|Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship Development Based on Good Practice Programmes: Some Experiences from the North to the South - Working Paper N° 9 (ILO, 2001, 107 p.)|
|4. PROGRAMMES PROMOTING MSES IN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES|
(see bibliography on European Union a; European Union b; ACEnet Feb 1999)
Information and communications technology (ICT) is important to promoting women's entrepreneurship in three ways. First it is important as a method of service provision; second, as a way for entrepreneurs to reach more markets and customers, and third, as a new, growing sector for female entrepreneurs to enter. This section reviews programme information and general assessments of the future importance of this sector for entrepreneurship development.
Many agencies have started using information technology to provide MSEs with access to information. This was evident in the previous section with the online information resources. Information technology is also being used to provide distance-learning services. A German project under the European Union's ADAPT programme developed a multi-media tele-coaching system for women in MSEs. Its purpose was to provide users with certification in the design, implementation and marketing of multi-media systems. The distance learning is done through training modules on CD-ROMS, email tutorials, and two hours a day of on-the-job training. A Luxembourg ADAPT project is compiling a database of training information on different sectors of the economy, giving details of relevant courses and seminars being offered, while a Belgian Flemish project is working on establishing a transnational training network via the Internet, accessible to small and medium enterprises employing less than 200 workers.
Information technology can assist women entrepreneurs in start-up and expansion, not only through access to training materials, but also through the many contacts available through the Internet. Entrepreneurs can use the Internet to expand supplier networks and reach new customers and markets for final goods around the world. This was mentioned in the ACEnet information, where their Webmarket sells locally produced goods across the globe. Two Employment NOW projects also help women entrepreneurs utilize the Internet effectively in their businesses. The STEW project in the Netherlands uses information and communications technology (ICT) to give women an edge in the business world. STEW provides women entrepreneurs with training in the use of the Internet, electronic commerce and distance management. To make access to new forms electronic communications easier, STEW offers a tele-info-desk. The DATAWEB project in Greece trains all participants in information and communication technologies, emphasizing how important computers are to future business. After gaining basic computer skills the women then learn how to use the Internet to access market information, learn about suppliers and do their banking. Finally, Crasform also emphasized computer knowledge in their ecological building training programmes.
As well as being an important way to access information and services, information and communication technologies are a prime example of the type of products that women entrepreneurs can market. This is particularly true in the developing country context where many areas do not have access to even basic telephone services, let alone fax or Internet services. The modem economy is driven by information and knowledge, so expansion of ICT services across the globe will be a booming sector, one that is not yet biased towards either men or women. Provision of these services can be a high value entry point for women entrepreneurs. With the expanded use of cellular phones and the franchising of telecommunication services in many countries in the developing world, there are many opportunities in this field. These opportunities are being taken up by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, with its Grameen Village Pay Phone Service (see Barton and Bear (1999) for details).
Use of information technologies to provide services to MSEs and to support the startup and expansion of MSEs has the elements of good practice for many reasons. First, these technologies increase outreach at very low cost and allow clients to access the materials they are directly interested in, as long as they are available. Second, through using new information technology women entrepreneurs gain skills that will be necessary in conducting business in the future. Providing support services online can help to increase women's access to the services as they can be used at the clients' convenience. This can help improve the sustainability of women's enterprises, as access to information is very important to survival. Institutional sustainability is somewhat uncertain as the development of training modules and distance learning centres could be expensive, as could the physical capital necessary maintain the services (computers, etc.). Impact is again difficult to determine, as there have not been many reports of numbers using or outcomes of using these new modes of information and service provision.
Replicability of programmes using ICT either to deliver services or to train entrepreneurs to access what the Internet offers depends on access to computers and Internet facilities in developing countries and more particularly, women's access to these facilities. Once access is established, ICT can be used to its utmost to assist women in their entrepreneurial endeavours. However, as women often experience differential access to technology, care must be taken in how ICT technologies are provided to communities to ensure that women are not excluded. Having women entrepreneurs active in the sector as ICT providers could be a start in improving access to information, markets and sources of assistance.
Lessons Learned from Information and Communications Technology:
· Information technology is a key means of providing access to information. It can be used to expand training outreach and assist in making connections with new suppliers and markets across the globe. This can be done from the home, so women with limited mobility can derive benefit.
· Women can play a central role in providing information and communication technologies. These sectors are expanding, offering women opportunities in both developed and developing countries to start businesses offering these services.
· Attention must be given to ensuring that women are not excluded from access to new technologies. Sector specific training and incubators targeting women entrepreneurs and ICTs can facilitate women's business start-ups in the ICT sector.