Leveraging ICT to Enhance the Women’s Participation in Social Development
The Tianjin Women’s Business Incubator (TWBI) was established in October 2000. It is the first and only empowerment- and employment-oriented business incubator in China. In the short span of two and a half years, it has incubated about 80 enterprises employing some 5,000 persons, 80% of whom are women. Typical enterprises are labor-intensive and clustered in the service, light manufacturing and distribution sectors.
Financial and technical support for the establishment of TWBI was provided by UNDP and AusAID. This support terminated as scheduled at year-end 2002. The Tianjin Women’s Federation, a quasi-governmental organization, is TWBI’s primary sponsor. Governance is through a Board of Directors, with representation from other community stake-holders. In this respect also, TWBI is unusual, because the Boards of almost all Chinese incubators are composed exclusively of direct financial sponsors.
TWBI is located in Hedong district of Tianjin, in the former factory of a state-owned enterprise. Rentable space is 3,100 m2, and current occupancy is about 90 per cent. Heat, water, electricity, janitorial, security and mail delivery services are bundled into workspace rental fees. A computer lab with 15 PCs is available for our clients for training purpose. All managers have their own PC with high-speed internet access. In the A, B, and C blocks of TWBI’s building, there are 177 network sockets installed. The outlet bandwidth is 10Mbps. A web server, a DHCP server, a DNS server and several network switches are maintained.
An extensive suite of training and business advisory services is provided to client businesses by incubator staff and outside experts. Assistance with securing debt financing through partnering commercial banks is also available. All these services are provided largely free of cost, as most of our client businesses are of limited means and not yet at the level of business sophistication necessary to recognize the economic value of professional services. However, we are gradually introducing cost-recovery pricing of services. An “Entrepreneurs’ Salon” has been established to facilitate the exchange of experiences and mutual help between clients. Representatives of local government agencies are regularly invited to meet with client businesses in order to assist them to resolve issues related to government regulations and procedures. Finally, one-on-one assistance and some training are provided to “walk-in” clients, primarily unemployed women who seek advice on starting their own small or micro-enterprise. These services are generally provided at no cost to the client.
Reflecting its origins in a UNDP project, TWBI’s incubation model reflects international best practice adapted to Chinese conditions. TWBI staff have undertaken study tours of Australian and European incubators and women’s business and training organizations. TWBI has also received extensive guidance from experienced incubation experts in Australia and the U.S.
The rationale of our current incubation approach is improving the welfare of Tianjin women by creating strong women-owned businesses which have the potential to grow rapidly and generate sustainable employment opportunities. While our ultimate objective is to serve a disadvantaged community, we believe that we can best do this by incubating the strong, in the expectation that they will create employment opportunities for others, including the weak. We constantly struggle with the sometimes conflicting demands of our tactical focus on incubating the strong versus our strategic focus on serving the weak.
TWBI’s providing intelligence services to increase women's awareness of ICT
Nowadays, market competition is intense. Information is an important resource for start-ups. ICT has become an indispensable tool for enterprises. However, China's women entrepreneurs know little about the ICT. The ages of laid-off women are large. They usually have less education, and lack enthusiasm for the use of ICT. TWBI has developed ICT training programmes to small business owners, and explored a rich set of features of the training model. TWBI take full advantage of the training qualifications to integrate SYB training with e-commerce. TWBI adds Start Your Business (SYB) courses to e-commerce training so that women business owners can understand that network can broaden their marketing channels, lower the cost of sales. At the time, TWBI trains its clients how to use office software to increase their management skills. After training, TWBI encourages them in the family to learn from their children to in order to consolidate their computer skills to get used to computers. Since the end of 2004, TWBI has trained about 1200 people in 47 training periods, of which 459 become successful entrepreneurs, accounting for 38 percent of the total. Through our policy training courses, the laid-off women understand the preferential policies of government for them. Special topics of E-Commerce were held 11 times. 180 entrepreneurs are benefited from them. TWBI also provide training about psychology, policies and regulations, marketing, and financial management to women entrepreneurs.
Laid-off women who received our training are improved self-awareness and capability of entrepreneurship.
Using of ICT to help women get more equal opportunities for social resources
TWBI believes that realizing women’s equal rights to the use of resources should be equality of opportunity. To have equal opportunities, women need to know resources on the one hand, on the other hand it requires women have the ability to use the resources. To this end, we provide a wide range of services about using ICT platform of expanding the use social resources for female.
1. Providing incubation platform
We introduced the concept of international incubator to laid-off women who have the entrepreneurial aspirations and potentials. We set up women's entrepreneurship service centre to provide companies with a wide range of guidance and incubator service models, such as pre-incubation services, off-site incubation services, and in-site incubation services.
2. Providing E-Commerce platform
TWBI encourages enterprises to use the accounting information system, the standardized operating system, the Internet, and e-mails in their businesses. We utilize e-commerce as a business incubating strategy. Currently a number of enterprises have used the network to develop their enterprise channels, such as ChaoYi Bookstore (www.chaoyishudian.com), HengBo science and technology, Rongza Commerce (www.rongzichina.com), Iris Medical (www.tjshiliao.com), JinNongFuXin (www.jinnongfuxi.com), Wenya Wedding (www.wenyahunsha.com), Seiko HighTeck (www.jggxkj.com), Tianjin Teaching Reference Network (www.jiaoxuecankao.com), and the Food Network (www.tjhaoshi.com).
3. Developing the "Tianjin women's business website”
We first revised the original www.tjwbi.com web site to enrich the site’s content. The web site provides women entrepreneurs a platform of policy information, e-business consulting, corporate experience exchange, and training information-sharing.
4. Opening network forum
TWBI staff and some experienced entrepreneurs opens the "network forum". Through the platform, new entrepreneurs can seek guidance for enterprise development. Women entrepreneurs in Tianjin as well as in other part of the world can contact each other, and learn from each other. We also have video conference through the Internet with incubators in other provinces and cities to promote effective service for women entrepreneurs.
Through the implementation of the World Bank infoDev business incubator projects, we have promoted women entrepreneurs to learn and use ICT.
Chao Yi Bookstore is operated by a laid-off woman, Chang Li-xia. With the enterprise development, she met some operation and management difficulties and came to TWBI. She participated in the entrepreneurship training courses and received the ICT training. She got great inspiration after the couses. When she went back, she immediately opened the online bookstore. She not only retrieved all the investment, but also greatly expanded the sales market. She now continuously receives requests for cooperation from other parties. In 2005, Lixia attended the business plan competition, and won the Second awards.
HengBo Technology Development is also founded by a female entrepreneur. The Entrepreneur, Yu Ying, won the prize of "Women start-up fund" and "Business Plan." competition because her design highlights ICT, and has reasonable financial plan and distinctive marketing plan. The main business of the enterprises is the UF finance "links" series of sales of software products, services, technology support, and provision of financial and enterprise management integration solutions. After the enterprise was settled in the Center, it received the ICT training. It integrated network marketing into the traditional sales, which greatly enhanced the competitiveness of the enterprises. Through the Internet, it won a large number of customers and enhanced the enterprises credibility. At the same time they actively co-sponsors with the Center for multi-phase informationization training for enterprises.
Tianjin ZhongKeJianYe Technology Co., Ltd. is a knowledge-intensive, technology-intensive high-tech enterprises with high-speed of development. It combines the research, development, application, production, sales and service in one, to provide users with technical advice, demonstration systems, systems analysis, software development, hardware selection, technical training, system maintenance, and systems integration. The company has been dedicated to computer telephony integration, and broadband streaming media and high-end machine vision and other audio and video imaging technology and applications to provide customers the industry's leading high-tech products and comprehensive reunification of the hardware and software solutions. The company also has been seriously drawing attention to the rapid development of Internet technology, with great enthusiasm and commitment.
Graduate business YinTe Ltd is founded by the two sisters. The company initially was specialized in leather and fur products production and sales. It successfully launched a "LingLong" brand series of leather and fur clothing, In 2003, it transited to a brand management company. After several years of hard work, the market has been made in Tianjin. The concept of "interpretation of classic brands, advocacy clothing culture" is committed. The soundness of its operating style lets it forge ahead the development of the industry. With the support from TWBI, the company develops businesses in labor dispatching and to store design and decoration. In the development of the enterprises, ICT played an important role in opening up the markets.
Enhancing the women's ability to access and control resources
ICT projects at all levels are related with equality for women. , since all the activities of the project are the prerequisite for efforts to improve women's self-confidence, awareness and control of resources. For women's empowerment and equal participation in decision-making processes related resources than the equal use of resources is more important. Equally controlling over resources is more important than participation and use of resources. TWBI let the woman business owners understand the importance of their own. Through the implementation of the projects, TWBI help them understand ICT, use of network resources so as to access to the market of equal competition opportunities.
1. Providing more network resources to female entrepreneurs
TWBI promotes start-ups to change the traditional mode of operation to use the Internet to develop market. It guides the public’s awareness of the use of network, and bridges the digital divide. TWBI developed Tianjin E-Shopping network, www.tj8891.com. This site is currently operating to the public daily food and supplies. Although it has started not for long, it provides a platform for small enterprises.
2. providing information platform for publicity
TWBI flexibly uses soft advertising to enhance visibility of women. TWBI contacts the news media to broadcast the typical female business enterprises deeds. Over the years, the radio station in Tianjin, Tianjin TV TJTV, China Central Television CCTV, and other programs all have reported the woman business entrepreneurs’ story.
3. carrying out the citywide entrepreneurs’ planning competition
TWBI guides people from blind passion venture to rational carve out to improve the success rate of entrepreneurship. In addition to laid-off women involved in the business plan competition, female college students, engineers, and retired workers are all participated. Faced with the pressure on employment, women no longer only quest for employment. Entrepreneurship is also recognized in a way that they realize the value of life.
TWBI uses ICT and combines its incubation services to start-ups to help enterprises to develop rapidly, thus have the ability to participate in decision-making. TWBI also actively promote women entrepreneurs participation in politics to enable more women to participate in the formulation of government policy, thereby to achieve a higher level of women empowerment and participation of women in social development. Five people have access to the CPPCC and NPC.
The fundamental way of protecting women's rights is to enhance women's employment and entrepreneurship. Over the years, under the leadership of City Women's Federation, TWBI treats safeguarding the rights and interests of women, and promoting women's development as the primary task. With the re-employment of women's entrepreneurship and the development of network resources, TWBI’s model of establishment of entrepreneurship and re-employment platform has made certain achievements in women development, which can be shared with other parties. Translator: Lu Zhigang