This series tracks news and views from our ‘Evidence-Based Policy Research Methods’ (EPRM) course. Many participants work at the highest of levels, both nationally and internationally, including for other sections of the UN system. In normal times, they come to the City of Maastricht in the Netherlands for this unique blended learning programme, covering a total of three weeks in class and 10 weeks online.
In this blog post, I discuss the gender gap in the LAC region and explain how digital technologies can empower female entrepreneurs. I also focus on how COVID-19 has accelerated the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but that digital technologies need to be properly harnessed – lest we broaden the digital divide and gender gap. To be truly sustainable and truly fit into the 2030 Agenda, this positive change must be built on evidence-based policy research.
For the almost 100 million female entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), digital technologies are set to play an ever-greater role in their emancipation, and to enable them to compete successfully in a male-dominated environment. In study after study, we see how the internet, cell phones, computers, social networking, and other technologies can radically improve business efficiency, access to work flexibility, banking services, information on market and customers and networking among female entrepreneurs – and help to achieve the gender equality targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As I write this in March 2021, it is increasingly clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies, and that entrepreneurial women in the LAC region have a unique opportunity to reap various gains for socio-economic empowerment. This potential may, however, remain untapped unless women entrepreneurs can learn and access digital technologies – which in turn relies on effective policies and adequate investments, especially for this region in tourism and related service sectors.
From empirical and anecdotal evidence, we know that digital technologies can deliver improved efficiency in the management and performance of business enterprises. Yet, digital technologies also have a ‘dark side’, including the digital divide between developed and developing countries, as well as between different social groups within countries. Therefore, there needs to be an explicit recognition of these problems, followed by effective strategies to harness the positive and limit the negative consequences of digital technologies across the Global South.
Embedded in these considerations is the need for a ‘context-focused’ and integrated approach, capable of delivering real benefits to female entrepreneurship, instead of merely paying lip service to the promise of its offerings. The fundamental barriers and challenges in the environment of female-owned SMEs in the LAC region include relatively limited access to credit and financial services; weak legal and regulatory framework, institutionalism, promotion of women entrepreneurship, women’s associations or networks; and other general cultural idiosyncrasies of the societies. Yet, the extent to which these factors affect female entrepreneurs in the LAC region remains unclear – necessitating more research and analysis.
In the absence of seminal studies on the converging impact of digital technologies and female entrepreneurship in the LAC region, there can be a vicious cycle of instability and inequality among female entrepreneurs after this fresh momentum of digital transformation. Such studies would largely utilise samples of female entrepreneurs, as well as other key stakeholders from within the tourism and service-related sectors as being representative of female entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Clearly, in-depth analytical research will strengthen the overall resilience of female entrepreneurship in the LAC region by objectively investigating and understanding: (i) how digital technologies can play a role in alleviating the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs, (ii) the ways in which digital technologies can influence and stimulate institutional reform within the ecosystem of enterprises, and ultimately (iii) how digital technologies can radically transform the empowerment of female entrepreneurs. This approach will shift away from piecemeal and short-term solutions for female entrepreneurship towards a more comprehensive and long-term perspective – one that can doubly disrupt the status quo by empowering women to harness technology.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Pexels / O. Kosuki