SheMeansBusiness Supporting Women Entrepreneurs: Beth Ann Lim

SheMeansBusiness Supporting Women Entrepreneurs: Beth Ann Lim

Beth Ann Lim is the Director of Policy Programs and Government Outreach for Asia Pacific at Facebook and Global Head of SheMeansBusiness. Prior to this role, she was responsible for Facebook’s Small and Medium Businesses Community Engagement initiatives across the Asia Pacificregion. Ms Lim has over 18 years of experience in Asia working with smalland large organizations to help develop and build strategies focused ondigital transformation, economic development, and digital literacy.

What is the thought process behind it and how is it changing the world?

#SheMeansBusiness is a Meta initiative inspired by its long-term commitment to further socio-economic growth and development of women across the world. The program is empowering women by supporting women-owned businesses to enter the digital economy through skills training, financial education, and business inspiration.

There is increasing awareness regarding the need to boost women’s participation in the formal economy. Digital technology is opening up more and more avenues for women’s participation in business and the economy and we are here to ensure that women take up these roles more effectively and are able to fully participate in the economic futures of their communities

The program was launched on International Women’s Day 2016 and since that time over 1.5 million women have been reached through training across 38 markets, through a global network of 40 community partners. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Facebook’s SheMeansBusiness expanded its scope and added training on business resiliency through financial education and we brought these trainings to Pakistan in 2021 in partnership with community partners and in collaboration with the State Bank of Pakistan. The aim is to help women face the economic impacts of the pandemic and navigate their businesses out of the crisis. We feel strongly that digital and financial inclusion work hand in hand to enable small businesses to scale. That is why SheMeansBusiness will continue to support women by bridging these gaps and helping them grow.

With passing years, we see a lot of women entering the market, either by running businesses from their homes or by joining the workforce. Does SheMeansBusiness distinguish between the two? Meaning can anyone take part in the training or is it specifically for women who are running their businesses?

Yes, the SheMeansBusiness program is designed for women-owned and women-led enterprises and startups. The three-day training is meant to help women entrepreneurs learn a new set of digital skills to be able to enhance the sustainability and resiliency of their businesses. For other people keen to learn digital skills, we have other programs in the deck.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have been used by businesses around the world to connect with their customers in these trying times, and they have also worked as equalizers for many gender barriers in the physical world.

We are proud that SheMeansBusiness has been there to support women entrepreneurs in all shapes and forms–whether they are working from their home, or taking their business to new markets. Research tells us that the inequalities women face at home are critical to understanding the barriers they face in starting or growing a business. Digital tools are an important way in which the markets can be brought to the doorsteps of women – especially when women generally shoulder a disproportionate amount of responsibilities at home and for the family.

Over the years SheMeansBusiness has been in Pakistan, how many women have been trained?

SheMeansBusiness came to Pakistan in 2018. During these years, we have reached more than 22,000 women in 51 cities across the country with training and training resources. I would say our primary focus remained on rural areas as one-third of the Pakistani SheMeansBusiness participants came from outside major cities. We are proud to say that almost all participants of the program found it impactful and helpful in helping them to start or grow their businesses.

I believe we were the most helpful during the Covid-19 pandemic when businesses were the worst hit and struggled for survival. In 2021, we launched ‘The Business Resiliency Training through Financial Education (BRFE) program in collaboration with the State Bank of Pakistan to help the entrepreneurs cope with the impacts of the pandemic by taking effective financial decisions.

We helped them diversify their clientele and use Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Messenger effectively for advertising their products and services and finding new clients and business partners to grow their businesses.

One business that stands out from this time is ShayanAther Photography, Shayan participating in our digital skills and BRFE trainings and was able to pivot her business to in-home family portraits during the pandemic and was able to leverage our tools to promote her new service and find new customers to create a whole new pillar of her business. Her story even made it to a #SheMeansBusiness UN General Assembly event, where our COO Sheryl Sandberg cited Shayan as an inspiring story of resilience.

What partners do you have onboard for this initiative in Pakistan, what sort of support do they provide?

In Pakistan, we have worked with USAID, TEVTA, State Bank of Pakistan, and the National Institute for Banking and Finance (NIBAF), the KP IT Board, World Bank, and Invest2Innovateand intend to collaborate with more partners with shared vision and ambitions.  These partners help us reach out local communities all across Pakistan and provide women with technical and financial education and training on the ground. Just as importantly, our amazing community of local trainers and women entrepreneurs provide living proof of the impact these trainings can have.

What is the rate of success in businesses, whose owners receive the training?

Our partners have reported that more than 96% of women entrepreneurs found SheMeansBusiness training to be impactful and relevant to the growth of their business. We are glad that the new knowledge and skills imparted to these talented and hardworking women not only helped them successfully navigate their businesses through daunting challenges posed by Covid and otherwise, but also prime them for sustainable growth and firm resiliency.

What is the growth trajectory for this initiative? Will there be other courses added on to the ones already being taught?

Currently, the formats vary from half-day to up to three-day sessions depending on the needs of the participating women. We will continue to enhance the scope of the program and are always looking for opportunities to scale and make resources available on-demand. We added a module on financial training as COVID disproportionately impacted women-owned and led businesses. Our partnership with NIBAF is helping us deliver financial education training to thousands more women and we’re particularly excited to find ways to make these resources easily accessible. In the same manner, we will be on the lookout for the evolving needs and challenges of female-owned and run businesses. We will continue to work with them in order to prepare them to face challenges and opportunities impacting their enterprises.