During the COVID-19 pandemic, with many confined to their homes and businesses forced to shutter, digital systems became essential across all parts of life. This moment exposed a stark gender divide: many women-owned businesses operated offline and faced significant challenges when they suddenly needed to transition. But it also presented an opportunity to increase their engagement and participation within the e-commerce sector.
As a leader and commitment-maker under the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology, the Government of Rwanda pledged to double the number of women who actively use digital financial services.
With this commitment, coupled with the immediate need for solutions during the pandemic, Access to Finance Rwanda, alongside the Mastercard Foundation, launched the Ihuzo project, a platform that trains and equips workers in small and medium-sized enterprises to expand into e-commerce.
More than 4,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, of which 40 per cent are women-owned, now operate on the Ihuzo platform.
Almost 2,400 people, of whom 35 per cent are women, have been vetted and registered through the programme, enabling them to sell goods online. The platform has also given e-commerce training to more than 2,100 people, including more than 570 women-owned companies, and allows users to tap into different labour platforms operating across diverse sectors of the economy.
“The iHuzo project sought to ultimately catalyse the growth of livelihoods by supporting [micro, small, and medium enterprises’] growth through the digitization of their businesses, and of course, women were part of our target beneficiaries”, said Access to Finance Rwanda CEO Jean Bosco Iyacu.
Iyacu said that the programme’s success had continued even as the pandemic waned, noting that its accomplishments were “possible thanks to the Government’s commitment to establishing a conducive policy and regulatory environment”.
“This initiative came at the perfect time”, said Therese Uwumwanayezu, a trainee at Ihuzu. “In the past I thought that ICT and digital platforms would always be a foreign concept to me, and I never thought twice about learning or making use of them in my business. When I was introduced to the Ihuzo platform, my business and financial management changed completely.”
“I am now able to buy and sell my products online, perform financial transactions, but also tap into other national digital systems”, she added, saying, “My only wish is that more women get introduced to this platform, and benefit in the same way I have.”
Through this initiative, the Government of Rwanda has been able to increase the number of women registered on digital financial systems. More than 55 per cent of Rwandan women are currently registered users of such systems, contributing to their economic autonomy and enabling them to make use of the security, convenience, and opportunities that digital financing offers.
The Government of Rwanda has also agreed to reduce the gender gap across digital technologies within the East African Community. Through the 50 Million African Women Speak digital platform, a hub for women-led businesses across 38 African countries, 40 women entrepreneurs have been selected by the government to take part in trainings to leverage opportunities for economic growth provided by the platform.