UN Women and Ant Foundation to empower women entrepreneurs

Sarah Knibbs, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific at UN Women

United Nations Women and Ant Foundation, jointly announced the launch of “Together Digital”, a five-year programme to support women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and empower them to participate and thrive in the digital economy.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Women entrepreneurs account for up to a third of all businesses operating worldwide. UN Women has found that the majority of those in developing economies stay confined to SMBs often operating in the informal economy.

The World Bank notes that in 2021, women make up 54% of those financially excluded from the digital economy, and women entrepreneurs also face more difficulties than men in accessing markets and finance. The Together Digital programme aims to help narrow the gender gap in access to digital tech, and to support the digital empowerment of women.

What is the purpose of the Together Digital initiative?

Through training, access to markets and resources such as funding and knowledge exchange opportunities, the programme will support women entrepreneurs in MSMEs to establish, maintain and expand their businesses in the digital era. The Together Digital programme has started projects in China and Indonesia that will run for 27 months. It will also establish a regional network of thought leaders in the digital sector, including three main areas of work:

  • Enhance the capacity of women entrepreneurs in China to access financial services;
  • Improve the capacity of women entrepreneurs from MSMEs in Indonesia through training and mentoring and increase access to funding opportunities;
  • Establish a cross-cutting regional network of champions and thought leaders to facilitate knowledge exchange, skills transfer, and mentorship opportunities for the promotion of digital empowerment of women in Asia and the Pacific region.

In China, the programme will equip women entrepreneurs from MSMEs with capacities to better access gender-sensitive digital skills development, markets and financial services.

In Indonesia, the programme will provide digital skills training to women owners of ultra-micro, micro, and SMBs. Piloting the programme in greater Jakarta and Lombok, UN Women Indonesia will work with the public and private sector, and UN sister agencies to strengthen an ecosystem for the most disadvantaged women entrepreneurs, including those with disabilities, to access skills development and seed funding, and better access to markets.

The UN Women Together Digital programme aims to strengthen women’s agency and entrepreneurial capacity building as part of the national recovery plan for COVID-19.

A network within the Together Digital programme will convene champions and thought leaders from the tech, innovation, and finance sectors to facilitate knowledge exchange, skills transfer, and mentorship opportunities to support the digital empowerment of women.

Network members will be recruited under the three pillars of Leadership, Finance, and Innovation. With UN Women’s support, they will make programmatic, policy-driven, philanthropic, or advocacy-based commitments to support women’s digital empowerment.

What were the stakeholders’ thoughts on the initiative?

“The programme will leverage UN Women’s vast expertise in women’s economic empowerment, and the Ant Foundation’s wide network and track record in entrepreneurship and digital empowerment. We are pleased to enter this partnership with the Ant Foundation, with whom we share a mutual interest in the digital empowerment of women,” said Sarah Knibbs, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is about being resilient, solving problems and achieving dreams. Women entrepreneurs are always facing greater challenges and having an entrepreneurial spirit is essential to overcome them. Together with UN Women, we hope to expand the development opportunities available to women entrepreneurs and support them to reach their full potential on a global scale,” said Sabrina Peng, Executive Vice Chairwoman of Ant Foundation.

Smriti Aryal, Country Representative of the United Nations Women China office commented: “United Nations Women China is pleased to join hands with the Ant Foundation to support women-led MSMEs, a driving force that should not be neglected in the digital economy.”

“China’s 14th Five-Year Plan provides us with opportunity towards bring transformative changes in the lives of women. This is part of our commitment to support the country’s efforts to strengthen women entrepreneurship and foster inclusive high-quality development. Piloting in Chengdu and Changsha, we will also join efforts with strategic partners to establish two women-led MSME promotion centres to enhance peer-to-peer exchange opportunities.”

“Technology is a great enabler providing growing opportunities for women to be economically active, particularly in this increasingly digital world. However, the persistent digital gender divide has hindered women from benefiting and participating meaningfully in the digital economy,” said Jamshed Kazi, UN Women Indonesia Representative and Liaison to ASEAN.

“Through the partnership with Ant Foundation, we will empower women by equipping them with skills necessary to adapt with existing challenges, while providing access to opportunities that open new pathways in the digital economy. This is well aligned with one of the priorities of Indonesia’s G20 Presidency, which UN Women looks forward to continue supporting.”