Bridging digital divide for women entrepreneurs

Phub Dem 

Unstable payment gateway and limited information on how to leverage benefits from online platforms was identified as some of the hurdles participants pointed out at a national inception workshop on e-commerce yesterday.

The workshop organised by the Department of Trade in collaboration with the United Nation Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) targeted e-commerce capacity building for women-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in South Asia.

An entrepreneur said that it took more than two months for banks to complete an international transaction. She said startups could not afford to wait and the company had closed card swipe payment. “We supply our services only if the payment is made in cash.”

Over the years, digital trading practices addressed the challenges of geographic isolation and limited access to information and financing.

But improving connectivity, building a legal and regulatory environment to encourage e-commerce, creating a seamless marketplace for ICT goods and services and developing human capacities remains a challenge.

Chief trade officer of DoT, Rinchen Lhazom, said that while entrepreneurs had been using social media platform and cyberspace to market their products, they were not provided with legal status in terms of licensing.

With the launch of e-commerce guideline last year, she said that firms could apply for e-commerce licenses.

She said that opening a business unit required huge investment, but the digital platform cut setup and overheads cost.

Vice President of South Asian Women Development Forum for Bhutan, Damchae Dem, said that the focus of the entrepreneur should be on the sustainable supply chain.

She added that e-commerce platform was the most economical way to reach to the global market if the CSIs have the quantity to reach out to the world.

“The entrepreneurs should focus on the local market first and then gradually ascend to the regional and international market.”

Considering the importance of the supply chain network, she added that the portal should be inclusive of rural women as well.

A representative from the UN Bhutan, Tshering Wangmo, said that the lack of local mentors for new entrepreneurs was also a challenge. “The fear of duplication of ideas restricts entrepreneurs from approaching mentors,” she said.

Leveraging e-commerce, according to Economic Affairs Officer of South and Southwest Asia office, Rajan Sudesh Ratna (PhD) was expected to ensure efficient business practices and allow flexible working arrangements such as women working from home.

He said that the workshop would seek assistance and feedback from the existing women entrepreneurs so that challenges they face in ICT would help the UNESCAP frame modules.

The two-day workshop was aimed at enhancing women entrepreneurs in the application of e-commerce platform to expand their business exports and participate in the local and global supply chains.

The event brought together all the relevant stakeholders –women entrepreneurs, civil society organisation, government agencies and Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry.

Twenty Bhutanese women entrepreneurs participated in the workshop.

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