As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to aggravate gender inequality, women are looking for solutions. In light of this, representatives from UN Women, APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women, China Chamber of International Commerce, China Women’s University, Women Political Leaders, and other speakers shared their vision and recommendations on digital transformation for women to get through the crisis, at the APEC Women Connect Online Conference on 30 June.
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APEC Women Connect Online Conference (Photo: Business Wire)
The virtual conference was co-hosted by ABAC, the private-sector arm of the APEC, and DHgate, the leading B2B cross-border e-commerce marketplace in China.
Julia Torreblanca, chair of ABAC Inclusion Working Group, said in the welcome remarks, “This is a great opportunity for us in the private sector to engage even more actively and fight together with authorities the best way around challenging times.”
Mohammad Naciri, regional director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, shared a general landscape of the gender inequality in technology adoption, citing India as an example, where only one-third of women have a mobile phone, compared to two-thirds of men. “We believe that digital technologies present enormous opportunities for women, which is why we want to get them into their hands,” Naciri said.
Public and Private collaboration empowers women
“Our chamber places top priorities on gender equality and skill empowerment,” said Sun Xiao, director general of Multilateral Cooperation Department of China Chamber of International Commerce. The chamber has launched many projects in empowering women, including the BRICS Women Innovation Contest to increase the participation of women in the economic process and online capacity-building training for female entrepreneurs in various countries.
Silvana Koch-Mehrin, president and founder of Women Political Leaders (WPL), a worldwide network of thousands of women politicians, emphasized the importance of including women equally in leadership in the public and private sector, adding that “women leaders, in our experience, really need three things, and that’s community, connection, and communication,”
“We’ve got around 50% of women on the public sector boards. So, we use it as an example to prove it is really a good thing,” said Rebecca Barnes, policy director of Manatū Wāhine Ministry for Women in New Zealand. The Ministry is the government’s principal advisor on achieving better results for women, and wider New Zealand.
Professor Li Ying, dean of the School of International Education at China Women’s University, shared a case of a female entrepreneur in Jiande county in Zhejiang province, East China, to illustrate the public and private’s strong collaboration in empowering women. The unnamed entrepreneur, who had never received higher education, used to raise chicken at a time when the local government would like to attract people to upskill to more environment-friendly industries. The local government teamed up with an agricultural institute to seek alternatives. They found the land suitable for planting a specific herb, which could be used to cure cardiovascular diseases. Afterward, the government provided funds and encouraged the women to lead villagers to grow this herb, while the institute offered technological support. The new venture turned to be a success finally.
“COVID-19 reminds us we need to accelerate the efforts to narrow the gender gap because women in the disadvantaged group are more fragile. If we do not accelerate this pace on these efforts, the gap will become bigger,” Li said.
Technology empowers women in the crisis
Annie Cheng, vice president and head of corporate communications, Greater China at Visa, said the company, as a sponsor for Olympic for 30 years, aims to provide capacity building, including digital adoption. It has trained over 5,000 women, who are business owners in culture, tourism and the sports sector, so they could capture the opportunities in the games.
“We know that when we empower women, individuals benefit, the family benefit, and the community benefit,” Cheng said.
“89% of our Chinese female entrepreneurs, graduated from our programs, had already been giving back to their community by donation or mentoring more women in the community before COVID-19,” echoed Mandy Ying, an associate of corporate engagement at Goldman Sachs. She is responsible for running the firm’s philanthropic initiatives in China, particularly the 10,000 Women China.
“This proves that the Chinese female entrepreneurs are walking the walk,” she commented.
Diane Wang, founder, chairperson and CEO of DHgate, gave the attendees an example of how tech has helped a girl survive the pandemic. Meria, a Texas-based Zumba instructor, quarantined and lost her previous way to make a living, but she has learned to leverage on DHgate’s decentralized e-commerce SaaS – MyyShop to earn new money.
She has introduced Zumba leggings and tops from the SaaS platform to her fans in Facebook groups. Once her fans place orders from her channels, MyyShop would dropship to her customers directly. At the same time, she can make money from selling products through her private online community, without the need to understand trade policies, operations, and logistics. “This simple business model has enabled everyone access to international trade equally, and boosted international trade to the next level,” said Wang.
While Meria’s story is inspiring, Zhixin Chen, vice president of Plug and Play China, shared her observation, which is encouraging. “We still have a long way to go, but in recent years it’s happy to see more female founders in the high technology sector.”
Chetna Gala Sinha, a social activist and founder of Mann Deshi Bank, said that only 10 % of women had an access to smartphones in her area at the beginning of the pandemic, and now it has increased to 40%. She added that the increased penetration of smartphones had created many opportunities for women to do business.
“Women are ready to go for this digital platform. And once they get that entry, nobody can stop that,” she predicted. Sinha, the female activist, has actually witnessed women’s growth and advancement for years in her country. She founded the first business school for rural women in India in 2006 and launched a toll-free helpline and the first Chambers of Commerce for women micro-entrepreneurs in 2013.
“I believe, very strongly, on one side, we will help these women to scale their business, provide them loans for their micro enterprises, but on the other side, we have to get the data and make this micro enterprise visible globally,” Sinha said.
In China, Ruby Xing, founder of Hello Future Academy, shared her experience in coping with COVID-19. She ran a preschool daycare center in Beijing, but had to shut that down amid the health crisis. The female entrepreneur shifted to offer short videos to help train the parents of their previous clients, kids aged below 6, bringing the number of online tutors to 200 within one year.
“We don’t need to be the man, but we still need to figure out a way to be strong. We can learn from mistakes, we can focus on a single wide industry, and we will be successful,” she said.
Her Story: Women use tech to make a change
The APEC Women Connect Online Conference also presented a stage for women founders to share their stories.
Kara Nguyen from Vietnam, founder of Mpact, said women use only about 20% of their wardrobe while spending 17 minutes on average every morning to select what to wear. To minimize waste, she founded Mpact, producing clothes not based on trends or forecasts but actual feedback data directly from women.
“It could be very revolutionary to see women can take back the power from media, embrace their uniqueness, and only buy what truly fits them and not just their body, but also the lives by personal values,” she said.
Anna Davidson from the UK, founder of Amazon 101 Academy, who knows well how to build brands, create e-commerce stores, and market on e-commerce, has taught over 2,000 students to build successful businesses through online and offline training programs.
“It’s great to be able to help other women go and find an interest and learn these digital skills to be able to create the ground and sell into the marketplace. And they look after their family at the same time,” said Davidson, who has recently been featured in Forbes Magazine in April 2020.
“The more role models we have, the more relatable success feels,” chimed in Sabina Nforba from Cameroon, co-founder and president of AfriTech Hub. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to creating innovative young people through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
Watch the full replay of the conference to gain more insights: https://fb.watch/6uBaJ_eDMe/
Founded in 2004, DHgate has become the leading B2B cross-border e-commerce marketplace in China. Through our global operations and offices, including in the USA and UK, we reach millions of people with trusted products and services. As of December 31, 2020, DHgate served more than 36 million registered buyers from 223 countries and regions by connecting them to over 2.3 million sellers in China and other countries, with over 25 million live listings on the platform annually. For more information, please visit dhgate.com and follow @DHgate.com.