Globally, women-owned businesses are on the rise. According to American Express, women own 38% of U.S. small businesses, and Score reports women-owned businesses increased 45% from 2007 to 2016—five times faster than the national average. Globally, while the statistics vary from country to country, female entrepreneurship is on the rise—and Forbes notes that “Worldwide, women-owned businesses are expanding in number and in size, throughout an ever-wider range of industries.” The latest research available from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports that women’s entrepreneurial activity has increased 10%, further closing gender gaps.
Technology plays a key role in making business growth accessible. The Harvard Business Review published research that shows access to technology is a key factor in speeding up global gender equality. Organizations like the UN agree, so much so in fact that technology has been made a key focus of the UN Women’s innovation strategy for 2018–2021. Women-owned businesses across the globe are using technology to grow. In particular, tools like mobile phones, tablets, and cloud-based services are helping entrepreneurs and business owners across nations compete more effectively.
Micro-enterprises and the Flexibility of Smart Devices
From micro-enterprises to growing midsize businesses, smaller companies make up a significant percentage of the economic engine that drives the world forward. Often, these businesses are operated by a single person or just a few people; yet World Bank data suggests that there are as many as 445 million small businesses worldwide. Around the globe, many small businesses are owned by women entrepreneurs who balance business and family responsibilities.
Smart technology, including phones and tablets, has made it easier to strike that balance and keep their businesses growing. As YourStory notes, “Smart devices have brought the world of Internet closer to homemakers, while the e-commerce boom has ensured that these home-based entrepreneurs have access to the virtual spaces where the consumers are at. As a result, it has become easier for women to juggle between familial responsibilities and pursue their latent skills, talents, and hobbies to create value out of them.”
Access to Information and Learning
Launching and running a business is a knowledge-intensive endeavor, and around the world, women entrepreneurs are hungry for information. Access to the Internet, mobile devices, and computers has been essential for scaling up information—especially to digital learning initiatives and support systems that are making it easier for entrepreneurs to thrive.
Organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners have created virtual learning platforms to help members network, share best practices, and access the latest information. International organizations like UNESCO are investing heavily in bringing digital skills to rural women and girls, to help empower entrepreneurship, business, and long-term economic stability. The latest technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are even being used to create tools like Alice—a virtual assistant designed to help connect women business owners with the resources they need (although the service isn’t restricted, it was coded with women in mind).
E-Commerce Opens Up a New World of Markets
Web-based commerce has opened up entirely new global markets. Women’s cooperatives in Africa can hand-weave baskets, for example, and then sell them through an online portal to customers from North American to Asia. Mobile phones are also enabling a wider range of businesses to sell their products. Consider the case of one business reported by Entrepreneur: “A refugee camp in South Sudan was found to be flourishing with micro-enterprises and small businesses, mostly led by women. Technology, the massive gamechanger, is crushing barriers between geographies and cultures, and unifying businesses with the perfect customer to get them hooked without prohibitive costs.”
ODI agrees that mobile technologies have been a gamechanger: “As [the UN report] highlights, mobile phones and digital platforms are already benefiting female entrepreneurs: connecting them to markets, providing multi-lingual training, and facilitating their collective action. For example, in India the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) supports women’s networking and access to market information on their mobile phones.”
Smartphones and Tablets Empower Mobile Payments
Globally, many businesses operate in a system where banking or taking digital payments is more complex. Processing mobile payments on smartphones and tablets has had a powerful, positive impact. Digital payments provide flexibility, better payment tracking, business data, and more. But, the World Bank notes, mobile payments have had a particular and positive impact for women entrepreneurs:
“Women, in particular, can benefit from digital payments. Social norms and family responsibilities, for example, often prevent women from traveling to distant suppliers or bank branches. Digital payments give women better access to the marketplace—no need, for example, to travel far to deposit money—lowering these barriers to mobility. Similarly, social norms also can limit a female entrepreneur’s control over her earnings. But electronic payments ensure a woman’s money is private and secure, making it less likely that family members or others will demand a portion of the cash. Studies show that the entire household benefits when income is left in the hands of women instead of men: Women invest more in nutrition and child health.”
As we celebrate this International Women’s Day, few stories are more inspiring than those of women business owners. Whether they’re using the Internet to develop the skills to launch a company or powering an entire business with smartphones and mobile payments, hundreds of millions of women are changing their lives and the global economy with the businesses they run. Technologies are providing a whole layer of support to enable growth, from education to selling platforms to payment processing.