ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs in the Age of Industry 4.0

As part of 2018 ASEAN Business and Investment Summit Panel Discussion Titled

“ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs in the Age of Industry 4.0”


Commissioned by ASEAN BAC Business Women Working Group (ABBWG)

Executive Summery

As there is an increasing demand for enhancing women’s economic empowerment, the inclusion of more women in the society and the economic sector has been promoted not only to realize individuals’ potential but to expand prosperity in the region. This is a global trend, and ASEAN is no exception. In ASEAN, women’s economic empowerment has long been embraced as one of the important agendas. ASEAN member states have taken initiatives to promote female entrepreneurship to enable women to achieve their economic empowerment and, at the same time, ASEAN to achieve inclusive, sustainable, and dynamic economic growth.

Women-owned enterprises constitute a sizeable portion of ASEAN economy. Currently, in ASEAN, there is an estimated 61.3 million women entrepreneurs accounting for about 50 percent of the world’s women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). In spite of ASEAN’s initiatives for female entrepreneurship and its sizeable body in the ASEAN context, however, women entrepreneurs are facing a wide range of challenges, which impede their potential to start, run, and grow their businesses: inherited social customs and norms strengthen gender stereotypes and put strong pressures on women entrepreneurs; women entrepreneurs have lower access to finance, which severely limits the possibility of growth and expansion of their business; they have limited opportunities for entrepreneurial trainings.


These challenges are posing serious threats to possible expansion and growth of women-owned MSMEs. Many of the women entrepreneurs accordingly end up working at a micro level in informal sectors, and their enterprises are usually involved in early-entrepreneurial activities and have lower expectations of growth. Overall, women-owned enterprises have more limitations than men-owned ones in terms of size, scope, productivity, and profitability. Thus, advocating the women’s economic inclusion stays rather at the high level talks, but hardly seen among the ordinary people’s lives.


In this context, given the crucial role of women in sustainable economic growth, it is urgently necessary to address this problem appropriately and to create enabling environments for more dynamic female entrepreneurship. In addition, in consideration of structural challenges such as population aging and a shrinking labor force, mobilizing female talents is becoming more important than ever.

Meanwhile, in the age of the Industry 4.0, scenes of business and daily life are dramatically changing around the globe. With the emergence and convergence of technologies, digital economy has emerged as a dominant form of economy. Digital transformation has disrupted traditional business models and, instead, generated a number of unprecedented, new business models. In the current digital economy, business innovations are continuously emerging and, as a result, transformation that is incomparable to the past in terms of its scope and scale is becoming pervasive. Thanks to ICTs, which are main drivers of digital economy, a range of new value-added products and services keep emerging on the market and meet the customers’ needs in novel ways.


Significantly, it is claimed that ICTs have the potential to contribute to enhancing women’s economic empowerment. Thanks to ICTs, women, who, traditionally, take primary responsibilities for child care and household chores and are thus usually confined to their homes, are freed from such constraints to varying extent and in a better position to engage in ICT-enabled economic activities. This can help to increase their employment and business opportunities by, for example, allowing for a balance between work and house responsibilities, lowering entry barriers into business, and reducing cost for starting a business. Besides, ICTs are serving as powerful enablers to transform ideas and experiences, which are crucial resources of the current creativity-based economy, into business items. Actually, the world is witnessing an increasing number of success stories of women entrepreneurs who successfully integrated their unique experiences, insights, and talents into their business with a help of ICTs. In the digital economy, ICTs, indeed, have the potential to create new, favorable business opportunities for women.


In consideration of the huge potential of ICTs for promoting female entrepreneurship, it is therefore necessary to closely examine the roles of ICTs in facilitating female entrepreneurship. At the same time, it is also necessary to explore best practices of ASEAN women entrepreneurs who are successfully running an ICT-related business. Such information will contribute to generating globally competitive, innovative, and resilient ASEAN women entrepreneurs and, eventually, boost productivity and innovation in ASEAN.


Against this backdrop, ASEAN BAC Business Working Group (ABBWG), Eng and Co. LLC of Singapore, and Global ICT Women’s ICT Network of Korea jointly developed a research project to explore entrepreneurial journeys of seven women entrepreneurs from seven ASEAN member states, that is, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. At the time of the study, these women entrepreneurs were successfully running an ICT business or leveraging ICTs effectively to run their business. The purposes of the research study were 1) to identify success factors that contributed to business success of the women entrepreneurs engaged in ICT business or actively integrating ICTs into their business, 2) to understand main challenges or obstacles that these women entrepreneurs faced, 3) to highlight policy recommendations that the successful women entrepreneurs offered as enablers for facilitating women’s entrepreneurship, and 4) to identify advice that the women entrepreneurs would like to give to other women entrepreneurs or women who wish to start up their business in the future.


As regards research methodology, a head researcher and seven local researchers formed a research group and collaborated for this research project. After developing a shared understanding of research purposes and methodology, the local researchers collected data through conducting interviews with their woman entrepreneur one to four times. They then analyzed their data and wrote a case study report. In the next stage, the head researcher conducted cross-cases analyses, identified recurrent, salient themes in relation to the four research themes (i.e., success factors, obstacles, policy recommendations, and advice), wrote a full report.


Findings of the current study illuminated a variety of significant features of female entrepreneurship in the ICT-related industry. Success factors that the seven women entrepreneurs cited include enabling contextual factors (e.g., ‘support from national ICT policies,’ ‘support from gender equality policies,’ and ‘availability of networking and mentoring’), business strategies (e.g., ‘active use of ICTs, such as SNS for marketing and the internet for information search,’ and ‘lean business management strategies’), and personal factors (e.g., ‘ICT and entrepreneurship training experiences,’ and ‘business philosophy: a spirit of value addition’). Major challenges cited include ‘gendered social structures and norms,’ ‘lack of ICT infrastructure and trainings,’ ‘limited access to finance,’ and ‘social stigma attached to entrepreneurship.’


With regards to policies, the women entrepreneurs recommended that the government should formulate policies for setting up ICT infrastructure and offering digital literacy education programs. They also suggested that the government should develop policies for promoting female entrepreneurship in particular. As specific ways to promote female entrepreneurship, the women entrepreneurs went further to recommend that the government should incorporate gender dimension into all entrepreneurship-related policies; give women an equal access to education, trainings, and skill formation opportunities; create an ecosystem in which successful women entrepreneurs inspire and motivate other women for entrepreneurship by sharing their experiences and expertise through trainings and seminars; integrate entrepreneurship education into all educational levels and systems; set up an association for women entrepreneurs and startups in which they can exchange ideas, seek guidance and consultation, and empower each other; ensure representatives of women entrepreneurs associations will participate in the policy making. In the meantime, the women entrepreneurs also recommended that the government should create policies for enhancing gender equality; for example, for promoting campaigns to raise public awareness of gender equality, establishing social service facilities for women workforce, such as preschools and housework services, and conducting studies of gender analysis particularly in the ICT industry.


As regards advice for other women, the seven successful women entrepreneurs offered various pieces of advice. For example, they highlighted a need to enhance ICT skills and knowledge, which is a must for a successful business in the current transformative digital economy. The women entrepreneurs commonly gave another advice to network with others as networking offers a lot of benefits including getting useful information and advice, receiving mental and, sometimes, even financial supports, and expanding human resources. With an awareness of the benefits of networking, the women entrepreneurs went further on to advise that once they succeed in their business, women should try to provide mentoring for other women. Finally, the seven women entrepreneurs stressed the importance of building on fundamental entrepreneurship attitudes, including ‘have a clear vision,’ ‘don’t be afraid of failures but be willing to take risks with courage,’ and ‘don’t be overwhelmed by gender biases or others’ thoughts.’ 


It is expected that results of the current study will benefit several stakeholders - ASEAN women entrepreneurs, ASEAN women who are interested in starting a business, and ASEAN governments. From this study, both ASEAN women entrepreneurs and ASEAN women interested in entrepreneurship can gain insights into the characteristics of digital economy in the ASEAN context, critical features necessary for starting and running a business in digital economy, and specific roles of ICTs in entrepreneurship. Listening to the successful women entrepreneurs in the ICT-related businesses, ASEAN women can better participate in digital economy, harness business opportunities it creates for women, and become more competitive and innovative in global value chains. Meanwhile, governments can obtain information on relevant policies or measures for promoting female entrepreneurship that is deeply grounded in the life stories of successful women entrepreneurs. In sum, results of this study will contribute to creating an enabling ecosystem of female entrepreneurship, particularly in the ASEAN context.


2013 ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Project

"Strategy for ASEAN Women's Socioeconomic Empowerment through ICT Literacy and Leadership Education"


"Research on Development and Management of

ASEAN Women's ICT Development Index (WIDI)"

Executive Summery

This report is the culmination of a six-month long research project aimed at developing the first ever Women’s Information and Communications Technology Development Index (WIDI) framework for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States. While there are a number of global ICT indices, there are no standard global data metrics for ICT gender-related statistics in developing countries. Therefore, this research titled ‘Development and Management of ASEAN Women’s ICT Development Index’ has been conducted by the Asia Pacific Women’s Information Network Center (APWINC) of Sookmyung Women’s University and the Global Women’s ICT Network (GWIN) with the support from ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Fund as part of ASEAN-ROK Cooperation Project, “Strategy for ASEAN Women’s Socioeconomic Empowerment through ICT Literacy and Leadership Educaiton”. This research focuses on setting a women’s ICT index framework for the ASEAN Member States.

The objective of Phase 1 of the project was to design a framework of ICT index indicators and a data collection methodology with a supplemental back-end survey to determine and assess the ICT skill and usage level of women in ASEAN countries. The research project entailed the following goals:


  • Research the current state of the digital gender divide across the ASEAN region and identify any ASEAN- or country-specific ICT gender-related data sources.

  • Assemble a taskforce of 2 researchers per country to represent all ASEAN member states, for a total of 20 researchers to support the project’s research team (GWIN).

  • Set an ASEAN WIDI framework which outlines and defines a set of ICT indexes and subindexes that can be disaggregated by sex.

  • Hold a week-long workshop (November 23-27, 2015) at APWINC headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, and invite taskforce members from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam for a total of 12 researchers, to finalize the WIDI framework and draft an index implementation plan. Researchers were additionally tasked with representing their country’s viewpoint and needs, and providing feedback on the feasibility and usefulness of all the data and plans discussed.

  • Publish a report of the research outcomes and proposed implementation plan.

This study referenced some of the major global ICT indices and created a framework that used their basic structure, but enhanced the categories and sub-categories: Readiness (Infrastructure and Access), Use (Intensity), Capability (Skills), Benefits, and Policy, and six corresponding sub-indicators which are discussed in more detail in the conceptual framework section. Output would then be derived by using a supplementary back-end survey.

Implementation of the framework is set to occur in Phase 2. The second phase of the project will involve testing the framework and survey through a pilot run. ASEAN countries will use the same WIDI framework and survey template to maintain consistency, and will collect the data through inperson interviews. The methodology for data collection and funding will be incorporated, possibly in near future. After gathering feedback on the framework, survey, and deployment method, the WIDI research team will work to deploy and publish a standardized ASEAN WIDI index on a biennial basis.

about WIDI

The WIDI collected data in a different way compared with other indices. Telecommunication administrative authorities collected data for the IDI and NRI. ICT Gender Indicator for Africa and WII used surveys from household and individuals. But WIDI surveyed individuals. The Five categories for WIDI are: Readiness (Infrastructure and Access), Use (Intensity), Capability (skill) Benefits, and Policy.

ICT readiness refers to the availability of access to ICT. Increased access leads to increase usage, and with increased usage comes increased capabilities to more effectively use the technologies. As a result, women will be better prepared to compete in the job market. As they acquire ICT skills and capabilities, women will find more and/or better opportunities for employment. As a result, it will lead to an increased income and ultimately self-efficacy and improvement. However, policies need to be in place, not only to ensure the progress of the ICT relate elements, but also to oversee the resulting benefits. The focus of ICT policy should not be evaluating women's ICT skill set, but also strive to ensure that they receive the benefits from their increased capabilities. [Figure 3-1]

Based on this conceptual framework, WIDI is divided into the following five index categories and associated sub-index categories. Figure 3-2 shows the 5 index categories and corresponding 14 subindex categories.


숙명여자대학교 아태여성정보통신원이 한국 외교부와 한-ASEAN 협력기금의 후원으로 2013 한-아세안 협력사업 "Strategy for ASEAN Women's Socioeconomic Empowerment through ICT Literacy and Leadership Education" 프로젝트의 일환으로 "WIDI Development and Management Workshop for ASEAN Experts (아세안 여성의 ICT 발전지수 개발)" 국제워크숍을 2015년 11월 22일 ~ 28일까지 실시하였다. 본 워크숍에는 아세안 6개국 (캄보디아, 인도네시아, 라오스, 필리핀, 태국, 베트남) 12명의 젠더 및 ICT 관련 전문가 및 공무원이 참여하였다.

본 워크숍은 ASEAN 여성의 ICT 개발정도를 측정할 수 있는 맞춤형 국제지수를 개발하는데 그 목표를 가지고 있다. 이를 위해 워크숍의 참가자들이 서로 논의와 현황 파악을 통해 보다 더 타당성 있는 아세안 맞춤형의 발전지수 구축에 기여하고자 하였다.

GWIN은  토론세션을 맡아 WIDI 프레임워크 요소에 대한 토론 및 확립, WIDI 서베이 견본 개발 등을 진행하였고, 김용자교수님(GWIN 부회장)께서는 "ASEAN 회원국에게 있어 WIDI 개발 및 관리의 중요성"에 대해서 강의하셨다.


APEC Multi-year Project

Chinese Taipei

2013 ~ 2016

"Innovation for Women and Economic Development:

Facilitation Women's Livelihood Development and Resilience with ICTs"

APEC PPWE Project, Project No: M SCE 03 2013A

Four APEC economies: Chinese Taipei, Chile, the Philippines, Republic of Korea are performing  this research.


Over recent years, increased attention has focused on the role and potential of the emerging value-added services (VAS) of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a pathway to bridge the gender and economic development divide. Yet in APEC there is a lack of a more holistic framework to address the pressing challenges for women entrepreneurs to gain access to these new technologies and business opportunities to improve their livelihood.


This project aims to build upon previous work supported by the APEC PPWE, Gender Focal Point Network (GFPN), and Women Leaders’ Network (WLN) to develop women small, medium and micro-enterprises by promoting the diffusion of technology-driven ICT innovations. This project echoes closely to important APEC declarations in recent years. In response to the 2011 APEC Leader’s Declaration, the project endeavours to promote inclusive regional growth by taking concrete actions to expand economic opportunities for women. Corresponding to the 2011 San Francisco Declaration, the project aims to facilitate the sharing of best practices on how member economies use ICT innovations to enhance women’s livelihood development capacities and entrepreneurial skills and to foster an equitable workforce participation of disadvantageous women, increasing their access to cross-border opportunities.


Submitted by Chinese Taipei and co-sponsored by 14 member economies, the APEC multi-year project, commencing in June 2013, puts forward a 3-year work plan that aims to: (1) promote awareness of women entrepreneurs’ needs in APEC region in embracing new devices and services for livelihood development; (2)identify and disseminate pertinent experiences and know-how of ICT innovations that can be replicated to broaden women entrepreneurs’ capacity of doing business and enhance their resilience to risky environment; and (3) assist stakeholders to formulate innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) which will facilitate the development of sustainable business models and policy environment for women entrepreneurs.


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