Women in IT, Women in STEM, Women in E-commerce…”If you can see it, you can be it”–role-models, mentors, success stories are being promoted aiming to showcase the success of other women who have walked the walk aiming to encourage and motivate others. Dozens of initiatives, communities, platforms and networks for women were launched in the past few years aiming to foster the inclusion and create greater opportunities and access for women across the globe. And more are yet to be launched as governments are putting their focus on female entrepreneurship and are developing tailored national strategies as the numbers for women in management, leadership and business are still devastating. Besides the efforts on the national level, there are as well global initiatives aiming to unite women across the world and make a change. One of these is the eTrade from Women initiative that has been launched the past month at the United National Palace in Geneva during the UNCTAD E-commerce week. The initiative is part of the eTrade for All platform–an information hub that helps developing countries navigate the wealth of technical and financial services they can use to drive development through e-commerce.
The initiative aims to support women involved in e-commerce in developing countries by collecting, nurturing and showcasing the experiences of successful women leaders, providing them with opportunities to network, as well as a forum to make their voices heard in policy processes both domestically and internationally.
When I first met Candace Nkoth Bisseck, she was the country manager of Jumia Market (Cameroon’s largest online marketplace). She is a relentless African young woman passionate to change the landscape for women in e-commerce. Just recently she was invited to take the role of the Program Manager of the very new initiative–the eTrade for Women. I talked to her to learn more about the new initiative and her story.
Nina Angelovska: How will the eTrade for Women initiative be different from the other women networks out there?
Candace Nkoth Bisseck: We will be different in several capacities. First, we have a very targeted approach by specifically aiming at collaborating with a selective group of successful women entrepreneurs in the digital economy. We want to enable them to play an active role as advocates promoting the advancement of female entrepreneurs in e-commerce at the regional and global scale, and to inspire the next generation of women in that field. Second, we want our approach to be as impactful and sustainable as possible. There is a proverb that says: We will, therefore, leverage our network of partners in the eTrade for all family and are currently exploring additional partnerships to make the initiative highly collaborative and effective.
Angelovska: One of the goals of the network is to make the voices of women heard in policy processes both domestically and internationally. How do you plan to make this happen?
N.Bisseck: We want to enable these advocates to contribute to a more gender-inclusive and e-commerce friendly policy and regulatory landscape in their region and at the highest levels by allowing them to engage directly with local, regional and global policymakers. They will share their insights on the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in the digital environment in their regions and highlight their active engagement as role models throughout the duration of their tenure as eTrade for Women advocates to generate stronger support at all levels.
Angelovska: You have extensive experience in managing an e-commerce company as well as mentoring women in Africa. You recently moved to Geneva and took on a new challenge as a Program Manager of the eTrade for Women initiative. What would you say are the differences between women in LDCs and developed countries?
N.Bisseck: After living and working in 8 cities across 3 continents, They are for the most part hard working, resilient, and have a natural ability to nurture others, whether it is literally, financially, or simply encouragement. However, the overarching difference I observed in many developing economies might be the extent to which women’s opportunities are limited or not by cultural biases and patriarchal traditions. Biases and traditions exist everywhere, but in developed countries, there are more systems and policies that allow women better or equal access to education, information and economic opportunities, which directly impact their mindset and level of ambition. I believe more women in developing economies will have better choices and opportunities once there are enough enabling systems and policies in place.
Angelovska: Now, despite promoting women success stories and role-models you are a role model yourself. What were the biggest challenges you have faced? Did you have a mentor and if yes how helpful was he/she for your personal growth and development?
N.Bisseck: My biggest challenges have mostly been related to my limited perspective of the tope of opportunities I could access as an African woman with no personal or family fortune. I have consequently made personal limiting choices, from a place of weakness or lack of faith in my potential. What really made a difference for me was not a specific mentor but the inspiration and guidance from women I could identify with. These women could be peers sharing tips to apply to a competitive school to boost my career, acquaintances that were more advanced in their professional journey and indirectly inspiring me to aim higher, or even the former first lady Michelle Obama, whose unique life story opened my younger mind to the infinity of possibilities I had as a woman from a challenged background. Until this day, women in my network play a key role in expanding the spectrum of what I think is possible and give me courage. That is why I believe in the power of representation, and that also why I truly believe we can make a significant difference with eTrade for Women initiative.
Angelovska: What is your message to all the e-commerce ladies out there?
N.Bisseck: I would summarize it as such: aim higher and take care of yourself. If you are not sure about how to achieve a dream try to learn from those who have already achieved a similar goal, make sure to build systems that will make your business ready for scale, take good care of yourself to maintain the energy necessary to grow your business, and try as much as you can to make an impact in your community or your industry beyond your bottom line. It will fulfill you, make you stand out and motivate you to achieve more!