Access to Markets

Access to Markets

Barriers, Themes, and Constraints: A Primer

All SMEs located far from markets face uncertainty in sourcing inputs that can affect the volume and consistency of production as well as creating difficulties in selling what they produce. Female entrepreneurs’ access to markets can be further constrained by social norms against women travelling alone or without a male relative, thereby impeding access to critical information about markets. In addition, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller, with fewer employees, and lower average sales. As a result, the volume requirements in some markets may be a barrier to their participation, particularly in large, centralized, domestic and international markets.

Moreover, information about the type of goods in demand, quality standards, branding and presentation requirements, and pricing, is not as readily accessible to women entrepreneurs who are unable to regularly interact with buyers. Established buyers and sellers can engage in collusive activity that impedes new entrants from participating in a market. For example, some Latin American women fishers receive lower prices because they sell in smaller volumes to powerful intermediaries who then set the price (United States Agency for International Development 2005). In combination, these factors can prevent women from accessing new and larger markets. To help address these issues, under its Public Procurement Strategic Plan (2002–2004), the Chilean government created an e-Procurement platform, ChileCompra (“Chile Buys”), that enables private sector businesses to bid electronically to provide goods and services to the government (Chile, Ministry of Finance 2016). ChileCompra increases the transparency of public sector demand-side data and automates and streamlines the Chilean government´s sourcing process, resulting in easier, equal access for all SMEs. It also facilitates WSMEs´ ability to participate directly in the public sector procurement process without preexisting relationships with government officials and with the added convenience and efficiency of doing so through a digital platform. The result has been a more competitive bidding process for government contracts.

Isolation Model

Another bright spot in relation to WSMEs´ access to markets has been global supply chains. Goods whose component parts were once produced and assembled in one location may now be manufactured in factories on different continents. In some industries, such as textiles and apparel, this has increased the demand for female workers (World Bank Group and World Trade Organization 2020). In addition, SMEs, including women-owned firms, are increasingly exposed to foreign markets through their integration into larger firms´ supply chains (World Bank Group and World Trade Organization 2020). However, women-owned businesses may lack the financial resources that allow their male counterparts to successfully weather supply chain realignments, such as when larger companies decide to shift aspects of their production closer to larger consumer markets or to automate labor-saving tasks within supply chains (World Bank Group and World Trade Organization 2020).


Using Technology to Access Markets

ICT permits more small-scale entrepreneurs to participate in markets and provides innovations in logistics chains that can lead to closer links between buyers and sellers. In rural areas, mobile phones provide entrepreneurs, including women, access to local markets and enable them to carry out financial transactions, including arrangements for sale and delivery of goods and services. Developing country governments, such as Nigeria, partner with mobile operators in e-Wallet initiatives to use electronic vouchers delivered by phone to coordinate distribution of inputs, including improved seeds and fertilizers, to remote areas (Suri and Jack 2016). Women entrepreneurs are able to use mobile phones to connect directly to a virtual market platform that is a transparent, open, and trustworthy space in which to gauge market demand, negotiate fair sales prices, and arrange delivery with agents and traders, potentially eliminating intermediaries and increasing profit margins. Conversations via phone and SMS are a convenient and efficient means for female entrepreneurs to communicate with buyers and sellers if physical meetings are culturally discouraged or laws mandate that workers be segregated by sex. Fully 81 percent of women in India use ICT for communication and networking purposes, including female business owners who use ICT to create and maintain marketing channels, collect customer information, and improve efficiencies in their business processes (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific 2013). Data analytics can also be used to help identify and reduce collusion between suppliers.

Novel technological advances have been made recently in the field of blockchain digital ledgers that eliminate the need for transaction validation by third-party entities and lower the costs related to working capital and cost of goods sold for SMEs. Blockchain is a decentralized, distributed, and secure ledger that records information about commercial transactions (World Bank Group 2020a (forthcoming)). Blockchains are protected by cryptographic technologies that render them virtually invulnerable to corruption or hacks (World Bank Group 2020a (forthcoming)). The net result of using blockchain is that suppliers have lower working capital costs and buyers have a lower cost of goods sold. All of the above-mentioned digital technology advances can be used to increase inclusion and equity among female and male entrepreneurs conducting business in the same sector.

Goods travel increasingly long distances to reach the end-user, which has created the need for efficiency gains in transport and logistics. Mobile and digital communication, such as text messages between entrepreneurs and product buyers, can confirm pick-ups and monitor the movement of goods, including real-time updates about the quantity and condition of products, as well as estimated arrival times. These technical advances in logistics help eliminate product waste in developing countries where, for example, food loss reduces income by at least 15 percent for 470 million smallholder farmers and downstream value-chain actors (Food and Agriculture Organization 2013). SMEs´ increased integration into the international movement of goods and global value chains (GVCs) has become more ubiquitous. Virtual marketplaces (VMPs) or “e-commerce” platforms are increasingly accessible to SMEs in developing countries through the expanded use of improved digital technologies and make significant contributions to this phenomenon. E-commerce ventures present many advantages for WSMEs: access to a larger, “virtual” customer base; freedom from geographic limitations; opportunities to engage in commercial activity around the clock; and lower business operating costs due to the elimination of the need for a brick-and-mortar storefront. In addition, VMPs have the potential to lower trade barriers for women business owners by bringing female producers and traders closer to markets and making it easier for female entrepreneurs to borrow (World Bank Group and World Trade Organization 2020).

Limitations of Technology

New technologies are helping women entrepreneurs increase their efficiency and productivity as well as foster innovation. However, technology has its limitations.a Women typically lag men in using technologyenabled devices, and usage across countries and regions is uneven. For example, while Mexico has no gender gap in cellular phone ownership, the gap is 24 percent in Mozambique and 37 percent in Pakistan. In China, the mobile Internet gender gap is 1 percent, whereas in Guatemala it is 20 percent and in Bangladesh it is 58 percent.b Overall, across low- and middle-income countries,c 15 percent of adults do not have a cell phone and 45 percent do not use mobile Internet.d So, even when digital solutions can help address the economic gender gap, they must be tailored and adjusted to country realities. These may include infrastructure-related barriers and rural-urban differences.

Technology also has disadvantages that can make implementation expensive or risky. Barriers remain to mobile phone ownership and use by women, including the high cost of mobile equipment; lower technical literacy and confidence; safety and security concerns related to user location, communication logs, and breaches of personal data; and perceived lack of relevance.e Working with technology can require costly investments and high technical proficiency. Women entrepreneurs may not have access to the training or capital required to invest in hiring experts or buying equipment. Technology use also increases criminal opportunities; in Nigeria, the National Information Technology Development Agency estimated that customers lost $450 million to digital fraud in 2015.f Because technology is transforming the way people communicate and conduct business at a rate faster than the relevant legal and regulatory frameworks can evolve, concerns about privacy, security, and individual rights continue to emerge.Furthermore, the technology industry’s inherent gender bias systemically disadvantages women,including their underrepresentation in the industry itself.g This bias affects how products are designed,developed, marketed, and distributed, ultimately impacting women’s ownership and use of technologies.

Desktop Diagnostic

The automated data-generation tool in this toolkit is available online and provides comprehensive country snapshots of the context in which female entrepreneurs and workers operate and allows for country and regional comparisons. At the click of a button, the tool generates country-level information across some 125 indicators. 

Market Access

Indicator Summary Description

The Market Access indicators provide insight into the infrastructure in which entrepreneurs operate their businesses. The range of issues covered includes the quality and reliability of roads, electricity, and ICT; and the ease of obtaining an import license and conducting international trade. The data aim to identify the ease with which women open businesses, source business inputs, and expand their customer base.

Indicators and Secondary Questions Technology

Access to Markets

  • Does the country´s physical infrastructure (roads, utilities,communications, waste disposal) provide support for new and growing firms? (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2019)
  • Percentage of firms expected to give gifts to public officials to get things done (Enterprise Surveys)
  • Days to obtain an import license (Enterprise Surveys)
  • Percentage of firms identifying customs and trade restrictions as major constraints (Enterprise Surveys)
  • Percentage of firms whose new products/services are also new to the main market (Enterprise Surveys)
Secondary questions
  • Has the government recently engaged in or committed to infrastructure projects to increase accessibility and affordability of ICT services?
  • Does the government have a procurement process that encourages SMEs and WSMEs to bid on government contracts?
  • Is there a WEConnect office in the country? If so, how many women-owned businesses are registered with the country's WEConnect office?
  • Does the government have an export promotion agency that assists with licenses, offers trainings, organizes trade missions, etc.?

Intervention Design Matrix

The matrix helps teams match barriers identified during analysis with potential interventions to lower them. It also suggests digital enablers for each intervention category and provides a corresponding project example .

The matrix is organized according to the toolkit’s four main constraint categories (legal and regulatory; access to finance; training, skills, and information; access to markets). For each category, barriers faced by women entrepreneurs are listed. These barriers are economic and social factors that may affect the general population, business community, or women as a group and, as such, represent obstacles causing WMSME growth to stagnate, such as encumbering processes for establishing and formalizing businesses, inhibiting access to the resources needed to fuel growth, and/or restricting information and communication flows among stakeholders. It is important for project teams to use the findings from the diagnostic to determine which barriers are most critical to address in project design

The interventions proposed are drawn from WBG projects and from some non-WBG initiatives. Where possible, the matrix categorizes interventions according to their track record for results, that is, the extent to which evidence demonstrates an intervention’s impact (World Bank Group 2019b). It should be noted, however, that most of the categorized interventions were delivered without digital enablers. For the most recent and current impact evaluations and research please visit the WBG Regional Gender Innovation Labs.

Intervention Design Matrix

CLICK HERE to access the full Matrix, including features to create your own customized report by constraint, region, and level of evidence

Overview of Barriers and Potential Interventions by Constraint

WSMEs face major challenges in access to markets, the fourth matrix area, and one for which technolo-gy-based tools hold great potential for new opportunities.

Barriers that women entrepreneurs

Barriers that women entrepreneurs experience when accessing markets include limited access to inputs, tools, assets, and collateral, as well as limited access to networks, information-sharing, and role models and concentration in less-profitable parts of value chains.

Potential intervention

Potential interventions can provide new vehicles for linking women business owners to domestic and international markets, such as through electronic supplier databases and e-commerce platforms; gender-sensitive trade logistics; and enhanced technology, skills, and production processes that better integrate women-owned firms into value chains. Further opportunities are emerging in areas such as online e-government procurement.

Monitoring Progress

This section presents a menu of gender-related output, outcome, and impact indicators to measure project results by choosing gender indicator/s that align(s) with the gaps that the project is trying to address; track(s) expected results; and is/are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). When selecting indicators, work with your M&E team, as well as with a gender specialist to confirm and validate indicator choice; also consider sex-disaggregating indicators across the project, i.e., for those activities that may not specifically address gender gaps but that are amenable to sex-disaggregated data collection. Focus on indicators that make sense for your project and for which you will be able to collect data. The indicators can be applied to both lending and advisory World Bank projects.

Access to Markets

Access to Markets

Barriers, Interventions, and Indicators

  • Lagging legal and regulatory provisions (e.g., digital payments, cross-border commerce, etc.)
  • Inadequate input markets (land, labor, capital)
  • Cost barriers (compliance, formalization, informal payments)
  • Limited access to finance, inputs, tools, assets, and collateral
  • Inadequate access to and limited use of technology enablers
  • Market-related information constraints (e.g., input costs, prices, demand, etc.)
  • Limited access to new customers
  • Limited access to networks, (in-)formal information sharing, and role models
  • Concentration in less profitable, lower parts of the value chain
  • Gender-based harassment in business transactions (e.g., buyers, sellers, suppliers, customs officials, etc.)
Potential Interventions
  • Design gender-sensitive trade/customs logistics, including digital-based services
  • Increase women’s access to government procurement programs
  • Build capacity of institutions serving women-owned businesses
  • Develop training programs for women (e.g., use of technology tools to access markets, trade logistics, supplier standards, etc.)
  • Enhance technology, skills, and production processes to integrate women-owned/-led firms into value chains
  • Link women to local, regional, and international markets through supplier databases, meet-the-buyer events, training, export promotion events, and study tours
  • Support technology extension services
  • Address de facto occupational sex segregation through mentoring, information provision, and skills development
  • Establish awareness-raising efforts for supply-chain professionals (procurement managers, etc.) to increase understanding of challenges faced by women business owners

Suggested Indicators

  • # of women participants in workshops, training events, seminars, conferences, and networking events
  • # of women participants who benefited from digital skills programs/trainings
  • # of recommended laws/regulations/amendments/codes enacted or government policies adopted to address gender constraints
  • # and/or % of women trained who acquired new knowledge or skills, including in relevant technology use
  • # and/or % of staff in women-supporting organizations who acquired new/improved knowledge or skills
  • # of women-owned or -led firms that generated leads in business promotion events
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms adopting innovative/upgraded products and technology-driven processes
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms that benefit from new linkages with large firms
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms that benefit from reformed customs/border services
  • # of new markets accessed by women-owned or -led firms
  • # and/or % of women who established new firms in underrepresented sectors
  • # of stakeholders who acquired new knowledge of genderbased issues
  • % of leadership positions held by women in trade and industry organizations
  • # and/or % of buyers formally committed to Women’s Empowerment Principles of gender-responsive procurement
  • % of ministry/agency procurement contracts going to womenowned or -led firms
Access to Markets
Barriers, Themes, and Constraints: A Primer