APEC Women Connect Calls for Multilateral Cooperation Aiming to Reach and Empower Women with Digital Solutions in the Age of Social Commerce

BEIJING–()–To address the issues of gender equality and the role of digitalization in empowering women, the APEC Women Connect Virtual Workshop-Women’s Digital Inclusion in the New Normal was held on July 22nd, 2022.

Representatives from international organizations and institutions, including BRICS Women’s Business Alliance (BRICS WBA), Business 20 Indonesia (B20 Indonesia), Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (IBCWE), International Association of Women (IAW), International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UN Women China, and the private sector including DHGATE Group, Hauweng Tourism, John Wiley & Sons, SmartDigital Solution, Unilever Indonesia, Mann Deshi Bank & Mann Deshi Foundation, and MyyShop shared their insights and recommendations on how to equip women with relevant digital skills in order to enhance their digital capabilities for participating in the future economy.

Multilateral cooperation is needed

Ruikan Yang, Head-of-Office of UN Women China, shared a number of statistics to illustrate the digital gender gap during her opening remarks.

“Only 54% of women in the Asia Pacific region use the Internet. This divide is particularly pronounced in South Asian countries where women are 38% less likely to use the Internet,” Yang said.

“Although the mobile gender gap has narrowed over time, it is once again expanding. In 2020, women were 36% less likely to use mobile Internet. This gap now has widened to 41%,” she added.

“With women facing such challenges in the digital era, I think we should strengthen collaboration in seeking new opportunities, adapt to local situations, and set on actionable and sustainable ways to improve the competitiveness of women in the workforce and female entrepreneurs across different countries,” said Diane Wang, Founder, Chairperson and CEO of DHGATE Group, during her keynote speech.

“It doesn’t need to be all-embracing at first, and it is OK to start the cooperation with only focusing on 2-3 pilot programs and a few participating countries. The most important thing is to start with solving the ‘real problems’, one by one, not only through our beliefs but through our actions. Only in this way, can we develop and implement practicable solutions,” added Wang, who initiated the APEC Women Connect program as early as 2016.

Women empowerment is in process

Wang revealed that MyyShop, a one-stop social commerce Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that DHGATE Group launched in 2020 to enable everyone to participate in global trade, has been collaborating with different partners to plan a series of events to facilitate capacity-building dialogues in the coming months.

Echoing Wang’s remarks, Atsuko Okuda, Regional Director, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), introduced programs the organization has been promoting to address the digital gender gap, including the Girls in ICT Celebration.

“Under the theme of access and safety, ITU has been celebrating this special occasion across the world. In the Asia Pacific region, we have celebrated in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Cambodia.”

“What we do is invite partners to host capacity development sessions, and we invite the girls and young women in the capital city as well as outside the capital to gain exposure to different aspects of digital technology,” Okuda added.

Maya Juwita, Executive Director, Indonesia Business Coalition for Women Empowerment (IBCWE) shared that one member of the coalition has made a policy banning meetings before 8:00am and after 6:00pm as well as between 11:30am and 1:00pm at a time when working from home during COVID has blurred the boundary between work and life.

“Before we were trying to make companies embrace a flexible working arrangement for their employees. But now after COVID, it’s more like how do we regulate flexible working arrangements so that it doesn’t become a burden for women,” said Juwita.

Megan Bozzuto, President of the International Association of Women, stated that communities need to bring authentic value to their members.

“When women join communities, they want to tap into the power of those connections as well as the shared tools, resources, and aspects users are going to find valuable, whether it’s thought leadership, specific support for projects, career advice, and so forth,” said Bozzuto.

Bozzuto explained how the International Association of Women partners with a company that offers database technology and helps the organization build a mentor connect program to support women as well as LinkedIn to provide its members with enhanced education.

“We work closely with our political parties to ensure that we influence policies,” said Veronica Motloutsi, Chair of the Innovative Development Working Group, BRICS WBA South Africa Chapter.

“The world is made through digital connections. There are many opportunities for collaboration and learning from each other. If other countries are advanced in terms of cyber security, it would be great to learn and understand more from them,” said Motloutsi, who is also the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of SmartDigital Solution.

Education and training are fundamental

In addition to multilateral cooperation, workshop participants discussed education and training as the foundation for women’s empowerment.

Billy Deng, Head of Global Livestreaming at DHGATE Group, shared how MyyShop is now engaging social media users to participate in global trade.

“In the past year, we have live-streamed to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people, 80% of whom are women.” Some of the audience are students, who are set to graduate, or have just graduated but haven’t landed a job, while others are housewives with children and whose household income has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“First of all, we teach them basic knowledge about e-commerce. Most participants don’t even know what e-commerce is. They also don’t know what is B2B or B2C,” Deng said, adding that some just “listened” rather than “watched” the courses due to limited Internet access.

Deng said he also teaches the audience about the logic behind social commerce and provides step-by-step tutorials on how to start a business on MyyShop.

MyyShop has also teamed up with more than 100 co-instructors worldwide that can speak both English and local languages to include more women in social commerce, explained Deng.

“You can see from their faces. They are actually very keen and eager to learn how to start an online business, how to get an extra income, how to start with zero budget or no investment,” Deng shared in a case study on MyyShop.

“They will have a store link and then share the store link to people around them. They will receive the money and they will get confidence and income,” he added.

Like MyyShop, international consumer goods giant Unilever is providing various training programs to women, including WeLearn, a digital platform that Unilever’s biggest brand Sunlight co-builds with UN Women, and another program Unilever co-develops with e-commerce company Tokopedia, providing women-led MSMEs with online stores and corresponding digital capacity building, according to Ira Noviarti, President Director of PT Unilever Indonesia Tbk.

“Another example that might inspire other companies operating in the same industry is to provide access to digital tools to boost their business,” Noviarti told the audience, citing an app that her company has rolled out. The app allows local bricks-and-mortar stores, more than 50% of which are operated and owned by women, to source products online, without going to a physical market, manage their business digitally, and promote their store to online shoppers.

She disclosed that in 2021, the number of digitally enabled customers for stores with both online and offline functions within the Unilever system increased globally by 4-5%, compared with stores with only an offline presence.

Digitalization benefits not only women but also businesses and society

While many speakers emphasized the importance of digitalization to women, some instead highlighted the positive effects women empowerment activities can bring to a business and society.

Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder and Chairperson of Mann Deshi Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation, told the audience how the bank itself has benefited by listening to the voices of Indian women and providing them with digital services.

She said the bank’s easy-to-use digital saving business was developed because some women, living in remote small villages, lamented that the bank was too distant from them and they wanted a digital wallet inside their phones to keep their savings and to use biometric information to keep their account safe instead of numbers given their low level of formal education. In addition, when it became difficult for people to meet during COVID, the bank commenced offering digital loans to women via mobile phones.

“You will be surprised. And when we study this credit product, within two days, 7,000 women did everything digitally, and these women have not been to school,” Sinha, also a member of BRICS WBA India Chapter, explained.

“When you’re upskilling rural women, and when you are preparing them for digital tools, you’re also preparing yourself to make simple solutions inclusive,” she said, adding that “this is what I say, with this whole digitalization, that there is an opportunity for people, for rural women, for poor people.”

Beulah Mosupye, Chairperson of Creative Industries and Tourism Working Group at BRICS WBA South Africa Chapter, told the audience that her organization is getting women entrepreneurs onto e-commerce and to take advantage of what digitalization can do for their business. The working group has helped 240 women get involved in exporting soybeans through e-commerce and has planned to impact 3,000 women in one year.

“And we know that studies tell us that when you educate a woman, you educate the whole nation, and even in business, the same is true. The more women that are accessing entrepreneurial opportunities, the more we support women to digitalize those skills, and the more knowledge is transferred to their communities and families,” said Mosupye, who is also the Founder and President of Hauweng Tourism.

Digital Skills Gap Index 2021

During the virtual workshop, CJ Hwu, Director, Strategic Partnerships & Government Affairs, Asia Pacific, John Wiley & Sons, unveiled the Digital Skills Gap Index for 2021, which is expected to provide a planning tool for policymakers, a roadmap for educators, and a resource for recruiters.

“We need to better understand where the gaps are as well as the mismatch between available skills and the skills needed,” Hwu said.

According to the index, most economies are failing to bridge the digital skills divide and only 4.2% of surveyed respondents are completely satisfied with the level and availability of digital skills.

Hwu pointed out that communications between digital skill stakeholders needs to improve, predicting that the strongest economies will be those who are best able to establish a clear lead in the development of digital skills while the most successful educational and training institutions will be those that can bridge the digital divide for successive student cohorts.

Watch the full replay of the workshop to gain more insights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyEVqM9go2c

About DHgate

Founded in 2004, DHgate has become the leading B2B cross-border e-commerce marketplace in China. Through our global operations and offices, including in the USA and UK, we reach millions of people with trusted products and services. As of December 31st, 2021, DHgate served more than 46 million registered buyers from 223 countries and regions by connecting them to over 2.4 million sellers in China and other countries, with over 37 million live listings on the platform annually. For more information, please visit dhgate.com and follow @DHgate.com.

About MyyShop

MyyShop, a cross-border e-commerce Software as a Service (SaaS) platform launched by DHgate in 2020, aims to help MSMEs, especially entry-level merchants and individuals with social influence, run their own online stores as direct sellers, turn their impact into a good business. Committed to engaging everyone in global trade, MyyShop connects Chinese manufacturing capacity with private domain traffic to lower the barrier of opening and operating a cross-border e-commerce business, with its advantages in smart product recommendation, social commerce site builder, cross-border marketing services, and smart logistics. For more information, please visit MyyShop.com and follow @MyyShopOfficial.

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