Kati Suominen, Founder and CEO of Nextrade Group; Technical Director of the Alliance for eTrade Development
Surveys time and again suggest that firms in rural areas have a raw deal: they often lack the technologies, talent, services, supplies, and financing available to urban firms, and they struggle to scale.
A strong share of these firms are run by women. At the same time, our recent report “Roadmap to Empower Women-Led Firms in Ecommerce and the Online Economy” I wrote and was co-branded with eTrade Alliance partner Visa shows that commerce is creating new opportunities for women-led firms in both urban and rural areas to reach buyers in domestic and international markets – especially when the basics such as great internet connections are in place.
One example is Trip-Shirt, an Argentine family-owned business led by Lorena Valente. Founded in Casilda, a small city 400 km outside Buenos Aires, Trip-Shirt manufactures luggage covers and travel products that other brands can use as accessories. In 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis prompted Lorena to pursue online opportunities, she participated in an eight-month eWomen training program run by Alliance partner eCommerce Institute, which helped her improve TripShirt’s website and implement digital tools and an online store and scale beyond the existing B2B brick-and mortar operation.
Ecommerce also helps rural firms reach new inputs: a number of studies have shown that ecommerce is enabling consumers and firms in remote and rural areas to access the same variety of goods and services as available to their urban peers.
In the Alliance's surveys we also time and again find that ecommerce can be a great equalizer both between urban and rural regions and between women and men: surveys reveal no meaningful differences between comparable women- and men-led firms (firms of same size, geolocation, and technology intensity) in the use of ecommerce, online sales, or export performance. This points to the importance of policies that level the playing field between women and men and between rural and urban firms to start a formal business, acquire technologies and financial assets
The report has eight steps of actionable advise to shape governments, development organizations and corporations’ programming to promote different types of women-led firms in the digital economy, and to catalyze innovative approaches that support women-led firms at scale and with lasting impact.