Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed significant growth in global e-commerce sales. As a result of pandemic regulations, such as lockdown, social distancing and the enclosure of in-person workspaces, people are becoming increasingly reliant on digital technologies and businesses. In fact, retail e-commerce sales surged to approximately $4.9 trillion in 2021 worldwide. Projections have stated that this figure could increase to $7.4 trillion by 2025. The boom in e-commerce has been particularly salient in South Asia, where the e-commerce sector saw nearly 600% growth. Such conditions gave many entrepreneurs unprecedented opportunities. Most notably, women entrepreneurs in South Asia have used these opportunities to not only realize their own visions but also to educate and inspire others to create tangible change. The following are three women entrepreneurs in South Asia proactively giving back to their communities:
Maheen Adamjee is the founder of Dot & Line, an education startup originally set to provide at-home tutoring to Pakistani students. As the pandemic hit, however, Adamjee saw the opportunity in e-learning and rewrote the startup’s business plan to offer online tutoring sessions. Dot & Line is now a successful international online learning platform that matches students with certified tutors.
Adamjee exemplifies entrepreneurial creativity and resilience, turning the COVID-19 pandemic from a risk factor into a business opportunity. She has since participated in #OneSouthAsia Conversation, a series of online events that offer a platform for discussing ideas for regional cooperation in business, and reached more than 5,000 women through this medium. During these conferences, Adamjee shared many practical tips she extrapolated from her own experience, including specificities on transitioning from in-person services to online services.
She further noted the cultural and financial barriers that prevent Pakistani women from starting a business. In addition to telling her story as a source of empowerment for other women entrepreneurs, Adamjee pointed out that the digital economy allows women to overcome tariffs and trade barriers to exploit new consumer groups across national boundaries.
Ayanthi Gurusinghe is the founder of Cord360.com, a B2B platform enabling small buyers and sellers of a variety of products to connect with each other, according to the World Bank. Gurusinghe, like Adamjee, identified the rapid growth of e-commerce as an unparalleled opportunity for trading across borders.
Hoping to help other women take advantage of this opportunity, Gurusinghe launched training courses on Cord360.com to educate enterprising women business owners about international markets. This way, she is encouraging more women to trade products across Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.
Sairee Chahal is the founder of SHEROES, an online community for women that offers career advice, job leads, training, legal advice and a free counseling hotline based in Bangladesh and India. The community operates in Bangladesh and India, among other countries. The site experienced enormous success during the pandemic, with its membership increasing from 16 million to 22 million.
Chahal also participated in the #OneSouthAsia Conversation series. During the conference, she noted the policy changes that needed to occur to support and empower women entrepreneurs. Not only would this be beneficial for the women business owners, but this would also offer enormous economic growth for the countries in question. In particular, Chahal noted that the government ought to reform discriminatory laws and policies, provide funding targeted toward women-owned businesses and create school textbooks that show women in a variety of careers.
In addition to using these women’s stories as inspiration for more women to tap into the world of e-commerce, the above-mentioned women entrepreneurs in South Asia are acting to create tangible change in their communities, whether by advocating for policy change in regional conferences or providing free guidance through their business platforms. Through their efforts, as well as the efforts of many other similar-minded businesswomen, the pandemic-induced boom in the digital economy could significantly increase women’s access to the business sector in South Asia.
– Emily Xin