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Kati Suominen, Nextrade Group and Alliance for eTrade Development

Since the 1990s, platforms have defined the way people interact on the internet. In recent years, payment, lending, upskilling, and ecommerce platforms have proliferated in developing nations, and there is by now a robust body of research on the growth of such platforms, their economic and political impacts, and their potential for promoting development.


At the eTrade Alliance, our research has focused particularly on platforms’ impacts on small businesses’ prospects for reaching, servicing, and transacting with customers and vendors, even in remote markets. In 2021, we produced a report on how donors, corporations, and governments could specifically support women-led firms’ capacity for ecommerce.

This report seeks to connect the research and work on platforms and that on women-led firms in ecommerce to ask how development organizations, governments, and corporations might work with platforms to benefit women-led firms seeking to grow through ecommerce. In particular, it explores how they might work with online platforms to scale the impact have on women-led firms and the assistance they provide them.


This report finds that many platforms have created specific programs to support women-led firms—and that there is also a growing set of platforms focused on exclusively serving women-led firms. Donors typically enable small firms and women-led firms to onboard to these and other types of platforms, for example, to sell more online. However, this report identifies several further ways in which donors, governments, and corporations can usefully work with platforms to support women-led firms to engage in ecommerce and digitize. These approaches include the following:


  • Onboard new buyers on two-sided platforms

  • Provide venture and growth capital to platforms targeting women-led firms or with programs to support women-led firms

  • Enable platforms to provide a wider range of services to firms

  • Promote interoperability among digital platforms

  • Help platforms measure impacts on women-led firms

  • Catalyze entirely new platforms, for example by adapting models from advanced economies to developing ones

  • Promote a better enabling environment for platforms and their users

  • Consider the potential of “platformless” models enabled by Web3, such as decentralized finance, and Metaverse to enable women-led firms

The authors' views do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government or any of the eTrade Alliance members.

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