‘Touch Plus Tech’ Boosts Emerging Market Female-Owned Business Success


According to the World Economic Forum 2022 Global Gender Gap report, gender parity is not recovering, and it will take another 132 years to close the global gender gap.

While this is a bleak outlook for women, Payal Dalal, senior vice president of social impact, international markets, at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, told PYMNTS she remains optimistic. “I have hope, though, and my hope is that the digital economy can be a place where women can succeed and get parity economically with men,” she said in an interview.

However, “Digitization isn’t just automatically going to create gender equality,” especially “if it’s not done intentionally with the goal to foster and drive inclusive digitization,” she noted.

In fact, it will take a step-by-step process, one which starts with restoring trust in digital technologies — a key barrier that she said has hindered digital adoption over the years.

“We find that women populations tend to trust technology less. And so, we’ve had to be intentional with the introduction of technology [in our programs] and to create not just the business case for it, but also the safety case for it,” she explained.

She also said that access to credit has been a historic challenge for women entrepreneurs, a trend that continues in the digital economy today. But there are opportunities to overcome it, she added, pointing to an ongoing, yearslong partnership between Mastercard and international nonprofit Accion to help microfinance institutions (MFIs) and small banks adopt technology and digitize their processes.

In fact, MFIs, whose clients Dalal said are mostly women, play a unique role in driving the adoption of digital tools due to the trust they’ve engendered in the communities in which they operate.

“They are loan officers, and back before [processes] were digitized, they were in the field handing out cash, and so they have had time to build strong relationships with women entrepreneurs,” she explained.

Overall, the Mastercard-Accion deal has led to collaborations with nine financial service providers and 50 FinTech startups around the world in the last four years, specifically in Latin America, in Africa and in Asia. And according to Dalal, the result has been a “disproportionate positive impact” on women-led businesses.

“We’ve seen that women are adopting digital financial services at a higher rate [now]. It’s also improved their ability to save and it is unlocking new streams of credit which have enabled their businesses to grow,” she added.

Finally, leveraging the eCommerce boom is another way technology can boost growth and unlock access to much-needed credit for micro and small women-led businesses.

This can be done by embedding financial services into digital platforms like Jumia, Mercado Libre or Grab to help women entrepreneurs build alternative data trails from the sales generated, a process that can help women businesses “that have been typically considered too risky by traditional banks” to avoid being de-risked.

 A Blend of Touch and Tech

As much as technology and digital tools are a key enabler for women entrepreneurs, Dalal said the approach to driving adoption “can’t be a purely digital solution,” but will rather need a “blend of touch and tech” to be effective.

She pointed to digital training programs they’ve run, as an example, explaining that engagement from women entrepreneurs was low because of the greater value they place on in-person networking events and training sessions over virtual programs.

“Part of it for them was that [these in-person events were] an escape from their business and the household duties that they were juggling. It created a social aspect that was important to them,” she said, adding that transitioning from that straight to WhatsApp or Facebook bots meant they no longer had an incentive to participate.

Similarly, she pointed to a training program in Poland where they were teaching women how to build an online store. That too, she said, failed to garner significant interest from female entrepreneurs.

“It’s not as fun to stare at my computer as compared to being in a room, sharing stories and swapping tips with other women entrepreneurs,” one of them said, according to Dalal.

Leveraging ‘Transformative’ Partnerships

Moving forward, Dalal said digital is going to open up many opportunities for women entrepreneurs, including unlocking credit, new markets and new customer segments, among others.

The fact that there’s recognition on the part of the investor community to prioritize investing in women-led startups will also be game-changing, as seen in the proliferation of initiatives and funds devoted to investing in women entrepreneurs and innovators.

Finally, she said that partnerships, which are increasingly becoming “more transformative rather than transactional” will further spur the growth of female-led businesses.

These include collaborations between FinTechs and microfinance institutions, with the former creating fast, human-centered innovations while microfinance institutions bring years of earned trust to the table.

She also pointed to partnerships Mastercard has had with private sector entities like Unilever in Kenya, MTN in sub-Saharan Africa, or Levi Strauss and Marks & Spencer to pilot digital payroll for factory workers in Cambodia and Egypt, as another way entities can work together to effect change.

As Dalal said: “There’s a recognition that we can’t do these things independently. If we want to drive and accelerate gender equity at scale, it must be done through partnerships.”


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