It is a well-established fact that women face more barriers than men in accessing and using formal financial services. After bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, women continue to face uncertainty and constantly evolving challenges, as the socio-economic repercussions continue to have a lasting effect. While the roots of these issues are often systemic, we have an opportunity to empower women with skills, knowledge, and tools that will help them thrive.
Digital innovation is unlocking economic opportunity for women across the globe by enabling them to build businesses, increase their incomes, gain more independence, and improve the quality of life for themselves, their families, and their communities. That’s what we’re working to do at Accion: partnering with inclusive financial service providers around the world to equip more women with the digital and financial tools they need to succeed in the modern economy. Women entrepreneurs need more than just tools to succeed – they must also build the confidence and the skills to start and run businesses that secure their incomes. That’s why Accion Global Advisory Solutions, with support from S&P Global Foundation, is piloting a program called LolaDigital to help young women develop entrepreneurial skills and build confidence to grow a successful business. LolaDigital is designed with a women-centered approach to equip women entrepreneurs with decision-making skills and support them as they expand their businesses online.
We’re using insights from our research into the behaviors and needs of small business owners, our experience developing successful programs like our award-winning edtech platform Ovante, and our behavior change approach to build LolaDigital. Through all our edtech programs, we have helped over 1.3 million entrepreneurs globally to date become more financially and digitally savvy through learning modules with interactive tools and techniques like gamification. This includes florist Margarita, confectioner Karen in Colombia, and the many thousands who have used our COVID-19 recovery toolkit to rebuild their resilience in the face of this crisis and future challenges and financial literacy programs in India, among others. Through user engagement metrics and surveys, we continuously refine our understanding of MSMEs’ managerial, financial, business, and digital education needs and determine how these capabilities are most effectively strengthened.
These user engagement learnings, along with prior research on the challenges faced by women-owned businesses during the pandemic, helped us identify the importance of meeting women where they are by recognizing their day-to-day responsibilities and stressors and considering the role of digital skills in building resilience. Some of the women we talked to before creating LolaDigital told us how they tend to rely on the support of other women, doubt themselves when making their own business decisions, struggle to find the time needed to learn how to expand their businesses online and reach new customers, and feel a pressing need for human support. Through these interviews with women, conversations with financial service providers in four countries, and a literature scan, we identified the following constraints on skills-building:
- For many young women in emerging markets, continuing studies after high school or even primary school is impossible for different reasons. Entrepreneurship can open a new pathway to earning their own income and achieving financial independence. However, a lack of skills to run a business in the digital world can hold them back and deepen the economic gap for women.
- Women entrepreneurs require extra support when starting a business or transitioning to a new business model. Without that extra support, this segment may feel isolated and uncertain about their future and that of their business.
- Juggling family responsibilities limits the time young women entrepreneurs can devote to their business, particularly their ability to get out of the house to market and sell their products to prospective customers.
With these insights and through ideation sessions with selected partners, we designed the program LolaDigital. Online webinars and e-learning modules will develop young women´s technical and soft skills, including digital marketing, online sales, communication, decision-making, and problem-solving. LolaDigital will also offer a mentorship component that brings together small groups with volunteers, creating space for entrepreneurs to practice their soft skills while working on a business-related activity. The program runs for five months, providing participants with plenty of time to practice and learn as they apply these skills to their own businesses – for example, creating a digital marketing plan or identifying an online payments provider.
We are excited to build the capabilities of thousands of young women entrepreneurs globally while also exploring sustainable service and operating models that could reach many more young women. Interested in helping us meet this goal? Join us. We welcome partners to help us implement this program and connect with young female entrepreneurs around the world who could benefit from a high-quality, free program. The online courses are available at www.loladigital.org in Spanish, English, and Hindi. Please contact María Belén Garrett to discuss how we can work together.