In Botswana, women entrepreneurs are among the most adversely affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted their income generation streams.
The Botswana government’s solution to this problem came in the form of a Digital Business Package for Women Entrepreneurs, also known as SmartBots, which is supported by the European Union’s Reform for Investment and Sustainable Economies (Africa RISE) program.
In an interview with Xinhua, Jan Sadek, the Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Botswana and SADC said through this project, women micro-entrepreneurs will be equipped with necessary digital skills and tools such as business mentorship, e-commerce and access to affordable Internet to help them scale up their customer base through digital platforms.
In order to help women take the most advantage of their support, he said the project will first identify women’s business and digital needs through consultations with key stakeholders.
“Namely these will be international partners, government ministries, parastatals, women business associations and women micro-entrepreneurs themselves. We will then work to ensure the widest possible outreach,” said Sadek.
For women entrepreneurs like Thato Chuma-Mogotsi, founder of a social enterprise called the Local Slice which started as a digital campaign to raise visibility around local products and services in 2018, the SmartBots initiative is a welcome development.
“It is a timely project relative to the times we are in,” she said.
In her view, digitization improves accessibility and widens the market reach for entrepreneurs, hence she believes the SmartBots initiative can spur transformation of the informal sector.
Yet she is worried about the reality of inclusion, given that information, communication and technology access is not very prevalent among women.
“It would be best to establish channels that also allow women to speak for themselves and stipulate how best they can be assisted instead of prescribing solutions that might not reflect what is on the ground,” said Chuma-Mogotsi.
Despite the fact that there are many platforms that micro-entrepreneurs can access and improve their businesses, and innovate to reach other markets at minimum costs, she urged the government and its development partners to bear in mind that there are many people who are still reluctant to see value in digital businesses.
SmartBots aims to generate a 20 percent increase in the usage of e-commerce platforms by women entrepreneurs by December 2021, through training and improved access to digital products.
The EU highlighted the project’s aim to achieve a meaningful digital inclusion which will translate to increased opportunities for women to engage in the economy and ensure that they are not excluded from opportunities in this digital age.
The SmartBots project, and its EU support is in line with the Botswana government’s recent announcement of a reset in government in response to the COVID global pandemic targeting digitization as one of his five revised priorities to ready Botswana to fully exploit the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Enditem