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Using ICTs with a gender lens in small businesses

ICTs are a powerful tool to alleviate barriers faced by women entrepreneurs. The impact of the COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on doing business worldwide since the beginning of 2020 have made the need to use ICTs imperative for the survival of small businesses. The digital platforms provide a large scope of opportunities for women entrepreneurs to set up and expand their businesses, maintain and create new networks in order to develop and implement their ideas in many sectors, from advertisement and the provision of various services to consulting industries and agriculture. By acquiring knowledge on how to manage and navigate digital technologies women entrepreneurs are becoming more competitive and resilient to abrupt changes.

How to use these tools and make them work for gender equality were among the key questions discussed at the international online workshop “Use of ICTs for the Promotion and Implementation of Gender Equality in Small Business Development” (22 June - 2 July)  organized by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) and MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in cooperation with UNECE. It is part of a long-standing fruitful cooperation with MASHAV and MCTC on gender activities in the areas of information sharing and capacity building for professional women from Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

23 women and men from government institutions and SME’s support and innovation agencies, NGOs dealing with small business support and development, private sector and chambers of entrepreneurs met virtually to widen their knowledge and acquire new skills on how to use ICTs and implement them in projects and activities with a gender lens.  

Workshop participants received training in specific tools and digital applications, networking and business psychology; they explored and discussed various business models that can help them to set up and successfully manage their businesses. They addressed ways in which new technologies can influence small business management, discussed networking skills, gender mainstreaming and the use of ICTs, and business thinking development. Participants shared their experience in developing platforms, projects and programmes which include women both as providers and beneficiaries of these services.

Representatives from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan discussed opportunities and current obstacles for women entrepreneurs to advance in using ICTs. While progress in applying ICTs with a gender lens varies across countries, rural and urban regions, as well as economic sectors, a range of common barriers exist. Lack of financing, insufficient information and insufficient role models for women using and developing ICTs, were highlighted as key challenges in many sectors and countries.