|By Elisa Fernandez Saenz - Former country representative in Vietnam, UN Women |
With 60 per cent of Vietnamese people using smart mobile devices, it unveils a promising resource for women-owned enterprises to access a huge amount of market data, build and develop business networks, and optimise production technology to reduce cost, increase productivity, and participate in the supply chains.
The ongoing pandemic has brought heavy socioeconomic impacts on women entrepreneurs and women-owned enterprises. Many of them had to close or reduce businesses which resulted in massive staff turnover. The crisis has also disrupted the supply chains and the environment for women-owned enterprises, and pre-existing business structures and barriers causing gender-differentiated impacts.
Evidence shows that women have been most affected by the pandemic – and regarding entrepreneurship, women entrepreneurs are more likely than men to engage in sectors that are hit hard, such as retail and hospitality.
Women also bear an uneven share of unpaid care responsibilities, which have significantly increased due to the lockdowns and mobility restrictions, and many of them might have experienced violence at home.
Women are less likely to use commercial digital solutions, which impacts their ability to transition to online commerce.
The survey on the digital transformation of women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) conducted by Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council (VWEC) last March showed that only 17.5 per cent applied technologies to automate key activities such as purchasing and inventory management, and 30 per cent applied software for financial management, accounting, and human resources management.
While digitalisation is inevitable, it also places women-owned MSMEs at immediate challenges and difficulties such as inadequate knowledge and skills, as well as limited financial resources and technical support for digital transformation.
It is time for women-owned enterprises to switch their entrepreneurship lens to deeply engage in digital transformation to grasp the unique opportunity for efficient recovery and sustainable development of their businesses in the new normal.
The same survey by the VWEC also revealed that most women-owned MSMEs (99 per cent) are interested in investing in technology to improve business performance. However, they are confused about the support infrastructure – how to deploy, to pick up appropriate technology solutions and necessary steps for their enterprises.
Vietnam has progressively integrated into digital transformation with strong determination through the issuance of three important documents, namely the National Digital Transformation Programme towards 2025 with a vision until 2030, the National Strategy on Fourth Industrial Revolution towards 2030, and the Digital Transformation Business Support Programme 2021-2025.
These are the solid policy background for the country’s digital transformation. Now is important to ensure gender-responsive implementation.
Since 2010, UN Women has worked closely with partners and the community to advance gender equality and empower women in Vietnam, in line with our institutional mandate and national priorities.
In an unprecedented global pandemic, we understand more than ever the urgent need for a gender-sensitive response to the needs of all entrepreneurs, especially women-owned MSMEs.
With an aim to equip them with sustainable recovery capacity building, under the EU-funded WeEmpowerAsia programme, UN Women has supported the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Vietnam Women’s Academy to build 25 free e-learning courses on women entrepreneurship development, including women leadership, management, e-commerce, and resilience.
E-learning is designed to allow women entrepreneurs to use their smart mobile devices to participate in these courses anytime, anywhere. We have also partnered with the VWEC to provide various short training courses on business continuity, digital sales, and e-marketing for women-owned enterprises to encourage business recovery and growth post-pandemic.
Digital transformation presents a huge opportunity for enterprises, however, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What has traditionally worked for male entrepreneurs or even female entrepreneurs before COVID-19 might not be applicable in the new context.
In such cases, policy responses and interventions going forward should be gender-aware and take into account gender-based analyses to support the recovery, integration, and the growth of women-owned enterprises in the new era of technology.
This is a timely occasion to discuss how to better address the needs of women entrepreneurs and strengthen women’s economic empowerment through improving knowledge and actions for business leaders to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.