Entrepreneurs Look Forward During Women’s History Month

Guest post by Daina Ruback, ANDE, Partner of the Women in Business Challenge

It is easy to conjure up a mental image of a woman entrepreneur in a developing country. Perhaps she is in a street market in Nicaragua making tortillas on a wood-burning stove. Maybe she is stringing beads to make bracelets in Senegal. She might be preparing a curry at a small restaurant in Sri Lanka. These women are admirable, and we celebrate them during Women’s History Month this March. But a new trend of women entrepreneurs is emerging in these markets as well. Tech savvy, forward thinking women are leveraging new access to mobile and web-based technologies to bring their small and growing businesses into the 21st century.

According to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012, the world’s 3.5 billion woman and girls still face an uneven playing field in education, employment, earnings and decision-making power.

Historically, women have lagged behind men in developing countries when it comes to the adoption and usage of new technologies. According to the study Women and the Web, put out by Intel in 2012, 23 percent fewer women are online than men in developing countries. That adds up to about 200 million women who are missing out on the opportunities and information afforded to them by access to the internet. As technology trends more and more mobile, it is important to acknowledge the disparity in cell phone usage as well. There are 300 million fewer woman than men who have mobile devices in developing countries where there is mobile phone coverage. For women looking to grow their small businesses, this type of basic technology is essential.

One upside for women in these environments is that because the influx of technologies is so new, there are fewer deep-seated stigmas or cultural barriers to use for women, an issue that can hinder women in many other aspects of conducting business.

Many of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs’ (ANDE) 170+ member organizations have been working to help women entrepreneurs gain access to and adopt these tools that can ultimately provide vital information to advance their businesses, reduce transaction costs, and contribute to the economy as a whole.

The Cherie Blair Foundation keyed into the fact that mobile phones, more so than computers or the internet, allow for the portability and flexibility many women entrepreneurs need in order to be successful. Their Mobile Technology Program focuses on building customized mobile applications to address specific business challenges as well as bringing mobile financial services into the hands of these women. They have also had great success with their online mentoring platform.

WEConnect International allows women in several developing countries to self-certify their businesses as Women’s Business Enterprises through their website. This certification allows women business owners to tap into their global online community of corporate members and other women owned businesses. The resources provided on their online platform have helped connect entrepreneurs in countries such as Peru to Walmart, America’s largest retailer.

These programs are necessary to raise women entrepreneurs to a level playing field with their male counterparts. This is why ANDE has chosen to support BiD Network’s 2013 Women in Business Challenge as an innovative way to support women entrepreneurs start and grow their business, benefit from the critical business and financial services they need along the way, and bring a diverse set of women into the discussion.

Organizations all over the world are working to break down technological barriers for women in business. While there is still a ways to go, the face of small and growing businesses is changing as women entrepreneurs are embracing these new opportunities, becoming increasingly informed and global.

About the guest author: Daina joined ANDE as Program Coordinator in July 2012.  Previously, she worked with aspiring Hispanic entrepreneurs as the Spanish Programs Coordinator and Business Counselor for the Women’s Enterprise Development Center in White Plains, New York.  Prior to this, Daina served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua as a Small Business Educator and Counselor.  She graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from Babson College in 2008.