedented scenarios, and think global.

“When we grow digitally, it’s not just about growing within your community but growing worldwide, and how you will be able to adapt to those challenges,” she said.

Pennie Lim, CEO of Homa Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian online marketplace for sustainable building materials and home furnishing products, noted how she used to receive several negative comments when she started her own business, particularly as a female entrepreneur going into what is considered a male-dominated industry, but refused to be deterred.

She urged women to follow their dreams and not to live a life of regrets. “If there is anything that you want, you should go out and just try it,” she advises, adding that in the digital era, anything is possible and women can also do what men can.

Acknowledging that the road for female-led enterprises is not an easy one, Lim said women can try to connect with like-minded women on social media like LinkedIn for support and sharing of business experiences and insights.

Shanaz Winanto, founder of Rorokenes, a company engaged in sustainable and ethical artisan bag business in Indonesia, said going digital and embracing e-commerce is a must for women entrepreneurs nowadays.

By going digital, they will be able to access more customer and market data and analyses, join more networks, improve brand recognition, and upscale business sales into the regional and international markets, she said.

Furthermore, as a member of eTrade for Women, a community platform facilitated by UNCTAD, Shanaz shared how the platform connected her to around a hundred women entrepreneurs around the globe, allowing for more networking, collaboration and information exchange on resources, which led to increased sales. She added that she brought all her lessons back home to benefit the community clusters that work with her company.

Lishia Erza, CEO of ASYX, a sustainable supply chain financing company which aims to promote the scale-up of SMEs and circular economies in Indonesia, emphasized how the pandemic has accelerated the shift to online business and how women entrepreneurs have a good opportunity to utilize this market.

Lishia said that for women entrepreneurs aspiring to go digital, it is crucial they obtain new knowledge on technologies and finance, learn to navigate digital solutions for scaling up the business, and create a good sales track record.

“Even finding financing beyond the pandemic has gone online as well, so it is important to have all these activities now moving online and having women entrepreneurs being confident to navigate these digital solutions,” she said.

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