Celebrating IWD 2024: Inspiring Inclusion across Emerging Markets with Open Commerce

Every year, on the 8th of March, the world unites to celebrate International Women’s Day, with the theme for 2024 being #inspireinclusion. It is a significant day that serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the critical need for inclusion across all sectors. 

Driving inclusion is even more important in emerging markets, where gender inequality tends to be a larger issue, and women have less access to economic and social resources. For example, while a significant number of economically active women work in the informal sector across emerging markets, many are still economically excluded from the formal financial system, lacking access to credit facilities. 

Soumaya Hamzaoui, RedCloud’s COO, commented on the challenges women still face in many parts of the world, saying, “There is still a long way to go, especially in some areas of the world where patriarchate is much more entrenched in local cultures, and we are not protected from some regulations going backward even in “advanced” countries like we have seen in the last few years.”

Adebayo Bukola, CEO of IBIDUNGOLD Nigeria LTD, a former banker turned consumer goods distributor, spoke to us about the challenges of running a retail business in a male-dominated Nigerian market, saying, “Starting from a small-scale business to being a distributor with multiple branches across Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, has been challenging, but I am proud of myself for pushing through.” Other distributors we spoke to also reiterated the existence of a bias that they needed to push through to succeed in their businesses.

Over the last few years, however, there has been a marked improvement to include more women in commerce, tech, and related spaces. According to Soumaya, “Today, we see an overall increased awareness about gender inequality worldwide; it goes from government-led legislative reforms to more localized initiatives, the promotion of inclusion, education empowerment, and more role model representation of women in the society at all levels, all these changes lead to positive and long term shift in societies that are challenging traditional stereotypes and promoting more inclusive and equitable attitudes towards gender.”

Barbara Roriz, the Office Manager at RedCloud, also commented about the positive changes made toward inclusion and gender equality in recent years, saying, “I’ve witnessed a significant shift toward gender equality; it’s been truly uplifting to see more women taking on leadership roles, challenging outdated norms, and championing inclusivity. This wave of change is inspiring and essential for creating a more diverse and equitable workplace.

According to the World Bank, increased inclusion and women’s participation in the economy can significantly improve the economic situation in emerging markets, contributing to their GDP and development. Leveraging technological advancements is one of the best ways to dismantle the traditional barriers that have limited growth for women-owned businesses. 

Open Commerce technology, for example, offers an open, more accessible, and equitable digital marketplace that revolutionizes how women entrepreneurs and small business owners in emerging markets engage and trade with global brands. By democratizing access to brands and manufacturers, they can bypass conventional constraints, such as limited access to physical markets or financial services.

RedCloud’s AI-powered Open Commerce platform allows women-owned businesses to reach and trade directly with more brands, even those outside their immediate geolocations. Trading on this platform generates valuable transaction data that can be used to provide credit facilities for small, women-owned businesses, even without a bank account. It also provides an additional income stream for even the smallest retailers, allowing them to sell digital products like mobile top-ups, electricity bill payments, and more while earning a commission on each sale.

Beyond providing Open Commerce technology, RedCloud also drives inclusion across our organization. Soumaya shares how she advocates for inclusion daily through her work at RedCloud: “At RedCloud, we promote inclusion at all levels. We are a widely diverse company when it comes to gender, culture, religion, and language. Gender equality is especially infused at all levels of the organization. We attract and hire people who value respect and kindness. We also pride ourselves on creating a safe space for everyone to express themselves and embrace their differences.

We also permanently work with the HR department to proactively promote communication and create a safe space for everyone in the company to share their concerns and challenges safely. We take action when we see a risk of any kind of discrimination. We intentionally promote diversity in our communication and ensure that we have many women who can act as role models in their fields and/or communities; we try to promote all women in RedCloud.

We also facilitate collaboration and engagement among diverse teams by supporting communication, problem-solving, and decision-making processes. By promoting these inclusive practices and valuing diverse perspectives, I and other team members can help create a more welcoming and supportive workplace environment.”

Nina Laurie, RedCloud’s Senior Vice President for Global Marketing, also corroborated the company’s focus on inclusion, saying, “Inclusivity in the workplace is key to empowering women, and I actively support and champion women’s growth and success through mentorship and cultivating a supportive environment. I strive to create a space where every voice is not just heard but truly valued.”

In addition to helping small businesses with access to Open Commerce technology, RedCloud also runs the RedCloud Academy, where youths, many of them female, are taught in-demand tech skills that better position them for the workplace of the future.

Soumaya also shared, “We often talk about inclusion as a way for us to break barriers; I always like to think about it in the way of ‘Freeing people and their energy.’ Enabling everyone to embrace their differences and occupy fully the space they find themselves in. I always encourage and empower people in work and community to follow their guts and express their ideas and feelings; sometimes they will succeed, sometimes they will fail, but they will certainly learn and improve.”

She continues, “I am very lucky to have the chance to meet some incredible women who permanently go out of their comfort zone either at work or in their personal lives, thriving to get the right balance and have a fulfilling life. It is very important and supporting them can go from simply acknowledging their courage to being more active and giving advice and time when possible.”

Celebrating International Women’s Day is more than just recognizing women and women entrepreneurs; it’s a commitment to always drive inclusivity where possible, leveraging technology and Open Commerce to achieve this. The transformative power of Open Commerce, especially in emerging markets, opens doors for women entrepreneurs who have historically been left behind, allowing them access to broader marketplaces and opportunities.

We call on everyone to support and engage in initiatives that foster an inclusive environment, both within their communities and on a global scale. Together, let’s work towards a future where inclusion is not just an aspiration but a reality for all.