Information communication technology keeps women in micro, small enterprises engaged in markets

Cover PhotoA number of women in micro and small enterprises from selected developing countries across Asia have realized life-changing results from their involvement in the economic empowerment global project of Unifem (now UN Women).

The project has provided training courses on enterprise management, international trade practices and e-commerce as well as customized assistance to women entrepreneurs seeking business contacts outside their domestic markets.

The project called WINNER (Women into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement) has received numerous letters of compliments and critical views on the project going forward to the next stage.  Experience of these women-beneficiaries has been documented and compiled in a monograph prepared by Devnet, the project execution agency tasked by Unifem (UN Women)/UNDP.

Researchers-writers were commissioned to interview a random sampling of women-micro entrepreneurs in the local communities.  Their stories gave insightful information on how they as start-up business people in their communities,      grew their business ventures and used the Internet to find new markets.

Some testimonial letters received from the women-beneficiaries of the WINNER project  revealed interesting breakthroughs for them in reaching distant contacts and clients.  Some excerpts of these business letters are:

We have been benefited with new skills when we took part in the training organized by WINNNER in Zimbabwe.  Since then we have managed to improve our business linkages though the Internet…. Now my company is doing business with a partner in India…

I am one of the rural women who took part in the e-commers training held in Mountain Province (Philippines) a couple of years ago.  I remember the advice of the WINNNER trainor who encouraged me to introduce my products to the international market by using the internet and sending my product and business profiles for inclusion in electronic market place of WINNER.  Indeed after several months, an importer from Australia tapped my company to supply its requirements…

My association with WINNER has provided me an opportunity to establish business contacts in Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria and Georgia. Later, through WINNER, I was introduced to business contacts in Ivory Coast and Ghana, with the assistance of a Dutch organization that was  collaborating with WINNER… 


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Filipino women bat for sustainable agriculture through research and development

Women in farming communities and leaders from various sectors of Philippine society recently joined an open dialogue on the role of women and their contribution in agriculture.  Theme of exchange of ideas and experiences was “Women in Rice Farming”. The dialogue was one of various activities lined up for the celebration of the National Year of Rice 2013.

Among those who attended the program to share their experiences and insights were last year’s awardees in the search for outstanding women in rural development.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) along with the Philippine Department of Agriculture and the Philippine Commission on Women have joined efforts in advancing women’s role in fighting hunger and malnutrition and promoting environmental sustainability through research and technology development and improved farming practices.

Rice affects the lives of people, in particular the hundreds of millions living in rural areas around the country.   Rice production provides staple food, livelihood and income for poor rice-farming communities.

The event also showcased to members of media and representatives of civil society organizations the research and development breakthroughs of IRRI in developing rice varieties that grow well in harsh conditions. Featured was its latest rice variety called “golden rice” which has been found to be rich in beta-carotene, iron and zinc.

In the Philippines, vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 1.7 million children and one out of every ten pregnant women. Golden rice variety shows a potential way to reduce malnutrition.

According to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization, women play an important role in supporting their households and communities as well as in achieving food and nutrition security. They also contribute to the local economy through their agrienterprises.

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Philippines is Asia’s best performer in closing gender gap, ranks 5th in the world

The Philippines is Asia’s best performing country in closing gender disparity this year, according to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report.

Previously in eighth position, the Philippines has climbed to fifth spot besting other Asian and non-Asian countries.

Iceland remains at the top while Finland placed at the second spot. The remaining top countries are as follows: Norway (3rd), Sweden (4th), Philippines (5th), Ireland (6th), New Zealand (7th), Denmark (8th), Switzerland (9th) and Nicaragua (10th).

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), this is the first time the Philippines entered the top five list of countries “due to small improvements in the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindexes.”

The report furthers that the Philippines ranked 10th on the Political Empowerment subindex and “remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the Index. Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific that has fully closed the gender gap in both education and health.”

The country garnered 0.783 points, higher than 2012’s 0.776 and 2011’s 0.7685.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), the lead policy-making and coordinating body on women and gender equality concerns, is elated that its efforts are now paying off.

The collective hard work of government agencies, non-government and civil society organizations, academe and various stakeholders proves that the country indeed is recognizing and valuing women as active drivers of development.

“Though this improvement in rank reflects that gender disparities are narrowing, we cannot be overconfident because the index does not show overall development levels which are still wanting”, the PCW said.

“Efforts to keep children in school, to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres of society as stated in the Philippines Magna Carta of Women”.

Recent trend showed an increased number of women winning in the last elections. There are six women senators out of 24 and 79 women legislators in the House of Representatives, while 647 women occupy third level positions as opposed to 749 men.


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Nepalese women garner volume sales at handicraft expo

Pooling their efforts to stage the biggest ever and the best handicraft product exposition, women in micro and small enterprises in Nepal recently held a five-day trade event to cap a year-long series of activities.

In 2012, women in Nepal participated in various products shows around the country and in trade expositions in the South Asian region.

For the outstanding participation of women entrepreneurs, accolade was accorded them, resulting in robust sales and volume of pledged orders during the year-ender product show. This was acknowledged by Nepal’s Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun, when he extolled the outstanding efforts of Nepalese women during his speech at the opening ceremonies.

Among the product bestsellers at the trade event were: woolens, silk garments, handlooms, toys, natural dyes, pashminas, holiday ornaments, shawls, baby stuffs, candles, felt products, table mats, embroideries, teas, rugs and carpets.

The women’s enterprises that took center stage at the product exposition were joined by non-government organizations that champion social entrepreneurship. Two of the prominent NGOs were: Women for Human Rights and Entire Power in Social Action. These groups exhibited the best products from their respective beneficiaries and constituents. These included: various herbal teas, nettle and cotton bags, bed sheets, table cloths and gift items for all occasions.

The positive reaction of buyers and visitors at the trade event was such that some of the women entrepreneurs were practically guaranteed orders to last throughout 2013.

WINNER-Nepal has been very active in improving the capacity of women in micro and small enterprises by conducting skills training, marketing seminars and various capacity-building forums. Some of these training programs centered on quality management, access to markets, use of information technology tools, cooperation and competition, among others. These activities were jointly conducted with cooperation partners, particularly the Women Entrepreneurship Development Forum of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


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Bangladeshi women achievers picked for international leadership program

Beyond the confines of their businesses, some women in Bangladesh have pursued the opportunity to extend their reach and scope of influence on their communities, with the view to contributing to social transformation.

From individual businesswomen to social entrepreneurs, they shared their time, knowledge, experience and expertise with other women in their communities to transform communities into collective enterprises.  For this innovation, these women have gained the recognition from their counterparts in developed countries, particularly the United States of America.

Recently, eight women from Bangladesh, including members of the WINNER-Bangladesh, were selected to be part of the international leadership program, an intensive month-long training of women leaders, under the sponsorship of the State Department of the Government of the United States of America.

These women were joined by their counterparts from various women’s organizations in the United States to exchange ideas, engage in business model exercises as well as explore future business ventures. In the course of their training, the Bangladesh women visited various cities from the east coast through the Midwest and to the west cost of the United States of America.

The places visited by the women during the roving training program include: Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, New York and Virginia. They also sat down with their counterparts and officials/leaders from Meridian International Center, Community Wealth Ventures, Hope Center, Women’s Initiatives, Working Women’s Solutions, Small Business Administration, Global Fund for Women, Future Women Leaders, and Women Ventures Fund, among others.

During their training, the women had the opportunity to explore business ventures, promote their products, participate in business match-making sessions and close business deals.

The women –members of WINNER-Bangladesh who took part in the US-sponsored international leadership training include: Shahina Habib Dhobi, Sumaya Akter, Sabera Begum, Barnaby Chowdhury Lopa and Regina Begum.

In Bangladesh, women’s literacy rates remain much lower than that of men. While ever increasing numbers of women workers are entering the labour force, particularly in the micro and small-scale enterprises and informal sectors, women continue to face discrimination and dominate low paying jobs. Nevertheless, women’s initiatives in the production and trade fields represent a vital economic resource.

WINNER project is working to support Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs’ access to and knowledge of information and communication technologies.


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Product design clinics level up capacity of women’s enterprises for market competitiveness

In a highly competitive marketplace, product brand identity creates an edge over other products. In many cases, the identity results from an innovative process that brings out the commercial appeal of the product to buyers. Concept, eco-friendly material, craftsmanship, price and production consistency combine to make the product a cut above the rest.

Aware of the need of microenterprises to have a fighting chance in the global marketplace, the Philippine Commission on Women recently launched a nationwide drive to help women’s microenterprises level-up their capacity to come up with products that are world class in design and quality. Through its GREAT Women (Gender Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women) Project, it engaged the cooperation of ECHOSI (Enabling Communities with Hope and Opportunities Sustainable Initiatives) Foundation to field to various regions around the country a team of product design consultants.

GREAT Women is a 5-year project which aims to support and promote the economic well-being of women through increased access to training, credit, technology and microenterprises. It is supported by the Canadian government through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) with a grant to the Philippine Commission on Women.

Intensive product design clinics drew women in micro/small enterprises to take advantage of the expertise and experience of world-class product designers who volunteered their talents and time to help women entrepreneurs embrace the innovation process in product creation and production.

The design clinics are interactive sessions that include discussion of the elements of product design, factors of market appeal of products as well as critique of products of women’s enterprises, with  the view to giving them strong brand identity and attraction to buyers. The inaugural design clinic was held in Lucena City, Province of Quezon and subsequent design clinics will be conducted in Camarines Sur, Bohol, Leyte, Davao, North Cotabato and Ifugao Province. These locations have been pre-identifical as areas where there is abundance of unique raw materials for products, concentration of women in micro/small enterprises as well as potentials for product brand identify take off.

To enter new markets, women’s micro/small enterprises must focus on consistent high product quality as well as strong and reliable production capacity. Once products are viable in the market, easily microfinance for capital becomes available to help these women’s enterprises scale up their business, increase earnings and attain financial freedom. Among the important topics taken up during the clinics are: eco-friendly packaging, price competitiveness, continuing research and development (innovation) as well as keeping abreast of developments in the marketplace and trends in buyers’ preferences.

Present at the launching of the first of roving product design clinics were: designers Jeannie Javelosa and Tess Pasola, former Ambassador Romy Manalo, Imelda Canuela of ECHOSI Foundation, Pablito Budoy of the Department of Trade and Industry and Jenny Ann Nabia of the Department of Science and Technology.


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Bangladeshi women rediscover market opportunities for business sustainability

Regional cooperation through business exchange and sharing of economic benefits has surged in some parts of the world, particularly in South Asia. This has deepened the spirit of cooperation and interdependence among players in filling consumer needs where supply is short from one country but substantial from a neighboring country.

Recently, a major trade fair sponsored by SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation), an economic forum of the countries in the South Asia region, drew producers, suppliers, wholesalers and retailers and various industry leaders to a common venue for starting direct contact and negotiation with their counterparts for business relations. Women entrepreneurs from Bangladesh were among the exhibitors in the fair.

Women who belong to the WINNER-Bangladesh network took advantage of the opportunity to reinvigorate business relations with markets closer to home, even as their traditional markets overseas are shrinking due to economic troubles spawned by the global economic crisis.

The women leaders who participated in the 9th SAARC Trade Fair in Lyonpo Khandu Mangchuk, Bhutan are: Tahmina Khan, Sharmin Ahmed, Rabiya Mahfuj, Parveen Hossain, Alfroza Sultana, Barnaly Chowdhury Lopa, Sonia Hoque, Latifa Akter Lata, Mazeda Khatun and Naharih Chowdhury. These women are makers and exporters of home textiles, imitation jewelry, jute products, handicrafts and garments, among others.

WINNER-Bangladesh has been conducting various training courses for existing women’s businesses as well as women who are planning to go into business. The training curriculum covers various aspects of improving business sustainability as well as modern business practices and information and communication technology tools.

According to WINNER-Bangladesh Director Dil Alfroze, the WINNER project has provided new skills to women and strengthened their capacities to sustain their businesses.

“Our training courses for these women have prepared them to compete in the marketplace and equipped them with the tools to sustain the growth of their businesses. Many of these women have contributed to the improvement of the conditions of life, for themselves and their employees, as they have attained financial independence,” she said.

“While ever increasing numbers of women are entering the labor force, particularly in the micro and small-scale enterprises and informal sectors, women continue to face discrimination and dominate low-paying jobs. Nevetheless, women’s initiatives in the production and trade fields have been recognized as these represent a vital economic resource.”

WINNER Project was launched in Bangladesh in 2001. The training cycles included basic computer skills, Internet/e-commerce, entrepreneurial management, fair trade practices, business documentation, export procedures, among others. The women who are participating in  the project have produced impressive results. Women home workers have become formal business women, obtaining trade licenses and certificates.


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Nepalese women in MSMEs sharpen business tools for innovation and leadership

To manage risks and enhance quality business decision-making. Nepalese women who are engaged in micro, small and medium enterprises recently participated in a series of training programs designed to prepare them for greater challenges in the field of business.

Co-organized by the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and WINNER-Nepal, the short skills-upgrading courses provided the women entrepreneurs preparation to deal with issues and problems associated with the dynamics in the workplace, disruptive situations in the industry and uncertainties in the changing conditions of markets. The training programs included: negotiation skills in crisis situations; aim-oriented performance appraisal; strategic planning; and leadership development.

Recent political turbulence and industrial desruptions, as Nepal transitioned from  monarchy to republican democracy, have impacted the nature of business and harmony between business owners and workers. To provide valuable lessons from the experiences during the transition period, the organizers of the training program on negotiation and crisis management invited experts and leaders in the business community, to share their insight and expertise as resource persons: Sanu Raja Shilpakar of the Lalitpur Chamber Commerce and Raja Dharubhadel of Bhaktapur Chamber of Commerce as well as Dharma Shakya of the Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal.

Productivity has been a continuing challenge to business organization, particularly in light of trends in the emerging markets overseas. To cope with keeping financially healthy businesses, and improving productive capacities, a short-term training course was conducted to provide women entrepreneurs the basic tools in assessing performance, measuring results and using the insight from such evidence-based data for strategic planning and development of business. For this, the organizers invited a resource person from the academe, namely Prof. Timila Yani Thapa of the Institute of Engineering, University of Tribhuvan, who showed the participants the practical applications of metrics and insights from data and information as basis for plotting a course of action for business.

Harmony in the workplace is vital to business growth and development.  Achieving harmony can best be enhanced by two-way communication.  Motivating people to work together is also a challenge to leadership in a business organization.  Invited to handle the training session on innovation and business leadership was Dr. Niti Rama, director of the New Era Career Development Academy.

Some sixty women from micro, small and medium enterprises across the country attended the training programs, with majority of them representing various industry sectors.

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Opening window of business opportunities for rural women though e-commerce

Thousands of women in rural communities in the Philippines have already gained access to opportunities in the global marketplace through the Internet, after having participated in the WINNER seminars-workshops on Internet e-commerce, international trade practices and enterprise management.  These women are engaged in micro and small enterprises, producing various goods and products that are slowly gaining exposure to international buyers.

Sponsored by UN Women, WINNER program is implemented by Devnet in selected developing countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

In the Philippines, the Technological Information Promotion System /Devnet implements the WINNER program (Women into the New Network for Entrepreneurial Reinforcement), and has already conducted a number of roving seminars/workshops in selected local communities around the country. This is done in collaboration with non-government organizations and local government units, thereby directly benefiting over 10,000 women micro/small entrepreneurs since the start of the program in 2000.

Among the major partners of WINNER program are: (Northern Luzon) STREAMS, Benguet Entrepreneurs Association, National Tribal Council of Elders of Cordillera; (Southern Luzon and Visayas) Pambansang Taga-Ugnay ng Manggagawa sa Bahay (Patamaba); (Mindanao) Kababaihang Kaagapay at Kasama sa Hanapbuhay (KAKASAHA). In the micro/small enterprises sector, women account for 90 percent of home-based livelihoods and business start-ups.  The competitiveness of these women’s enterprises depends on the conditions over which they have no control.   Thus, to address this need, networking for sharing knowledge and information on market opportunities improves their sustainability. Through the WINNER program, the products of these women’s enterprises are promoted online through various websites, thereby providing these enterprises exposure to markets and opportunity to be contacted for orders or sub-contracting by large exporters.

Majority of these women’s enterprises are engaged in agriculture and fishery products, food processing, handicrafts, body care products, garments and woven products, among others.

Partner organizations of WINNER host Help Desks,  consisting of computer with Internet connection to provide follow-up activities to the training conducted in local communities.  Some of these Help Desks are located in: La Trinidad, Benguet; Buhi, Camarines Sur; Santa Barbara, Iloilo; Surigao City, Las Piñas City, Baguio City; and Kabacan, North Cotabato.

Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Programme, during its recent celebration of International Day of Rural Women, recognized the outstanding contribution of women in rural communities to the well-being of their families and the development of their communities.

With the training on Internet/e-commerce conducted by WINNER for women in rural communities, a window of opportunity has been opened to these women.  Through the use of computer with Internet connection, these women are able to learn new skills and to manage social relations as well as improve work productivity. Tess Roseus, one of the participants in the WINNER training held in Tagaytay City, said: “With knowledge of Internet, I was able to network with women producers and buyers.  In fact, through the Internet, I received an order from one of the agencies of the government for conference bags to be used in an international conference.  I hope more companies get to know about us through the WINNER network…”


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Innovating knowledge and practice through women’s empowerment in rural communities

The relationship among decentralization reforms, local development processes and women’s empowerment is the core theme of Universitas Forum, a publication of Knowledge, Innovations, Policies and Territorial Practices for the UN Millennium Platform (KIP). The publication highlights case studies from the perspective of those who actually contributed to empowering women and who engaged in development issues.

According to Sara Swartz, director of KIP and coordinator of the Universitas Forum, “Knowledge is central to empowerment and this theme is treated from different angles in many of the case studies in the publication. Women’s knowledge, and that of poor rural women in particular, is often not acknowledged as such, and as part of the processes to strengthen women’s personal, economic and political empowerment, much effort has been made to help existing knowledge emerge and gain legitimacy. This has produced concrete benefits for women involved and for their communities. Their knowledge of traditional plants and indigenous vegetables are just two examples”.

The editorial materials in the publication are products of research projects jointly undertaken by KIP with Husiron Commission, International Development Research Center of Canada, UN HABITAT and UN Women.

Previously, KIP and Devnet agreed to cooperate through their respective programmes, namely IDEASS and WINNER, to build the supply of information innovations for human development and to disseminate the same to as many countries as possible, particularly throughout the developing regions of the world. Committed to work within the framework of the UN MDGs, both networks  have wealth of field experiences, particularly in the areas of practical and improved technology and best practices in stimulating sustainable development.

The IDEASS Programme (Innovations for Development and South-South Cooperation) works in collaboration with territorial human development programmes implemented by UNDP, UN Women, ILO and UNOPS in such countries as Albania, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. On the other hand, Devnet undertakes activities that contribute to the economic empowerment of women that stimulates sustainable economic development in selected countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.


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