Sophisticated entrepreneurship and its sustainability depend on technology. As a source of instant help bridging communication gaps, it reduces time to gather information considered the number one raw material for an entrepreneur. This minimises cost and makes an enterprise competitive. Access to technology for Bangladesh is nominal, only more so for women entrepreneurs. According to global information, internet penetration of Bangladesh is 14 per cent (2016), while it was 10 per cent in 2015. In China internet penetration is 50 per cent (2016) and in India it is 26 per cent.
Technology has important effects on business operations. Notwithstanding the size of an enterprise, technology has both tangible and intangible benefits that help women entrepreneurs (WE) to make money and produce results and meet customers' demand. Technological infrastructure affects culture, efficiency and relationships of a business.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to change the course of 21st century, addressing key challenges such as poverty, inequality, violence against women and girls. Women's empowerment is a precondition for this. SDG 5, target 8 advocates enhancing the use of technology, in particular information and communication technology, to help empowerment of women.
ILO statistics show that 586 million people globally were self-employed in 2015, of which 48 per cent are from South Asia. They are classified as Own Account Workers. Gender Digital Literacy Gaps--an App is now available to gauge how much time a woman spends on work and how much they earn. So technology can give affordability of a higher standard of life and an entrepreneur can bring efficiency in production line by using selected demand-oriented technology. Bangladesh is much behind in providing policy support to women entrepreneurs for technology use.
BUILD has taken an initiative to conduct a small study to see how best some policy Advocacy can be done for WE to fit them in a better position. Initially there was an understanding that WE are engaged mostly in the micro and cottage sector since long and some traditional less economic handicrafts and fashion-based clothing products, but now things have been changing. Women are contributing to outsourcing on receiving freelance training on making software, electrical and electronics products, light engineering and many more.
No wonder with the Fourth Industrial Revolution started in 2012 by cloud computing and mobile usage, the Bangladesh government emphasises progress in ICT, digitalisation and adopted an action plan on it. ICT can bring 35 per cent more growth in industrialisation. But of the capable labour force, 52 per cent are women. Women entrepreneurs' involvement in ICT is vital for employment generation and attaining SDG goals.
The Bangladesh Bank, one of the pioneers in supporting WE, has got a wing, Women, Entrepreneur Development Unit established in 2009. The government is also serious about encouraging skill development training, skill development teaching at10 institutions. Of the trainees, 40 per cent are women. IT-based entrepreneurship needs specific type of funding arrangement. Entrepreneurship Equity Funding for Agro is unsuitable for the IT sector. There is need for sound policy on 'infopreneurs'.
A BUILD-organised seminar reaffirmed how technology and innovation have become a game changer in turning women into business entrepreneurs. Women at IT-related startups face problems in obtaining a trade licence. It is costly too. Mostly F-commerce is in practice, but this is not an online shop as such women entrepreneurs face insecurity. Usually women entrepreneurs start their business mostly from their own house and to obtain a trade licence they need a show room anywhere other than at home. Startups are facing these obstacles involving an extra-legal issue.
Money exchange security is still a big question for big amount of money. Women take help from their male relatives like father, brother, and husband to get rid of hassles regarding documentation management. Necessity of appointment of lawyers is another crucial issue. The chamber, association concerned can play a role in supporting WE.
As there is no Mobile Payment gateway for e-Commerce, women are mostly getting their payment through cash on delivery. So monetary transaction is also a problem. Enforcement of delivery channel inside Bangladesh before cross-border delivery channel was recommended at the seminar. Invention of more advertisement platform for e-commerce, other than social networking platforms, ensuring authentication of payment and other relevant security was emphasised. Recent introduction of PayPal is a revolutionary step. WE can benefit from it by making best use of these available technology.
Sadly, e-commerce industry has no data, so all the projections are made on estimation. e-CAB has 685 members, there are 1,000 websites and around 10,000 Facebook-based businesses. According to estimates, it is Tk 18 billion (1,800 crore) business but it projected to rise up to an industry of 100 billion by 2021. e-commerce has been getting popular among WE in Bangladesh because of its nature and type of business. Basic policy support can give a boost to the sector.
Digital technology has brought enhanced growth in every sector of work, education, and business, social, cultural and other related areas. Women are now engaged in freelancing and e-commerce but there is a need for disaggregated data to know the real contribution of women and thus framing good policies for bringing them into the mainstream.
Bangladesh has a number of policies to take care of all these issues. ICT Policy 2015 has given some leverage to WE, Industrial Policy, Women Policy categorically mention about the need for technology for women. There is Foreign Investment Protection Act, Cyber Security Policy 2010, Information Security Policy Guideline 2014, Rural Connectivity Policy Guideline 2010, ICT Fellowship and Donation Policy, National e-Governance Architecture, Mobile Banking Policy Guideline, National Telecom Policy 2010, Guidelines on Mobile Financial Services (MFS), Secretariat Instructions 2014 (amended), Proactive Information Disclosure Guidelines 2014 and Hi-Tech Park Authority Act 2010 etc.; Public procurement policy and SME policy. In all these policies the role of women has been highlighted but enforcement of those is not up to the mark. some policies are only wish lists.
Mostly informal, E-commerce industry and enterprises need to be formalised by issuing e-commerce policy and easing separate trade licence and TIN for these enterprises. Enlisting women entrepreneurs under a women forum or a chamber, a detailed study to point out the problems these entrepreneurs face, engaging f-commerce enterprises with BSCIC and NASCIB were suggested.
Of the total, IT companies' ratio is 12 per cent but of that ratio women have only 3.0-4.0 per cent share. Women do not need high education for such entrepreneurship or e-commerce, so a large pool of young women entrepreneurs can avail of these opportunities without upsetting their family chores, rearing children and performing other obligations. Internship in various projects and companies, easy software apps and wider use of these apps can easily educate women to develop their entrepreneurial capacities.
The writer is CEO, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), a partnership organization of DCCI, MCCI and CCI.