The Russian BRICS Chairmanship has paied particular attention to the launch of the Women’s Business Alliance (WBA). Anna Nesterova, Chairperson of the Board of GlobalRusTrade and Head of the Russian National Chapter of the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance, shares her views on women’s business amid the pandemic and the WBA’s short-term and strategic objectives.
- Ms Nesterova, 2020 can be considered as the year when the Women’s Business Alliance started its practical work. What objectives is the WBA facing in the short term?
The latter half of 2020 has indeed been quite eventful for the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance. In July, WBA held its first meeting in a videoconference format. During the past few months, we succeeded in organizing a series of bilateral online consultations with the Heads of the National Chapters of the WBA from Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
On 26 October, the BRICS Business Forum was held, with a session on women’s business included. The following day, we held a news conference, with the participation of representatives of the WBA’s Russian National Chapter. Finally, on 2 November, we held a VTC meeting of all the 25 WBA members and coordinated all issues related to its activities.
One of the main objectives for now is to form working groups and involve participants from each of the countries. We are also planning to draw up a handover report on what has been done and what is planned, as well as on proposals, initiatives and projects. This plan of action will enable us to reach the WBA’s aims and objectives accurately and in time.
- You are always in contact with your BRICS colleagues. What expectations and estimates do they have with regard to economic development amid the pandemic?
COVID-19 has strongly affected everyone’s social and economic well-being and will have large-scale consequences for the global economy. The June issue of the World Economic Outlook projects global growth in 2020 at the level of minus 4.9 percent.
The BRICS countries have been hit strongly by the pandemic. The GDP of most BRICS countries declined considerably during the second quarter of 2020: by 51 percent in South Africa, 23.9 percent in India, 9.7 percent in Brazil, and 8.5 percent in Russia, as compared to the same period last year. At the same time, the Chinese economy resumed growth in the second quarter after a record plunge of 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020.
Experts believe that the BRICS economies will recover by following a V-shaped scenario in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Currently, everyone is seeking new sources of growth. For example, e-commerce is considered to be one of the driving forces promoting the development of small and medium-sized businesses. Moreover, in a pandemic environment, online trade has emerged as the only possible sales method. For example, proposals submitted by our WBA partners are focusing heavily on the need to promote women’s businesses via e-commerce channels.
Generally, women’s business development is one of the most promising economic growth drivers. Goldman Sachs data indicates that an equal male/female involvement in BRICS economic processes can accelerate GDP growth by an average of 0.8 percent per year. Therefore, creating a cooperation mechanism intended to promote and support women’s entrepreneurship in the BRICS countries is a very timely step.
- The current economic situation in the world and in Russia is creating new challenges for women entrepreneurs. What challenges do you see?
The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the business environment and, according to UN Women, women entrepreneurs have been affected more by it than men (64 percent versus 52 percent, respectively). Russia is no exception: according to a study by the NAFI think tank, the lockdown and the subsequent economic decline have taken a toll on 90 percent of women’s and 82 percent of men’s businesses in Russia.
First and foremost, tourism and hospitality, consumer services and retail, where the majority of workers are women, are the most affected industries. Therefore, it has become particularly important to define the most efficient ways to change business models in order to minimize the impact of the pandemic and stay afloat. Damage can be mitigated if business activity can be, at least partially, moved online – be it retail, events, teaching or other services.
The pandemic has exacerbated another problem. According to UN Women, women perform on average three times more unpaid housework and childcare duties than men. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that this contribution is worth USD 11 trillion annually, or around 13 percent of the global GDP, and exceeds the GDP of India, Japan and Brazil put together. Additional measures such as wider access to the internet, education, healthcare and infrastructure can help reduce and redistribute unpaid labour.
It should also be noted that the crisis has brought another issue to the fore, which is low digital literacy, especially among the female population. All of our BRICS partners mentioned this issue at the session on digital economy, which took place during the BRICS Business Forum in October.
- We have witnessed a stable growth in the share of women’s business in the Russian Federation over the last few years. Is this trend the same today?
Women’s businesses in Russia are primarily small and medium-sized businesses. According to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, women are heading about 30 percent of the 5.8 million small and medium-sized businesses in this country. Thus, Russia is second on the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs. Moreover, Russia’s Women Business Index has been growing for the last two years. Today, this trend has not changed and, as I see it, the share of women in small and medium-sized businesses will only grow.
COVID-19 has forced many people both online (private tutoring, education services, consulting) and offline (food deliveries to the vulnerable and low income strata, volunteering), with women traditionally prevailing in this sphere. According to the ILO statistics, women make up over 58 percent of those employed in the services sector the world over.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, socially oriented entrepreneurship and social services have emerged as the backbone of the world economy and a means of support for the population. In Russia, women are implementing 90 percent of social business and child development projects.
Equally, it cannot be denied that women’s business strengths, such as mobility and caution, enable us to take more balanced decisions and treat any crisis as a major opportunity.
- What is the procedure for companies that want to join the Russian National Chapter of the Women’s Business Alliance? Are there any restrictions and what incentives and opportunities are available for alliance members?
The Alliance already has its own website, www.bricswomen.com, that we will expand and develop as a platform where women can get access to online education, best business administration practices and reliable partners from across BRICS. Right now, companies can apply for the WBA membership via the website by stating their business interests and providing contact information.
The BRICS Women’s Business Alliance is open to absolutely all women; there are no restrictions when it comes to age or an industry they represent. We are glad to welcome everybody who is ready for international cooperation and we urge women to get actively involved in the alliance’s work, especially those living in remote and rural areas. Since we are currently building working groups and their agendas, it is important for us to accommodate the interests of the entire women’s business community in Russia.
I should also point out that every day we receive applications from women entrepreneurs from the BRICS countries via our platform and redirect these women who want to get involved in the WBA to their national chapters.
The companies that become BRICS WBA members can benefit from two main opportunities, which are an access to exports and international cooperation. It is a chance to develop new partnerships with such major corporations as Huawei, Petrobras, Alibaba, Apollo Hospitals, Brazil Foods, Natura and others.
Women entrepreneurs can also promote their companies’ and their countries’ interests to build global value chains, to create multilateral projects, international mentorship programmes, to share experience and obtain new knowledge from mentors. WBA membership means unlimited access to the common platform for women’s business in BRICS.
- The news conference held on 27 October outlined the Alliance’s mid-term priorities. What do you expect from 2021? And is it even possible to make predictions today?
I am certain that our work will not be paralysed. Neither the Business Council nor the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance has suspended its work this year. We plan to launch working groups within the WBA. National secretariats are already in charge of the alliance’s administration.
The WBA’s work will follow the Business Council’s agenda which should be complemented rather than duplicated. We will focus on such areas as innovative development, healthcare, food security and environmental safety, inclusive economy, creative industries and tourism. Our colleagues from the alliance have already proposed several specific projects and initiatives on which we plan to work together.
Due to the pandemic, we might not be able to organize offline meetings; however, we are going to deliver on all the plans that we mapped out with our BRICS partners.