Through e‑commerce, governments can generate opportunities for entrepreneurs, says Dr Adhikari

“A policy and regulatory framework that helps to enhance access to and affordability of the internet for women can enable more women to join the e‑commerce platform,” according to Dr Adhikari.

NL Today

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New Delhi: Executive Director of the Geneva-based Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), Dr Ratnakar Adhikari, has said by improving the general business environment for the growth of e‑commerce, governments can generate opportunities for both male and female entrepreneurs.

Addressing the policy dialogue on ‘E-Commerce and Digital Marketing: Challenges and Opportunities for Women-led SMEs in South Asia’ on Thursday, Dr Adhikari said if it can be made more inclusive and gender-responsive, it could offer substantial benefits to women entrepreneurs.

This may include enacting legislation on e-commerce; consumer protection; competition; data protection; cyber-security; and intellectual property, etc., he added.

“This could also mean designing and implementing policies on payment solutions, aligning the customs clearance system with the postal system for trade in parcels, or even fully implementing paperless trade agreements,” said Dr Adhikari adding, “Some countries go much beyond these actions. For example, the Government of Singapore, which foresees the digital economy to become a major part of its economy, has even signed a digital economy agreement with a number of countries, including Australia, Chile, Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.”

By collecting, processing and utilizing gender‑disaggregated data, areas for improvement can be easily noticed, and can then be factored into the policy‑making process, said Dr Adhikari.

Equally important is the role such a framework plays in acknowledging women as a separate category,which enables policy makers to recognize female entrepreneurs as a visible, valuable, and profitable part of the e-commerce world, he added.

Dr Adhikari further said that a policy and regulatory framework that helps to enhance access to and affordability of the internet for women can enable more women to join the e‑commerce platform.

“This is even more important in the context of the least developed countries,where the gap between male and female internet users is 33%. This has effectively cut off the participation of a large number of women in social‑commerce (s-commerce), where the presence of women entrepreneurs is rapidly growing, and which is considered even more basic than joining the e-commerce platforms,” said Dr Adhikari adding, “policies designed to provide targeted training and mentoring support can be extremely helpful. Although this is precisely what our initiative is doing, there is a possibility of broadening and deepening the initiative.”

It is possible to broaden the initiative by scaling up capacity‑building, covering more women entrepreneurs and/or expanding the initiative to more countries, he added.

It is equally possible to deepen the initiative by providing a full suite of support to women entrepreneurs, including on production, finance, distribution, logistics and international trade.

Building capacity of women entrepreneurs in South Asia

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it is gratifying to note that we have not only met, but also exceeded our target of building the capacity of 500 women entrepreneurs in the South Asia region.We have managed to train more than 2,000 women entrepreneurs during the project period, which is no small feat by any standard, informed Dr Adhikari.

There is no denying that capacity‑building initiatives such as this one can help in skills development and provide networking opportunity for collaboration. However, what is equally important is a sound policy and regulatory framework that contributes to the growth of e-commerce business in the country. More importantly, it should enable entrepreneurs to expand their business through their participation in international trade and global value chains, he added.

With an aim to facilitate and support women entrepreneurs, United Nations ESCAP and Enhanced Integrated Frameworks, Geneva under the project “E-Commerce Capacity Building for Women-led MSMEs in South Asia” undertook a multifaceted approach towards empowering women entrepreneurs in South Asia in becoming part of new local, regional and international supply chains through the use of e-commerce and digital marketing tools. 

A series of virtual and in-person workshops on e-commerce and digital marketing for women entrepreneurs are being conducted that aim to build the competence of female entrepreneurs. 

The target countries in the project are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal but due to COVID-19 related restrictions, workshops were conducted online and women from other South Asian and African countries have also benefited. Till date, about 1900 women entrepreneurs have been trained, the organizers said.