Virtual Roundtable: Economic Recovery From the Coronavirus Pandemic: Building an Inclusive Trading System

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be aided by socially inclusive trading systems. Over 120 countries have agreed—through a 2017 World Trade Organization declaration—to ensure that their trade policies enable opportunities for and do not discriminate against women. While closing the gender gap in the workforce could add $28 trillion to global GDP, many women face barriers to economic participation—including in global supply chains—that will be exacerbated by pandemic responses. Penelope Naas, vice president and district manager for international public affairs and sustainability at the United Parcel Service, and Dorothy Tembo, acting executive director of the International Trade Center, discussed steps to support economic recovery through improved international trade rules and the increased participation of women entrepreneurs and producers in global supply chains.


JAMILLE BIGIO: Welcome everyone. I hope you and your families are safe and healthy. Thank you all so much for joining us this morning. My name is Jamille Bigio. I'm a senior fellow at the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy program. Our program has worked with leading scholars for more than fifteen years to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances US foreign policy objectives, including prosperity and stability. I want to take a moment before we begin by thanking the New Venture Fund for its generous support of today's discussion, as well as members of the Women and Foreign Policy program’s Advisory Council. I also want to remind everyone that the presentation, discussion, and question and answer period will be on the record.

So as we reflect on what is needed to best help the economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we’re thrilled to be joined today by Dorothy Tembo, of the International Trade Center, and Penny Naas of the United Parcel Service. We’ll be discussing how part of governments, businesses, and multilateral organization’s strategies for an economic recovery should include socially inclusive trading systems, and the increased participation of women entrepreneurs and producers in global supply chains. We know that while closing the gender gap in the workforce could add $28 trillion to the global GDP, many women face barriers to economic participation including in global supply chains, that could be exacerbated by pandemic responses. So we’re excited to look today at what can be done to address those barriers. Let me start first with you, Dorothy, on the question of, how can we make sure that women's entrepreneurship and participation in the global marketplace will be able to contribute to the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?

DOROTHY TEMBO: Thank you very much, moderator, and thank you also for giving us the opportunity to be on this conversation this morning on your side, and indeed this afternoon on our side. It is very much a pleasure on my side. But perhaps before I answer that specific question, I just wanted to give a bit of some background information for those who may not know who ITC is and what we are all about. We are an organization that has two parents, the United Nations and the WTO. Our mandate is one is that focuses on enhancing micro, small, and medium enterprises’ competitiveness, and in so doing, being able to give them the opportunity to transact. By transacting, obviously, it means that we’re promoting trade and in direct ways we are also ensuring that that contribute to their developmental efforts being made by the developing countries. We have in the past been working very much with developing countries progressively and particularly in the context of the gist of what we’re discussing this morning and this afternoon. 

We have progressively moved in the direction where we find that the work we are doing is relevant both to developing countries as it is to developed countries. We are present in 120 countries, and we have, in the past, in 2018, worked with 18,000+ MSMEs. In 2019, coming out in our report for this year, we have worked with 26,000 micro and small enterprises. So both in terms of working on policy reforms and indeed addressing very specific enterprise-focused interventions that support the drive towards enhancing the competitiveness of these entities.

Now having said that, I wanted to respond by starting saying that we are at a crossroads. A crossroads of having a huge global public health issue before us, but that is with the economic side as well and the broader social aspect side of things. But linked to that is also that we have, over the past few years, accelerated our efforts to try toc close the gap that you talked about. And now we are being confronted with a situation that could potentially undermine the efforts that we have made at this point. 

But that said, the first point I would say in relation to the question that you have posed is that what we have discovered in the context of our work is that women push on. Women push on regardless of what situation they are confronted with. So for me it's not so much of an issue of how the women will contribute, but more of what it is that we can do in terms of supporting these women to make sure that we are giving them a targeted response that enables them not only to sustain themselves, but to make them even better as we position ourselves for the recovery. So that was the first point I wanted to make. 

And what we have been doing from an ITC perspective is that we have impact on various pieces of work, utilizing the various tools that we have and that we have available, to drill down to better understand what are the issues that are confronting women in the context of the pandemic, and what we find is that these are not issues that are very different from what we have been discussing the past few years, but perhaps more accelerated, or more of a situation where the effect is likely to be at a much higher level of scale than it has been before. So in a COVID scenario, clearly the women are saying, we are being badly affected, which is, I think is very clear with all of us. What they are also saying is they are still being confronted with issues related to access to finance. And here, perhaps more wanting, they have immediate needs in the current scenario of not only having the capital to be able to continue their work, but also being required to pay the rents, being required to pay salaries, which is even more wanting in their situations. But more importantly I think it is that ability to be able to tap on that enable their businesses to be sustained and reposition themselves for the recovery phase. 

The second aspect in relation to that is that we have found we still need to continue our efforts in terms of providing the support to women networks. This remains a critical part of what we have been asked.  As it is in respect to the institutions that go towards providing support to these women, it is clear that they are in an environment that has changing dynamics. And they are struggling with how it is that they can best serve their members in a way that is ideal and in response to the issues they are being confronted with.

The third—the fourth aspect, if I’m right!—relates to the business itself. Changing dynamics around the global value chains, around the regional value chains. How do women reposition to make sure that they are able to still do business, but also in the event where they know that this is not able to happen, what is it they are asking us? “What is it we can do that enables us to keep us in business, but perhaps doing something different?” So in the medium to long-term looking at issues of diversification, as well. 

But in all this, there is one aspect, that is equally important, is that we have to not only impart that knowledge, but also work towards rescaling ourselves to be able to rescale the women in a way that they are able to actually remain relevant in the current context.  And this is a lot of what we have also been doing from our side, together with partners such as UPS and others, trying to do webinars that create awareness around the issues, but also working with women to make them understand how they need to reorganize themselves in order to come out of this difficult phase. 

So in a nutshell I would say it’s about building competitiveness with an innovative approach—an innovative approach that also takes into account the changing circumstances around doing business itself. What is very clear to us is that we're moving more towards the digital side of things. How do we consolidate our efforts on ecommerce to make sure that it’s facilitating trade?  Because that’s the likely direction that we are going to take. So it's really about ensuring that we are very relevant to the complexities of the new dynamics within the global value chains. And obviously, in so doing, we are also looking at issues relating to the way we are doing business. So perhaps I could stop here, and allow to have further conversation or clarification. Thank you so much. 

JAMILLE BIGIO: That’s incredibly helpful, Dorothy. And Penny, I want to bring you in, here, on this question, and I wonder if, at the start, you can also speak to what UPS's role is in doing work around women's entrepreneurship and broader trade issues. And your perspective, looking at the work of companies in the private sector, there's been commitments and challenges bringing more women entrepreneurs into global supply chains before the pandemic, and what are your thoughts on what are the increased challenges and opportunities to bring more women entrepreneurs into the global supply chain, now.

PENNY NAAS: Great, well thanks very much for that. And thanks also to Dorothy and to the ITC< and the ITC team, with Vanessa and Anna and Matthew, and all of the folks we’ve been working with. We’ve had a fantastic partnership with the ITC for now a couple of years. And it been enormously rewarding and fruitful for UPS. We’ve been working with the ITC principally around capacity building. And we have similar partnerships in the United States and in other countries around the world, but with the ITC we’re really helping the women in, I would say, the developing world, in a way that has been incredibly rewarding for us.

Now, I think you asked a little bit about UPS and our role and what we do, and I think that UPS—you know, we move three percent of the world's GDP every day. At the moment we may be moving a little bit more than that. But that’s an area where we really see ourselves as a connector between people, between companies, and entrepreneurs, and their customers. And so, as we enter this period, we’re seeing  enormous potential to continue to move not only essential goods, but also to help companies whose physical stores may be shit, to continue to earn money and to keep going while they have to shift their business model. And that’s something we’ve been working on with companies around the world, but most notably working with the ITC to develop that for women entrepreneurs.

Now, before COVID, we were very focused on helping the women-owned business and women entrepreneurs to enter global trade. Only one in five women-owned businesses export, and we know that companies that export pay more, employ more, and are more successful. We also know that women-owned business do more to take money back, and resources back, to their communities, and that they build resilience as a result. And so working with women entrepreneurs and women business owners not only helps them, it also  helps their communities. And that’s something that we as a company have always been keenly focused. It’s our role not only to connect companies but to connect community.

So as we move forward, I think, we've always seen challenges and opportunities to work with women businesses and women entrepreneurs. The challenges they face are not so different than any small and medium size business. It’s financing, it’s logistics, it’s credit. But the challenges they face seem to have an extra turbo boost to them, sometimes. And part of that is linked to networks. Where are their networks, and where are they receiving their information?  And that’s something that we’ve worked with many of them on. And I think that’s something going back to Dorothy’s point, that we've seen actually has been incredibly resilient in this crisis, has been the networks of women entrepreneurs and women business owners. And that that’s been an asset that we see. When you think about supply chain, supply chains, in some part, are networks. So the question is moving forward, how can we build on that to help—as supply chain potentially reconfigure as a result of this crisis, to tap into and take advantage of those opportunities.

I think, going back to your point earlier, one of the key challenges we’re seeing and differences we’re seeing has to do with finance and with digital payment. And that, I think, is going to be a key issue moving forward. A lot of women, and I think that numbers, depending on country, can range up to 80 percent, but women entrepreneurs are in the informal economy. And so, as the world has moved more and more to online, and I think that move has now accelerated by ten years as a result of this crisis, what are we going to do to help women entrepreneurs take advantage of and develop their digital payment capabilities, and in some sense help them come more into the formal economy more quickly as a result of this crisis. And that’s something that I know ITC is thinking about and some of our partners are thinking about, is how to help women gain and develop those skills. So with that, I think we continue to see the challenges that we saw before COVID, but we’re hopeful that as we come out of this, we can make the changes and do the things needed, to ensure that some of those previous challenges become opportunities as we move forward. And with that I’ll stop, and hand it back to you.

JAMILLE BIGIO:  Thank you, Penny. I think you both put some really critical issues on the table when it comes to looking at, from the perspective of women entrepreneurs. And I want to zoom out now, and look top down, and look at the multilateral trading system. One thing to note is that there have been commitments that have been made, are ready, by governments and by multilateral institutions, on the importance of bringing women more into the economy, into multilateral trading systems. One of the most notable touch points is the Buenos Aires joint declaration on trade and women's economic empowerment. This has been joined by 127 countries, so the majority of WTO membership have signed on to the joint declaration. Dorothy, I wonder if you could start out by explaining to us a little bit why this declaration matters, and what the impact of it has been since it was signed a few years ago.

DOROTHY TEMBO: Sorry, I was still muted. Thank you very much. An important aspect that you raised there, and perhaps the starting point is that all that we are doing, in as far as we see it, is wok that goes towards the attainment of the sustainable development goals, an aspect that we all have agreed to deliver on, and I think that we have a duty to do that without fail, regardless of which angle we come from as different entities. Now within that context, we took into account that fifty percent of the population are women, and yet these women have not seen the full gains of any efforts that have been made in the trade and development arena, and which is why we feel it was a priority from our side that we work with others to try and ensure that we get to a point where we come up with mechanisms that help us move in the direction where we are increasingly becoming inclusive and that the end of the day the benefits can be seen to trickle down to that segment of the world that perhaps could do even better, because we have seen from our work that when we give the opportunity to women they are indeed able to thrive. It’s just that that opportunity oftentimes does not arise, and even when it arises, they continue to be faced with different obstacles that will not enable them to grow as they desire. 

 So against this background, but also taking into account the critical role that micro, small, and medium enterprises play in the economies, ninety percent of business is micro, small, and medium enterprises. And a lot of these are women to some extent, because you would also want to look at the informal side of things to better understand what is really the context that we are dealing with, but when you look at the GDP contribution, that gets to about 37 percent, if I have been told right, and it’s a clear signal that somewhere, something is not working right.

So it was against this background that we thought, working together with other partners that we needed to come up with some kind of framework that brought this key issue to the center of the multilateral discussions. And here, it’s important to mention, as somebody who has been involved in the negotiations when I was still back home, and been involved in the negotiations in the context of the work I’m doing here, it was never a point of discussion that you include aspects of gender. Each time that aspect was raised, it is something that would seem to be on the side and not necessarily an integral part. So having the Buenos Aires Declaration being arrived at was a great milestone and a great success for everybody who was involved in this. And everybody being the member states, because WTO is a member-driven entity, and therefore what we, together with others, we are doing, was to manually facilitate the conversation around the members to be able to arrive at this framework. 

What is the framework doing? The framework is one that recognizes the need to work together to accomplish the momentous tasks and leverage the expertise of the various actors in the trade and gender space. I think this is really the gist of what we were trying to do. And the objective there, or the purpose, was more to foster the inclusiveness part of the trade agenda, taking into account the historical minimal engagement of women into different processes. And the scope as it stands right now is one that promotes collaboration to emphasize the link between trade and gender. It’s also one that looks at collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data. The third dimension to that is the sharing of country experiences and good practices, encouraging aid for trade, for trade and gender issues, and obviously the discussions on how trade policy can advance gender equality in a more inclusive way. 

So this is basically the scope that it speaks to. I mentioned that we worked with others and here I wanted to acknowledge the tremendous work that the International Gender Champions and indeed the Trade Impact Group in particular did in terms of spearheading this conversation with the different members. You rightly point out we are now at 127, but we started 2017 at 118. So it does to me give us a good sense that there is traction around this framework. I think it is very clear that people recognize the value add that this instrument does, instrument, or better word, framework, in the sense that it not only highlights exactly where the issues are, but also what can be done collectively in terms of trying to address some of those key issues that have been identified. And they are very clear in terms of where that focus should be, which is in six areas. 

First is the gender-based analysis of trade policy. Second is the public procurement, because we do realize that there is a huge potential for women to participate in public procurement and it could be a very good promoter of doing business for women, but also, in that basically what you’re doing there is to ensure that the income generated there is actually there, so the transaction happened. Third is women in international value chains, and I did speak to this aspect in my introductory remarks. Fourth is the aspect of financial inclusion, which both Penny and I have touched on. Fifth is women and trade in trade agreements, because a number of trade agreements that are on the table did not take into account the gender elements when these agreements were being concluded, and in many ways, you do find that there are a lot of provisions that do not provide or accommodate what would be useful in terms of advancing women's empowerment. And the final point is women in digital trade. 

 So these issues that the Buenos Aires Declaration speaks to, of course there have been discussions beyond Buenos Aires as to how we can consolidate these efforts by taking it to the next level. I think it was a good starting point that your highlighting, these are the issues that need to be addressed, but we need to work together collectively to see how this can be carried down at an operational level, at the country level, to make sure that it materializes in very concrete steps being taken towards supporting women. So this is where I could leave it for now.

JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you, Dorothy. I think, very helpful to lay out the extent to which governments have already made commitments when it comes to promoting women's economic empowerment and trade. And right now, it’s certainly a test of those commitments, to look at the extent to which governments are ensuring that the COVID-19 recovery promotes opportunities for women to participate in their economies and in the broader global supply chain. Penny, I wonder from your perspective, what recommendations you have for companies that are navigating the coronavirus recovery; what they should be doing to ensure that women entrepreneurs are and women in business are participating and contributing to the recovery? 

PENELOPE NAAS: I think one thing that we have to recognize going into this, is how many women are actually currently involved in the emergency itself. So seventy percent of healthcare workers are women, and many, many women are actively engaged at critical points of this pandemic. Retail workers, grocery store workers, etc. are also majority women, and so not only can women contribute to the recovery, women are also currently contributing in large part to getting us all through this crisis. But we are seeing that women are disproportionally impacted, and some of the unemployment numbers, at least coming out of the United States, where almost sixty percent of the unemployment claims have been from women. 

So when we think about the recovery and that we want to be deliberate about the recovery, I think it's important to go back to some of the stuff Dorothy was talking about with regards to international trade. What UPS—again, we’ve been working with the ITC and with others to try to advance a “woman in trade” trade agreement, initially as part of what was supposed to be the 2020 Kazakhstan meetings, but to build upon the Buenos Aires Declaration and to take some of that and put it into, what I would say, hard law, but to help advance some of these issues. 

If you talk to certain folks, they’ll tell you that trade is gender-neutral, and that trade agreements and trade provisions are not written so that they favor men or women. But as with all things, there are unconscious biases, or ways that agreement have been drafted at times that favor or impact groups of individuals differently. And so being deliberate with regard to how you want to implement and execute trade agreements, as well as how companies and governments want to create the recovery, is really important. And so, for example, in the domestic services regulation text that was being negotiated and is still being negotiated, there is a provision around how licenses and authorizations are given in-county for service workers, and ensuring that there is no discrimination with regard to how licenses are given. And in the example that I would give on that is that there are still provisions in the books in certain countries that do limit who can do certain jobs based on gender. And while there may be certain circumstances where that does make sense, and so there are exceptions, one that is out there is that there was still quite a few provisions that limited who could be a truck driver, going back to days where truck drivers had to physically load their own trucks. There were restrictions on who could be radiation technicians, because previously the radiation could impact a woman's fertility and so people banned women from being radiation technicians, but the technology has evolved. There are other examples out there. But that, I think, was a very important piece of legislation that was out there, and was being worked on, and is still being worked on, and I hope it will come to fruition when the WTO is able to meet and move forward with some of these proposals.

 A second one that we’ve looked at is whether, going back to the point about financing, going back to some of the points about ability to own property—question comes around, is there something we can do to help push those issues forward via the trade world. And so, is there something that we can put in the services, obligations that countries pay, because that indicates that you will not discriminate between men and women with regard to financial services, or any other service that you have in your services commitment. There are many other examples that we can provide, I know they’re being discussed at the WTO. But all of it is about being deliberate with how you think about it, and when I think about companies and supply chains, being deliberate about seeking out more diverse suppliers is something that I think is going to be incredibly important during the recovery phase, because the one thing we've learned from all this is that some of our supply chains were not as resilient or diversified as they needed to be. And by thinking about being deliberate about how you might want to rebuild or tweak your supply chain is going to be important as we enter this next phase, this recovery phase of the COVID crisis.

So I think there's some other suggestions of things we could talk about, but I’ll leave it there for the Q&A. 

JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you Penny. Dorothy, I’d love to bring you in on this as well, in terms of your thoughts as to how the multilateral trading system can be improved further to increase women's participation in the global marketplace. What do you think the WTO can do, what can member countries do?

DOROTHY TEMBO: Okay, I’m unmuted. Thank you very much. Perhaps before I go to that specific question, I just wanted to add perhaps one or two points to what Penny had said, which is very, very useful. And the first point I wanted to make there is that we need, obviously, to look at issues in the medium to long-term, but we also need to look at what can be done in the immediate term, and I think there are simple steps that could be taken, that can consolidate women's positions in this particular scenario that we have. First point is providing additional transparency to prevailing provisions in the context of regional or indeed bilateral agreements. The interpretation of this tends to vary, which brings in the aspect of discrimination from a different angle. So a women goes to the border because there is this crisis, and people are not really—they are very focused on other, more pressing issues of ensuring that people are not crossing the border. Certain officials may interpret things the way they want to make sure that, which in a way, put the woman in a vulnerable position. That could be one aspect. 

The other aspect we could work on is really taking the simple steps to try and ensure that working through corporations that we have been doing UPS to sensitize the businesses to the health requirements in itself because a lot of these small players do not know what is really prevailing there. And the final point leading the others for the discussion would be that small businesses with limited capital, they will supply—what is happening now is without notice, of course, is that a number contracts have been canceled. But secondly, that even when they go through, the payment is one that does not give any due consideration to the small players. Is there a way that this could be taken on board? 

To the specific question that you have asked, I think the first point for me is that we really need to ensure that we are keeping the multilateral track. It’s important that we have that framework being worked in the context of the multilateral system. I think all of us need each other, and this is the best way that we can do this to bring—we are not only creating sensitization around this particular area, but it is also an aspect that will allow us to be able to translate the good intent operationally on the ground. On the ground we would need to bring more women to the table on the decision-making side, and making sure that we are very much focused on how the system will be able to support. And there on the policy side, we need to make sure that we are encouraging the collection and analysis of the gender-disaggregated data so that we are not only understanding the situation, but we also know precisely where the intervention is required and how that would be sequenced.

And this is something that can be done, also within the multilateral context from a perspective of drawing on the good experiences, or even the bad ones, would say, because that’s also a learning curve for us, in the discussions that form the framework that I spoke to in the context of the six focus areas. We have seen the good that comes out of this. We have organizations now on the gender side of things in the context of the trade policy reviews. We have seen gender being discussed in the context of the G20. This is all a result of what transpired in Buenos Aires, but also going beyond that, the discussions that have been held in the context of the multilateral framework. So for me this is not an option. It’s something that should be encouraged. I do realize that there may be some concerns there, but those concerns to me are ones that can be resolved through the engagement itself to better understand where the concern is. But more importantly it’s that the operationalization of any agreement is done at the country level, and how the country implements this will be specific to their own situation.

 JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you. Really, thank you both for putting some critical issues on the table. I want to open it up to Q&A now, and start by bringing in my colleague Jennifer Hillman. She’s the senior fellow at CFR focused on trade and international political economy, and has been doing some thinking on these issues with her trade hat, and I would love her thoughts as well.

JENNIFER HILLMAN: Thank you very much, I’m hoping you can hear me.


JENNIFER HILLMAN: Okay, great. It is really a pleasure and an honor to join this group. First I really do want to congratulate Jamille and those at CFR that have been working for a long time on this issue of women in foreign policy. I'm delighted that trade is one of the pillars of women in foreign policy that CFR is focusing on. So it’s really a pleasure to do that. And also to say congratulations to those at the ITC, to Dorothy, and again her predecessor in that position, Arancha Gonzales, and the work that the ITC almost singlehandedly did to get the Buenos Aires Declaration on trade and gender put through, and to Penny Naas and Laura Lane and those at UPS that have really been putting the meat on the bones, making this really happen, again I think it’s extraordinary. 

I’ll just step back and say just a couple things on what's happening in the WTO that’s important to keep this issue of women and trade the top of the agenda. Because obviously right now, the huge focus of the WTO is what it is trying to do to make sure the global supply chains stay open and running, notwithstanding the very strong tendency of a number of governments to enact export bans to try to keep at home, to hoard, whether it's food or whether it's medical supplies—we’re now up to about a 107 different actions by countries around the world to basically ban their own exports. And the concern is what kind of an impact this is going to have at effectively shutting down of export supply chains. I mean it’s very clear, I think, from all of the data, that it's very—you think you are doing the right thing, you’re going to be able to better enable your people to have access to food and medicines by adding an export ban, but what is showing to be the case is it doesn’t work. That it has the effect of actually breaking up supply chains in a way that makes it actually harder for countries to maintain an adequate food supply and adequate access to medicines. 

So the question for me is how well does the WTO do the kind of naming and shaming and pressuring on countries to keep supply chains open, and at the same time, keep in mind the disproportionate effect it can have with respect to its impact on women. And the second thing I would note is that as a result of the Buenos Aires Declaration, I  do think a huge amount of work has been done that would never have been done but for that declaration, and for the work of the ITC and companies like UPS, which is to really try to raise awareness of the various clear links between trade and gender, to collect a lot of new data and analyses on the impact of trade measures on gender, and to really understand, where, in essence, discrimination can work in both directions. In other words, to try to say, would it be appropriate under WTO rules, for example, to say we’re not going to allow for trade in products where there has been inappropriate, illegal, or other discriminatory treatment against women or women workers where there has been significant inequalities in pay, lack of maternity leave, sexual harassment—if there have been all of those things in a given company or a given industry, can we in any way put restrictions on that kind of trade. 

I think there has been an effort to try to look at both marrying up the data marrying up the law, because I think as Penny said very clearly, the sense is the rules on their face appear to be gender neutral, and everyone says, okay that's good. I think what we’re realizing is that no, it’s not, or certainly not good enough, to simply say that the rules on their face are gender neutral. We need to move beyond that. And I think the last couple of years have been all about trying to understand where, when, and how do we move beyond a gender neutral provision in order to make sure that trade law, trade policy, and the WTO are affirmatively engaged in promoting women and obviously the challenge right now is to not let COVID-19 cause backslides in those efforts, in the way that COVID-19 is likely to disproportionately affect women and disproportionately affect small and medium-size enterprises. How do we make sure that as we go down this road further on the naming and shaming and the trying to keep global supply chains open, how do we make sure we do that in a way that not only doesn't allow backsliding but actively promotes more gender neutrality word or again promotes women empowerment, which is really what’s behind the WTO Buenos Aires ministerial declaration as well as the sustainable development goals that it’s equally tied to. 

JAMILLE BIGIO: That’s great, thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s really important to be thinking about some of the creative work that governments are doing in this space, as well. We are starting to see trade agreements, including gender chapters, or looking specifically across the chapters and trade agreements, to think about where there may be barriers that we need to articulate and address around women's entrepreneurship and women's participation that may previously have been assumed, as you said, to be gender-neutral. But where we’re increasing the visibility on the ways in which they are, in fact, not gender neutral, that where there are gender specific barriers that may exist around those different chapters.

So I’d love to open it up to a Q&A with the audience now. So I want to remind everyone that the meeting is on the record. If you would like to ask a question, please use the raised hand feature, which you can find in the webinar control bar at the bottom of your screen. I will call on you to pose your question; please accept the un- mute now prompt when you see that. And when you do ask a question, please state your full name and affiliation. And so let's look now if there’s— I see a question from Paula Stern.

PAULA STERN: Hi, thank you. Good morning, thank you for a very informative discussion. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic that we are in, I'd like to ask you a more or less economic question, and what this group is thinking with regard to adjusting for the future. I appreciate the discussion about what we have accomplished and that really is impressive, and I congratulate all of you for that. But the word digital, to me, just stands out here. And I think we're in the midst of a bit digital new wave, and new dependence. And I’m coming at this from my work with the National Center for Women and Information Technology, which focuses the inadequacies here in US culture when it comes to women in the digital era. I’d like to hear both from the business side and economically, how you envision the post-pandemic future for women in the digital age, and how we really connect and participate fully. I mean, there's been a lot of progress, as you said, up until now. But that's not the case, frankly, when you look at women in tech, at least here in the United States. How do we ensure that our future going forward doesn't really kind of lag as it always has been in the past vis a vis men?

JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you Paula. Great question to talk about some of the differences in digital access through to e-commerce issues that Penny was raising earlier. Penny, would you like to come in first on this?

PENNY NAAS: Paula, I think that’s an outstanding point, and one that I’d been trying to think through as well, because pre- crisis we even saw that women lagged men in terms of some of the digital and technology skills needed, for example, to tap into global supply chains. Women, particularly in certain developing countries, just didn’t have the same access to technology to fill out the proper paperwork that was needed to enter into a global value chain or a global supply chain. And so how are we going to move that issue forward in a way that doesn't disadvantage women more as a result of this. Well, I think that's a big question, but one thing in particular I would point to is that women have largely been in the informal economy. And again, going back, one of the key issues, one of the keys impediments that I’ve seen for women to enter e-commerce has been the fact that they haven't had the tools to set up and receive payments. Now this is an incredibly important issue, generally. If a woman has her own bank account in her own name and she is not taking her wages home, she’s less likely to have her husband take her money from her and repurpose it for something that suits him but not necessarily suits the family or her business moving forward.

In some sense, again, it’s a challenge, but it's an opportunity. The more we can help these women and women entrepreneurs also get into the formal financial sector, the more we’re going to also help them enter the digital space. And I think that's something we have to think about, it’s something I know at the ITC, we’ve been working with the ITC, we've been talking about how to help bridge that gap because that's also going to be both a challenge and an opportunity. And it also becomes a big government issue because of taxation and how governments start to think about the taxation of digital, and if that’s going to continue to allow these women to make that conversion from informal to formal. I’ll stop with that thought, in case Dorothy has some additional comments she wants to add. 

JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you, Penny. Dorothy?

DOROTHY TEMBO: Thank you very much. I think much of what I would have said, Penny, you have adequately addressed. Perhaps to just add from our experience with the women themselves, it’s very clear to us that those that have a digital footprint in this current context have actually been able to survive better than those without. But even before that we did do a study on e-commerce and the benefits that would come with this. And clearly those companies that were part of this study who were women clearly showed that they were able to do more business than they did when this was not the case. So the point being that we would need to obviously continue the investment in women, trying to make them understand, or better educate them on the tech side, and indeed on the solutions side. But from our perspective, I would see that the aspects relating to ensuring that we also look at the spectrum of stakeholder groups that we have is really important, because you have those that are really tech savvy and can use all these provisions, but you also have the very small ones in many of the countries that we work with in Africa that you, know—you do have those that perhaps would need more mobile solutions than having the platforms. But I do understand and do agree that the policy side of things needs to be addressed and here ITC needs to work with different governments to look at the policy side to see how we can support them with respect to identifying the issues and indeed with respect to making the necessary adjustments to put the right policies in place that can support issues that have been raised in the context of work and indeed beyond. Making sure that you facilitating the payments is a very critical part of this. It’s one of the issues that we have established in much of the work that we have been doing, so perhaps I could stop here and leave it to some more clarification being sought which I would happily come back on.

PAULA STERN: Thank you very much. I just want to emphasize the role of women, not just as users but also as creators of new technologies and of our future. And I think we’re at this moment where we have to be talking about the foundation stones that we’re building for the future lest we just repeat the old patterns.

JAMILLE BIGIO: Thank you, Paula. 

PENELOPE NAAS: Absolutely. Absolutely, Paula, and I think it's incredibly important when you think about AI and how AI is playing out in this crisis. And I think you're spot on that we also need to be encouraging more and more women to enter technology to ensure that the technology that's developed is not in and of itself become an unconscious bias in terms of how it works. Thank you.

JAMILLE BIGIO: That’s great, thank you.  It’s important too to note some incredible data that we do have available, both on access to digital issues through the World Bank reports that they've done to track gender disparities in digital access, and then barriers around the world to women's economic empowerment, so countries can be aware of and take steps to remedy the laws in place to make sure that those don't present barriers to women's participation in the economy. Let me bring in Janet McKinley, now. 

JANET MCKINLEY: Hi, can you hear me?


JANET MCKINLEY: Great, thank you. So just a quick personal background, I worked in the investment business for most of my career at Capital Group, which is a large mutual fund management company, and I was investing globally there. Then I retired quote unquote “early,” by investment community standards, to be chairman of Oxfam America, which also put me on the Oxfam America Board. And that was an amazing education. Now I have my own fund, it’s called Advanced Global Capital. I was able to take what I've learned from all of that past experience and focus on a fund where investors put their money in it—so it’s a for-profit, not a not-for-profit fund, and the financing that comes into the fund goes out the door in the form of revolving lines of credit for factoring companies around the world. And the factoring companies are chosen by my team with a number of criteria but one very important criterion is we’d like to see as many women-owned factoring companies and women-run factoring companies, and we've been successful in doing that. And we also want to make sure that the ways that the invoice financing are done are fair for both the factor and for the small business. 

And it strikes me that we do spend a lot of time up in the clouds with the very big organizations, which of course have a critical role, whether it’s the WTO, or whoever it is. But there's a lot of things that can be accomplished on the ground and it might seem micro, but to give you a sense of this, our fund is about 150 million dollars in assets under management. We’re five years old, as of this month. We have financed over two and a half billion dollars’ worth of invoices. And we do it a detailed impact report at the end of each year. I feel that having more of these on the ground activities are extremely important and sometimes I think we spent too much time trying to develop frameworks and all of that stuff, when in fact we could look at what kind of architecture is already in place that is being underutilized for the benefit of women. As everybody on this call I’m sure knows, women have a very hard time getting bank financing first just by virtue of being women, but second of all, because they often don't have collateral. Factoring doesn’t involve collateral. Factoring is centered on whether or not that woman-owned business has an invoice, which is a good invoice, which is worth being financed, so that you can have some confidence that the buyers can pay it. That gives the factor the confidence that they can extend that transaction. And the beauty too is that in factoring, it’s not alone to that woman business, she has an asset. Her invoice is her asset. And so she is able to monetize that when she wants to and given often the ups and downs in the year in terms of when there's demand for product, if she doesn't need the cash right now, she won’t sell the invoices. If the discount rate on the invoice purchases is unreasonable, she won't sell it. 

So I guess I'm a bit frustrated that we haven't done enough of that real, on the ground analysis to say what are some of the things that there's already architecture there, let’s scale that. And for me personally, one frustration has been that there are a lot of transactions I would like to do in the supply chain, but there's just too much risk involved for our fund personally. And if organizations at the top would be willing to do transaction loan guarantees so that factors had the confidence that they could do something more impactful even though it was riskier because they had that back up. So it’s a frustration for me. I respectfully acknowledge all the hard work at the big architecture level, but I would say in terms of financing, those big organizations have glaciers on offer for financing for backup. And what the world needs is not even ice cubes. For these women-owned businesses, they need ice chips. So I would encourage us to think more about how to get the money out of these very complicated loan guarantee requirements down to the ground. So, anyway, I'll get off my soapbox.

JAMILLE: Thank you, Janet. It is bringing in some very important issues around truly having access and truly addressing barriers and looking too at issues around risk. So Penny, we are at time, so I do want to give Penny, Dorothy one minute to share any immediate thoughts that you might have.

PENNY: I’ll be very brief. I think Janet, I used to be in banking as well, and after the last financial crisis I did quite a bit of work on factoring with supply chains, and I fully agree with you that there are a lot of on the ground opportunities that we can exploit. But I would say in return that we also need to be working on the big architectural stuff, because in order for all of the stuff on the ground to work, we also need to sometimes change hearts and minds at the top. And so, I love what you're doing, and I would say keep it up, and we're doing some of the same stuff but from the logistics space, which can also be a challenge and a frustration. But at the same time, we’re also going to keep trying to work with Dorothy at the ITC level to keep trying to change the high-level hearts and minds as well, because we have to get the overall frameworks and architecture also to shift in order to continue to allow those grassroots efforts to foster and become bigger over time, to make the walls they are coming up against tumble maybe a bit faster than they have been. So with that, I want to thank everybody for participating today and for your interest in this topic and we at UPS happy to have any more friends and allies join us in this effort, so thank you.

JAMILLE BIGIO: Dorothy, final thoughts?

DOROTHY TEMBO: Very quickly, first to agree with all that Penny has said with respect to this response. But I just wanted to highlight that from the ITC perspective, we do have access to finance as well. The pillars that we are looking at in terms of the work we are doing, working towards empowerment of women. I wanted to also highlight that our general sense is that there is a lot of capital there, but it is the conditionalities that accompany the capital, understanding that it is a business, we know that whatever investment it has to be, we know that is has to have a rational sense behind it. And therefore what we're trying to do is to speak to the different investment entities, and I very much encourage Janet to speak to us to see if we can try and collaborate in certain respects. It’s about us being innovative to respond to the high risk that you referred to, because this is what we are dealing with. There will be a few women that will be able to fit in your category, and very limited numbers, but if we’re looking at broadening that scope, we will have to be innovative and try to find good solutions that will be able to protect the risk, but also at the same time be able to provide accessibility to the smaller players that are equally important in this space. 

What is it that we are doing?  We have partnered, for instance, with partners in Kenya, who we are working with, what we are doing is building the capacity on the women’s side to ensure that they can be able to produce bankable proposals that can be accepted in the context of the particular funding that was there, but much bigger than that is we are collaborating with other UN entities within the context of the fund that is referred to as SDG 500. And here it’s likely to do six funds being brought together inclusive of ourselves, where we have partnered with CARE International, but it’s also about bringing together public financing and leveraging private sector resources. So what I would really encourage Janet is get in touch with us, see if we can have a discussion that results in some kind of collaboration going forward. Thank you.

JAMILLE BIGIO: Wonderful. So please join me in all in thanking Dorothy and Penny for joining us today. Thank you all for participating in today's discussion, and I hope everyone stays safe and healthy. Thank you all.

Top Stories on CFR

United States

Violence during the election season undermines the United States’ democracy, its relationship with allies, and its strength against adversaries.

Burkina Faso

The latest military coup d’état would seem to be the least of Burkina Faso’s problems.


 Iran is seeing its biggest protests since 2019 over the death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. Pro-women, anti-morality police demonstrations evolving into broader anti-government protests. Drawing international support and a crackdown by the regime.