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eTrade Alliance Webinar Series: 
Women in Ecommerce

By Morgan Wilsmann


To kick off the eTrade Alliance’s webinar series, and in honor of Women’s History Month, the Alliance hosted the Women in Ecommerce webinar, in which we learned from four unique initiatives working to enable more women to engage in ecommerce around the world. The purpose of the eTrade Alliance’s webinar series is to share some of the lessons learned from our programs and research conducted over the last three years of the Alliance’s life. The Alliance’s purpose is to increase the number of SMEs engaging in ecommerce, of which a key tenet is working with women-led firms. 

Dr. Kati Suominen presented her Playbook for Building Women-led Firm’s Capacities for Ecommerce, developed as a part of her work as the eTrade Alliance’s Technical Director.  In doing research on projects that work to bridge the gender disparities in ecommerce and participating in business, the eTrade Alliance interviewed a variety of stakeholders working to develop ecommerce capabilities for women globally – including projects presented by fellow panellists from Visa, UNCTAD, and eCommerce Institute.  Dr. Suominen shows through this research the great deal of interest from governments, donors, and private sector actors in supporting women-led firms in ecommerce. Defining women-led firms as those led by women CEOs and also firms that have majority women in executive positions, it is found that women-led firms are already heavily using online and social channels to sell their products and services. Dr. Suominen further delineates the ways women are using digital technologies in their businesses to scale and streamline their operations, and hopes to use this data to help projects determine how development initiatives may customize support for women-led firms in their journey to enabling their ecommerce capabilities. 

The eCommerce Institute (“The Institute”), introduced by Executive Director Erica Libertelli, works primarily in Latin America with recent outreach to new markets in South Africa, Singapore, and Central Asia. One of the most important of the Institute’s initiatives is Ecommerce Day, a networking and training event that takes place in over 18 countries with the goal of accelerating online businesses. The Institute’s regional training and certification unit offers a set of courses to entrepreneurs and employees of major businesses to support the development of their online businesses. Notably, through its eWomen Program, the Institute has ongoing training and mentorship for Latin American Women-Led MSMEs in B2C ecommerce. In the implementation of the eWomen Program, 130 women representing twelve Latin American countries were trained in digital marketing, accessing online customers, and optimizing order fulfilment. In its implementation, the Institute found that there was a challenging range in digital knowledge and business maturity, requiring a more tailored approach to match training offerings to unique MSME needs. The Institute has in the works several initiatives to build off the eWomen program, including continuing to build out the Latin American women in ecommerce network, establishing partnerships with educational institutions to disseminate training, and more. 

The Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) is a recently launched entity committed to bring Visa’s insights from nearly 25 years of implementing development projects to issues of digital equity and digital trade. Recent research on women-led firms during the pandemic has indicated an extreme credit gap among women-led SMEs, the digital knowledge gap between men and women, and the dearth in startup funding targeting women-led businesses. However, VEEI has found that firms started in the last two years are more likely than older firms to be led by women, while women-led firms are adopting digital technologies at the same rate as men. Barbara Kotschwar, the Executive Director of Visa Economic Empowerment Institute, provided a brief overview of Visa’s ongoing efforts to better help women owned businesses to thrive in the ecommerce space, specifically encouraging the private sector to do its part in ensuring diversity and inclusivity, mentoring, and overall support for innovation to women-led firms’ needs.

Finally, Sonia Nnadozie, Programme Management Officer at UNCTAD, outlines the gender digital divide that influenced the development of the eTrade for Women project. Targeting founders in the digital sector in developing economies who are particularly interested in making an impact in the digital ecosystem, the eTrade for Women works to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs, provide knowledge and support for existing digital entrepreneurs, provide networking opportunities, and give voice to women digital entrepreneurs in decision-making processes. Having reached over 200 women in thirty countries, the eTrade for Women project has notable lessons learned in best practices enabling women in ecommerce.

The webinar concluded with a round of Q&A to the panellists exploring the key hindrances to enabling women in ecommerce, and brainstorming ways to overcome those obstacles. Discussions included bringing approaches that have seen success in one region to another, how to scale impact, primary ways to ensure more women sell online, and how to measure impact.

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