4.3 E-commerce, markets and small enterprise development

ICTs are being adapted and used to build women’s economic capacities. Women are being trained to use the Internet to buy and sell local products, to access current information on raw material prices, to use microfinance services, and to use software for financial and business management.

Trade and development in the context of globalization is as much female-led as it is export-led. Increasingly, policy-makers and business leaders alike are acknowledging the profit value of women’s involvement in small business. Business leaders cannot afford to ignore this critical section of the productive labour force. Many large corporations are increasingly producing, sourcing or distributing from developing nations, and this often involves working with local partners and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as part of their value chains.44

One example of an international network that both advocates and supports credit programmes for women is Women’s World Banking (WWB). WWB is a global, not-for-profit institution dedicated to securing poor women’s access to finance, information and markets. The network incorporates retail institutions that provide over USD 5 billion in financial services to more than 10 million low-income women entrepreneurs—in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America. Members of the network include micro-finance institutions, banks and associations that serve as models for others by:

  • Embodying shared principles;
  • Providing financial services that meet performance standards;
  • Sharing best practices and experiences; and
  • Using results on the ground to influence policy changes in their countries and around the world.

Women-led organizations and affiliates operate at the core of the network. Members of the network push each other, using mutual accountability to achieve results.

Content example: Tortas Peru – women cake sellers

Initiated in 1996, Tortas Peru is a woman-owned enterprise that uses ICTs to reach and serve a wider market, employing the Internet to take orders for their cakes. Tortas Peru markets heavily to the more than 2 million Peruvians who live outside the country, relying on its website to reach them. Clients in San Francisco or New Zealand can send a home-made cake to friends or family in several major cities. The tortas (cakes) are prepared and delivered by one of the housewives in the network. Customers can order a cake from a catalogue and pay using a credit card, check, money order or electronic payment. To maintain low prices, the company is based mainly on the Internet, making it necessary for the housewife-members to be familiar with computers and Internet.

Content example: Shea Butter Sales in Burkina Faso

When the women of the Songtaaba Association, an organization that markets shea butter skin care products in Burkino Faso, started using ICTs, their profits more than doubled. The use of cell phones and computers helped them to run their businesses more efficiently. The Association currently provides jobs to more than 3,000 women in 11 villages. To provide the women with regular access to ICTs and improve marketing and sales of their products, the association set up telecenters in two villages. These facilities are entirely managed by the rural women, who are trained by Songtaaba. The organization also set up a website, which the women manage. This has been particularly successful in boosting the visibility of the producers. Since the site went online two years ago, orders have gone up by almost 70 per cent. (also see similar story in Mali)


44The World Business Council on Sustainable Development www.wbcsd.org offers several examples of large corporations partnering with small enterprises – including Pentland and Nike in Vietnam, SC Johnson and pyrethrum growing in Kenya, and Delta Corporation (food & leisure) outsourcing to SMEs in Zimbabwe.