OPINION NEWS – BY EROSHAN ALAGARETHNAM AND GUO YAN ZHOU
FIRSTPOST, INDIA – DECEMBER 12, 2022
There has been a burst in successful women’s ventures in e-commerce and other technology-intensive businesses. These successes have become a guiding light for other women business owners across geographies, who are now even more resolved to take risks and prove that gender is no longer a deterrent.
Kamla Raghunath, CEO of Gift Links, started her business in Bangalore, India serving local buyers, scaling up to global buyers using digital technology to support business continuity plans. In short order, she transformed her business from a pure B2B model to a B2B e-commerce operating system and now sells her products in over 10 countries.
An equally compelling story is that of Aakanksha Bhargawa, a mother and CEO of PM Relocations based in New Delhi, India who transcended the gender bias in her family business when she took over. Conscious of how colleagues viewed her presence in the warehouse from the beginning, she knew she had to act quickly and decisively when the pandemic brought her business to a standstill. Aakanksha pivoted the business and won a contract to move 12,000 concentrators across the subcontinent within 3 weeks—a critical and time-sensitive project. Akansha spearheaded the project successfully and was ably supported by her team, which was predominantly male.
The inspiring stories of Kamala and Aakanksha are just a few of the thousands of enterprising women from South Asia who are leading through grit and determination, making a positive impact, and contributing to socio-economic inclusion. The common threads that run through these entrepreneurship stories are: an urge to prove their skills as businesswomen, the confidence to be able to break perceived barriers, and the agility to leverage technology.
There has been a burst in successful women’s ventures in e-commerce and other technology-intensive businesses. These successes have become a guiding light for other women business owners across geographies who are now even more resolved to take risks and prove that gender is no longer a deterrent. These accomplishments of these women entrepreneurs have also driven the point home that technology is a great leveler—even though this gender tech transformation has only just begun. Technology has the potential to do much more for many more women if channeled in the right direction and expanded beyond the internet.
Women-owned businesses tend to be small- and medium-scale enterprises, especially in emerging economies. Numerous studies estimate that a substantial number of women-owned businesses across South Asia are in the category of micro-enterprises. They often tend to be concentrated in the informal sector, which was disproportionately and adversely affected by the pandemic. Despite the hardships, the vast majority of these women business owners have bounced back and are on the path to recovery.
Yet women-owned businesses are a long way from parity, especially when it comes to accessing opportunities in global trade. Juggling multiple responsibilities within the family and travel limitations challenge a vast amount of women business owners across most socio-economic contexts.
But technology can help level the playing field. Technology is arguably the biggest enabler and equalizer—besides capital and capacity training—for driving innovation and growing beyond borders. To accelerate the entrepreneurial determination of this community of women, capacity-building and skills training focused on the adoption of technology beyond the internet are needed.
Everyone needs to be part of the solution. Large companies, particularly those with global footprints, should consciously make their supply chains inclusive and diverse. Among the global firms already doing so is IBM, which has long recognized that diversity is critical to fostering innovation and delivering value to clients — and that supplier diversity adds to its competitive advantage while stimulating growth in a global marketplace. In fact, it was the first information technology firm to join the Billion Dollar Roundtable, an organization that encourages businesses to increase their spending with diverse suppliers.
The government sector needs to help women-owned businesses access capital, particularly microfinancing for smaller businesses, to enable entrepreneurial ideas to take off. Incubators and mentors need to help women with processes and connections. Basic entrepreneurial education, financial literacy, and digital upskilling of women—along with follow-up support from the government and private sector— can help women achieve their dreams. Ensuring access to connected devices for women from economically disadvantaged groups can make a perceptible difference.
Women-owned businesses are one of the most underutilized drivers of innovation and job growth in both developed and emerging markets.
It is clear that women business owners represent the most promising engine of growth in India and around the world. But, much more needs to be done if we are serious about achieving the UN sustainable developmental goal (SDG) 5 which focuses on gender parity, by 2030.
Eroshan Alagaretnam is South Asia Regional Director for WEConnect International, and Guo Yan (Joy) Zhou is Supplier Diversity Program Manager for Asia Pacific at IBM. Views are personal.