e-BIZ Project Overview
The dot-ORG e-BIZ Project in Macedonia uses ICT to stimulate the growth of the countrys small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in a context of high unemployment (35%+) and low GDP annual growth (just over 1%). Although the project did not aim to serve women-owned businesses exclusively, nor even differentially, it demonstrates an extremely effective approach to using ICT to improve the competitiveness of women-owned businesses.
The e-BIZ approach employs five key steps:
1. Start with demandThe project has created seven e-BIZ Centers:
2. Find and offer "high impact" ICT applications that quickly and significantly improve SME competitiveness
3. Co-invest with local entrepreneurs to create e-BIZ Centers
4. Formulate a viable business plan for each e-BIZ Center
5. Develop the capacity of the e-Biz Centers
In less than two years of operation, these e-BIZ Centers have:
- ExploringMacedonia, the National Tourism Portal
- New Trend Apparel Technology Center, offering computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) services to apparel manufacturers
- ModEur Footwear Technology Center, offering CAD/CAM services to footwear manufacturers
- CIRKO, Engineering Center of Excellence, offering advanced technology services to the tool- and-die industry.
- Clearview, Online Management Training Center, using ICT to offer top quality management training across Macedonia.
- FashionMK, the Fashion Industry e-Commerce Center, providing modern ICT-based sales and marketing solutions the fashion industry.
- SEEU Business Services Center, providing internships for students, consulting opportunities for faculty, ICT-for-business services to price-sensitive local companies.
The Gender Dimension
- Attracted matching funds of over US$1 million from local entrepreneurs who invested in, own and run the e-BIZ Centers.
- Served over 450 SMEs, and positioned themselves to serve 1,500 SMEs over the next 2 years, improving competitiveness across target industries.
- Measurably Improved the competitiveness in two-thirds of their SME customers.
- Attracted over $4 million of foreign direct investment.
- Developed a revenue base that supports sustainability
The e-BIZ project clearly delivered significant value to SMEs in target industries. Yet the USAID/Macedonia mission and the e-BIZ project staff wanted to understand the extent to which women had participated in those benefits.
e-BIZ Owners and Executive Managers
Although women represent only 23% of all employers/entrepreneurs in Macedonia, the e-BIZ project aimed to have equitable representation of women as e-Biz Center owners and General Managers. Yet e- BIZ Center owners were selected with a completely open, competitive bid process, and support was provided to men and women alike. The project could not set aside a specific number of Centers for women owners, award additional points to women bidders, nor provide special financial assistance to women entrepreneurs.
Nonetheless, the project achieved its goal. Of the five Centers are owned by entrepreneurs (two are owned by universities), three have women co-owners. These women are actively involved in senior level decision-making, take management decisions independently, and clearly have considerable influence over the final decisions that are taken. The record for General Managers, who run the e-BIZ Centers, is even stronger. The seven e-BIZ Centers have had between 3 and 5 women General Managers at any point in time.
e-BIZ SME Customers
Early in the e-BIZ project, it became apparent that four of the seven e-BIZ Centers had target markets in which women entrepreneurs were well represented, or even predominant: New Trend serving apparel manufacturers; ModEur serving footwear manufacturers; FashionMK serving apparel and footwear manufacturers; and ExploringMacedonia serving the tourism industry. In consequence, these Centers serve a larger proportion of women-owned businesses than the proportion of women owning businesses at large.
To determine the value of e-BIZ Center services for their SME customers, the project engaged an independent local firm to conduct a survey of e-BIZ Centers customers. The vast majority (84%) of the women respondents were owners or senior managers; the balance (16%) held other positions, e.g., technologist, head of production, etc. A few of the latter were in administrative positions. Thus, almost all of the women respondents were owners, senior management, or senior technical staff, indicating that the e-BIZ Centers are serving a larger proportion of women-owned and/or run businesses than the proportion of such businesses in the business community at large.
One objective was to determine the extent to which customers found e-BIZ services of value. The results were remarkable. The vast majority (87%) of women respondents reported that e-BIZ Center services were useful or very useful (see Figure 1). A scant 3% reported that the services were not useful. Thus, e-BIZ Center services delivered value to almost all SMEs owned and/or run by women, and for most SMEs the value was considerable.
The survey aimed to determine whether e-BIZ Center services not only were valuable but also actually helped SME customers improve their businesses. The project set the ambitious target of 50% of respondents reporting that e-BIZ Center services had helped the business improve its competitiveness.
The results were remarkable. After less than two years of e-BIZ Center operations, 66% of e-BIZ women respondents reported that the Centers services had helped improve their business competitiveness (see Figure 2). For some Centers, the response rates were even better. More than 80% of women customers for four e-BIZ Centers reported that the Centers services had improved their companys competitiveness.
The customer survey results confirmed the ability of the e-BIZ approach to deliver concrete improvements to the competitiveness of SMEs owned and/or run by women. More than 66% of women respondents reported that e-BIZ Center services improved their businesses, and 97% found e-BIZ Center services valuable/very valuable (87%) or a little valuable (10%). Furthermore, e-BIZ demonstrated that it could deliver that impact in a relatively short time.
These findings suggest that the e-BIZ project provides an unusually powerful model for delivering concrete improvements to women-owned and/or run businesses. The e-BIZ key success factors offer guidelines for improving the competitiveness of women-owned businesses:
With the e-BIZ model, it is possible to gain significant, measurable improvements in the competitiveness of women-owned and/or run enterprises. Furthermore, the e-BIZ model offers an approach to achieving these gains in a relatively short time, and to generating broad positive impacts as the successes motivate others to adopt value-added ICT.
- Women-owned SMEs have little margin for error. Provide high impact ICT applications that can deliver fast, significant improvements in the business.
- Require local investment from e-BIZ Center owners, in order to provide incentives for commitment to sustainability. Consider special programs to help women gain access to the financing they need.
- In collaboration with the women e-BIZ Center owners, develop a viable business before launching the Center.
- Provide technical assistance from savvy businesspeople with hands-on business experience and an understanding of the needs of women-owned businesses.
The e-BIZ Project was designed and implemented by EDC through dot-ORG, a cooperative agreement under the USAID DOT COM Cooperative Alliance. Funding for the e-BIZ project is provided by USAID Macedonia under the terms of Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 165-00-03-00106-00.
|Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.
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