COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization of the most vulnerable people and also of women microentrepreneurs

Date: Friday, April 16, 2021

The discussion was held in a Webinar organized by Microserfin and UN Women with the objective of sharing the challenges and opportunities offered by digitalization to continue promoting the development of rural women, their financial inclusion and economic empowerment.

Panama March 24, 2021. The pandemic has demonstrated the urgency of reducing the digital gap suffered especially by populations in vulnerable situations, among which rural women are the most prevalent. In this increasingly digital context, technological tools and connectivity are essential to promote sustainable development in the region. This was framed by the panelists of the event Digitalization of Microfinance with a gender approach, innovating to reach rural women, organized by Microserfin, an entity of the BBVA Microfinance Foundation and UN Women.  

The meeting featured a high-level panel consisting of María Noel Vaeza, UN Women's regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean; Laura Fernández Lord, head of Women's Empowerment at the BBVA Microfinance Foundation; and Kira Gardellini, manager of Marketing and Customer Experience at Microserfin.  

Microserfin's general manager, Edison Javier Mejía Ardila, during his welcoming remarks, emphasized the institution's commitment to the economic empowerment of women, "We know that gender inequalities in this segment impose great barriers to access financing, formal employment or land ownership, and not only that, today they are among the groups with the least access to new technologies. That is why we strive to promote a hybrid business model, highlighting the innovation strategy in which we seek to humanize the relationships of our customers in the digital financial world, improving the customer experience with a new value offer and a more efficient distribution model that allows us to bring the entity to their homes". 

During the panel, María Noel Vaeza, UN Women's regional director for the Americas and the Caribbean, explained that digitalization is a fundamental tool to boost development in the region, particularly in the context of the crisis generated by COVID-19. We need to boost the incorporation of women in sectors that promote technological change, generate jobs and reduce the environmental footprint. Less than 50% of women are connected to the internet globally[1], reducing the digital gap is the first step to put women and girls at the center of the new digital economies, as well as it is key to foster the creation of jobs and leadership opportunities, increasing the proportion of women working in technology and innovation."  

For her part Laura Fernandez Lord, Head of Women's Empowerment at BBVA Microfinance Foundation commented that "Half of women in middle- and low-income countries use mobile internet, with a gender gap of 20 percentage points. While it is true that the gap has narrowed in recent years, in 2019, 1 billion women were not accessing mobile internet globally. In Latin America, 69% of women use mobile internet but still 70 million women remain unused.   

"Lack of digital skills and insecurity are the main barriers, followed by cost. In developing countries, usage costs can represent 34% of monthly income on average, while in developed countries, these costs are as low as 4%. And this cost is even higher for the first income quintiles and for the most vulnerable women who have fewer resources available."  

From the experience of BBVAMF, recently recognized by the OECD as the first foundation in the world in contribution to development for gender equality, among the 30 largest foundations in the world, COVID-19 has accelerated the digitization of micro-entrepreneurs in vulnerable situations and also of women. Technology has been a key tool for expanding the sales channels of the women entrepreneurs it serves in Latin America and, potentially, mitigating the decline in sales of their businesses.   

Meanwhile, Microserfin, under the guidance and experience of the Foundation, began a digital transformation process in 2020 to provide innovative products and services to microentrepreneurs, including rural women, according to Kira Gardellini, Microserfin's Marketing and Customer Experience Manager.     

"With BBVAMF's experience in our sister entities, we have proven that the use of technological tools not only facilitates inclusion, but also helps to better accompany low-income microentrepreneurs in their progress and shortens distances. Currently we have implemented our App Correspondents and App Advisor that allow us to bring technology closer to our microentrepreneurs to better serve them, reduce transaction costs, help them lose their fear of technology and become part of the digital revolution," he added.    

The panelists concluded that taking into consideration that access to a cell phone and the internet contributes to the participation of women in decision-making spaces, to organizational efforts, to the expansion of knowledge and inclusion in collective economic and social processes, the challenge now is to make technology a bridge that contributes to equal opportunities and improves the quality of life of women. 

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About Microserfin  
Microserfin's mission is to improve the quality of life of low-income entrepreneurs and their families through productive and sustainable microfinance services. It currently has coverage in 27 locations throughout the country. More information at www.microserfin.com  

About the BBVA Microfinance Foundation Group  
The BBVA Microfinance Foundation (FMBBVA) is a non-profit organization that supports the businesses of people in vulnerable situations in five Latin American countries (Panama, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Chile), under the Productive Finance model with financial products and services adapted to their needs, helping them to achieve success over time. It currently serves 2 million entrepreneurs.   

[1] https://www.itu.int/es/mediacentre/Pages/2019-PR19.aspx