Lindiwe Masango, Owner of Lee Ice Cubes in Pretoria, South Africa, and user of our HerVenture business skills app. Credit: The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
Lindiwe Masango, Owner of Lee Ice Cubes in Pretoria, South Africa, and user of our HerVenture business skills app. Credit: The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

How small NGOs can support women entrepreneurs to bridge the digital divide

Women’s economic empowerment is essential for wider gender justice, and women entrepreneurs are key to a huge number of other development outcomes.

However, the digital gender gap prevents women from accessing the tools and services they need for their businesses to thrive in the modern world. We worked with Intuit to survey over 1,100 women entrepreneurs across 81 countries, exploring their use of digital technology and the challenges they face in accessing it. Here’s how NGOs can be part of the solution.

Many small NGOs have shown strong commitment to the Global Goals, including goal 5: gender equality. It’s promising to see this issue being championed by so many organisations across the world, but with more than a century to go before women are economically equal to men at current rates of change, we must accelerate our progress. This means closing the digital gender gap and supporting women entrepreneurs to use digital tools and services, which are increasingly necessary for business success.

Digital tools strengthen women’s businesses and boost economic equality

1,156 women entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries around the world took part in our 2023 survey, sharing their challenges, motivations, opportunities and experiences. Their responses formed our latest research report with Intuit, titled ‘Bridging the Divide: Women, Tech and Business Success’. The report sheds light on the need for increased accessibility to digital technology, as well as a need for digital skills training that’s tailored specifically to women’s needs.

Digital tools and services have presented fantastic opportunities for women entrepreneurs, allowing them to reach more customers, optimise their business’ efficiency, sell products online, and more. As more business functions and financial transactions move online, women are increasingly reliant on digital technology for their businesses. Our survey respondents made this clear, with 92.1% reporting high internet usage, mainly through smartphones, 37.2% reporting plans to increase their tech-related spending this year, and nearly a quarter saying that digital inclusion was a key factor in business success.

The report also revealed a positive trend toward embracing advanced technologies like AI, with 44.4% having used it for various business purposes, such as content generation. Using AI to streamline tasks can be hugely beneficial for women’s capacity, which is often lacking due to unpaid care and domestic responsibilities. With increased capacity, women have more time to progress towards their business goals and achieve their full potential.

However, respondents cited a lack of AI training as a key barrier to adoption and indicated an appetite for increased technical skills more broadly.

Women face unique challenges in accessing digital spaces

While digital tools and services are hugely important for women’s business success, accessing them can be challenging and even dangerous. Internet costs and network disruptions present significant barriers to internet access for women, with 69.1% and 67.3% reporting these issues respectively.

What’s more, women often face abuse, harassment, exploitation and other harmful acts online, which can impact their ability to do business. Nearly 70% of women surveyed reported witnessing or experiencing online gender-based violence and nearly half said that online gender-based violence had impacted their business success.

We must address these issues and ensure that women can safely access digital tools for their businesses. When women entrepreneurs have the tools and support that they need to succeed, we all benefit. Their businesses provide vital services in their communities, boost local economies, and create a ripple effect of impact.

How can small NGOs support women entrepreneurs to overcome the divide?

Small NGOs and non-profit organisations have a key role to play in supporting women’s entrepreneurship and closing the digital and economic gender gaps. Our research identified two key routes:

Bringing world-class training programmes to women entrepreneurs

Organisations with a focus on skills development and gender can use their regional or international networks to provide training to women entrepreneurs in low and middle-income countries.

This could include courses on digital literacy and other crucial business skills. Programmes like these are best delivered in close partnership with local women’s business associations or government agencies responsible for small business development. This ensures knowledge transfer and institution building, supporting local stakeholders to conduct their training programmes in alignment with their local environments.

Forging implementation partnerships with government agencies, private companies and multilateral organisations

These organisations typically have large-scale resources but limited deployment capacity on the ground due to the lack of local networks and know-how. These partnerships would support the design of new services and the scaling of tried and tested services for women entrepreneurs.

Learn more

Together as a sector, we can boost women’s entrepreneurship, accelerate progress towards women’s economic justice, and create a fairer, more prosperous world. Download the research report to learn more.


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