Training, Skills & Information

Training, Skills & Information

Barriers, Themes, and Constraints: A Primer

Women entrepreneurs frequently start businesses with less schooling and work experience and lower levels of management skills than their male counterparts, constraining their businesses’ growth and chances of success (Cirera and Qasim 2014). Approaches to addressing WSME skill gaps traditionally centered around a single intervention, such as business training workshops, but research has shown that, particularly for poor women, a more holistic approach is needed that bundles interventions, such as by combining skill enhancements with financial management training and access to credit or savings accounts (United Nations Foundation and ExxonMobil Foundation 2013).

While a stand-alone or single service may lead to positive changes in business practices, they have little impact on firm performance (Qasim, Lu, and Ford 2018). Furthermore, when starting a business, women often do not have access to information regarding profitable sectors, market size, and local supply and demand dynamics. They also are limited in accessing networks to share best practices relative to a specific industry or to gain information on market prices. Analysis (Cirera and Qasim 2014) of data collected by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor about entrepreneurs worldwide indicates that subjective perceptions about one’s own skills, the likelihood of failure, and ability to access opportunities explain a significant portion of the gender gap in entrepreneurial activity. Studies show that men have more social connections that enable them to access business opportunities, information, and contacts than do women (Simavi, Manuel, and Blackden 2010).

In this way, women are disadvantaged from the start, having fewer professional connections, role models, and mentorship opportunities, which can adversely affect their businesses. Encouragingly, female Ugandan entrepreneurs who had launched businesses out of necessity and were subsequently paired with male role models were 55 to 74 percent more likely to successfully cross over into higher productivity sectors than were women entrepreneurs who did not have access to such role models (Cirera and Qasim 2014). Furthermore, female entrepreneurs in Togo who engaged in personal initiative training focused on developing soft skills increased firm profits by 30 percent compared to women who did not participate in the training. Women who received training were also more innovative, introduced a higher number of new products, accessed more credit, and made greater investments in their businesses (Campos et al. 2018).

Using Technology to Close Training, Skills, and Information Gaps

Even among the poorest 20 percent of the population in developing countries, 70 percent have access to mobile phones — more than those who have access to household sanitation improvements or electricity (Deichmann, Goyal, and Mishra 2016). More than 40 percent of the world has Internet access, with ongoing initiatives to reach the unconnected living in rural areas of developing countries. Innovations in digital technology are showing potential to help address skills and information gaps.

The use of digital technology in programs to improve women’s business acumen and technical skills can reach a subset of women who are unable to attend extensive in-class trainings or who face logistical challenges in accessing support programs. Online services can decrease the cost of delivering workshops, attract a larger pool of participants, and enable interventions that combine forms of enterprise support activities such as training and financial services (Bastian et al. 2018). E-learning programs permit women to complete coursework from their workplace or home and offer them the advantage of pacing themselves in fully absorbing and thoughtfully applying the knowledge presented.

E-extension systems can act as online information repositories, with specific information on best practices for different sectors as well as databases of input retailers and prices. Delivery of WSME business training and technical assistance through digital technologies can narrow knowledge gaps and yield more impact in terms of improved business practices and overall firm performance if the programs are well designed in terms of the topics covered (e.g., strategic communications, program marketing), delivery mechanisms (e.g., whether to include videos, e-learning platforms, face-to-face training), and the availability of IT staff for technical setup and troubleshooting. However, using video or other remote tools to reach women entrepreneurs may not significantly increase their participation if it is not combined with services like childcare, family outreach, and transportation for in-person activities and events (Buvinic and O’Donnell 2016). Increasing financial capability is one especially promising area for technology-based training and skills attainment.

Courses aim to improve the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors of participants so that they can better manage their resources and select and make use of financial services that best fit their needs. Successful interventions that have focused on women include the use of tablets loaded with games, videos, and other engaging content to build financial capability among rural women in Colombia (National Bureau of Economic Research 2019). Even several years after this intervention was implemented, the women continued to demonstrate improved financial behavior. Illustrative narratives, including stories and soap operas disseminated through mass media, have also been shown to be effective learning tools in strengthening financial capability. For example, a study based on financial capability messages in a South African (Berg and Zia 2017) soap opera showed improvements in knowledge of concepts relating to gambling and high-cost credit raised in the program.

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.

Training, Skills, and Information

Indicator Summary Description

Indicators related to Training, Skills, and Information reveal the resources and tools available to female entrepreneurs and their employees to improve business performance, who is providing these services, and the ease with which employers can find employees with the skills needed to perform jobs. These data can help assess, for example, whether women can obtain the training they need to improve their own performance and to build the skills of their employees.

Indicators and Secondary Questions Technology

Training, Skills & Information

  • Percentage of country´s labor force with business skills (accounting, communications, finance, management, marketing, sales)? (Global Skills Index, 2019, published by Coursera)
  • Is there a perception that government programs aimed at new and growing firms are effective? (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2018)
  • Secondary questions
  • What in-country support organizations exist and what support services do they offer?
  • Does the government offer programs that teach women about jobs in different sectors, training involved, expected earnings, etc.?
  • Are there government agency resources such as training programs available to entrepreneurs?
  • Are there any training programs offered by the government specifically for women?
  • Are there in-country business incubators and accelerators (UBI Global Directory of Business Accelerators and Incubators 2019-20) Also see
  • Does the country have a STEP (Skills and Training for Employment Program) initiative?
  • How easy is it for business owners to find skilled employees?

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

The training, skills, and information section of the matrix presents the factors and interventions related to addressing persistent deficits in the skill and knowledge base of current and future women entrepreneurs.

Barriers reflect

Barriers reflect the generally restricted social and geographic radius experienced by most female entrepreneurs in developing countries and leading to small networks, lack of service infrastructure, and scant resources and training opportunities. Women also tend to have difficulties accessing technology easily and may have inadequate skills or knowledge in terms of financial literacy, business acumen, sector information, and other key dimensions.

Potential interventions

Potential interventions aim to provide business skills through bundled services, such as disseminating information via networks and mentors or combining training with business competitions that award cash prizes. Access to business-specific information through digital channels can help women transition into more profitable sectors, as can technical assistance to enhance technology and improve processes. Use of soft skills training to strengthen women’s resilience and coping mechanisms for dealing with social backlash over moving into entrepreneurship has also proven successful.

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.

Training, Skills & Information

Training, Skills & Information

Barriers, Interventions, and Indicators

  • Lack of gender-sensitive business-service ecosystem (e.g., biased trainers, mismatch between services offered and needs)
  • Lack of incentives to acquire skills due to social norms and other restrictions
  • Cost barriers to accessing training and technical assistance
  • Inadequate skills and knowledge (e.g., financial literacy, business and soft skills, and sector information)
  • Lack of access to relevant business information due to restricted ability to participate in mentoring programs/networks
  • Limited relevant education
  • Limited technology access and literacy
  • Restricted mobility
  • Business decisions constrained by male relatives
  • Asymmetric information
Potential Interventions
  • Build capacity of institutions serving women-owned businesses, including business associations and networks
  • Support the development of digital incubators, accelerators, and early-stage funding programs
  • Deliver training and facilitate networking aimed at increasing financial literacy, peer-to-peer learning, sector-specific technical skills, and business and soft skills
  • Help women cross over into male-dominated, profitable sectors (through mentoring programs, role models, and information-sharing)
  • Enable women to benefit from existing mixed-sex networking and mentoring opportunities
  • Leverage apprenticeships and on-the-job learning opportunities
  • Provide WSMEs with firm-level wraparound services, such as targeted technical assistance, business advice, and coaching, along with cash grants or small loans (including for technology use and implementation)
  • Identify and integrate women entrepreneurs, business professors, and advisors to join the trainer cadre
  • Provide capital and business development skills through matching grants to WSMEs
  • Organize business plan competitions and entrepreneurship programs for WSMEs
  • Provide gender sensitization training for men and couples that includes instruction on the benefits of women’s economic participation
  • Strengthen women’s resilience and coping mechanisms to deal with social backlash through soft-skills training

Suggested Indicators

  • # of women participants in workshops, training events, seminars, conferences, networking events
  • # of women participants who benefited from digital skills programs/trainings
  • # and/or % of women trained who acquired new knowledge or skills, including in relevant technology use
  • # and/or % of staff in women’s support organizations who acquired improved knowledge or skills
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms with access to finance
  • # of women who established new firms in sectors/industries in which they are underrepresented
  • # and/or % of women participating in the conceptualization and design of projects/activities
  • # of stakeholders who acquired new knowledge of gender-based issues
  • # of women contributing to institutional decision-making
  • # of new markets accessed by women-owned or - led firms
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms adopting innovative/upgraded products and technology driven-processes
  • # and/or % of women-owned/-led firms that benefit from new linkages with large firms
  • # and/or % of women-owned or -led firms with increased investments
  • # and/or % of female trainers in supporting programs
Training, Skills & Information
Barriers, Themes, and Constraints: A Primer