A Practical Example of the Effect of ICT on Women’s Venture Creation
Author:Li Guihuan The director of TWBI
I. Background on the use of ICT services to assist Tianjin women in their employment and venture creation.
The Tianjin Women Reemployment and Venture Creation Network System is one of the important outcomes of the Project “ Assisting Tianjin Laid-off Women Workers in Venture Creation & Reemployment”, co-operated by UNDP, AusAID and Chinese Government. The other two outcomes of the Project: Micro credit for urban woman and Tianjin Women’s Business Incubator (TWBI) have become pilot projects in China to address the issue of employment via venture creation; have set up an operational model, have become good examples in China in the field of reemployment & venture creation, and have offered scientific data for government authorities to develop related policies & regulations.
Tianjin is an old industrial city, close to Beijing and next to Bohai Bay. The problem of laid-off workers became serious in the city with the structural reforms of our country.
In early 1990s, laid-off women workers accounted for 60% of the total in Tianjin. Those over 35 remain disadvantageous in employment market compared with the male workers, but they are not disadvantaged in the sense of venture creation. We have many successful cases of women businesses, which made higher profits than those managed by men. Through support to women in venture creation, we enhanced the entrepreneurship, changed the subsidy model of poverty alleviation to the model of independent venture creation. While enhancing business development and helping laid-off workers shake off poverty, we generated more job opportunities with greater social effect, thus promoted the development of local economy.
Over the past few years, TWBI has successfully incubated more than 50 enterprises. Women Micro Credit has assisted women start up more than 2000 small firms, helped 6000 women find jobs and offered training and consultation to over 20000 women. TWBI has got great concerns from the leaders of our Party, Government and women’s federations. Leaders including Zhang Lichang, Gu Xiulian & Peng Peiyun came to inspect the center many times and also held meetings on the spot. Media also gave concerns to the center, CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, Economic Daily, China Women, Hong Kong Daily, TJTV, Radio Tianjin, Night Paper, CNN, VOA, UNTV etc, all made key reports on the center.
With the conclusion of the UNDP Project, we realized that only with the traditional face-to-face & one to one approach to the incubated businesses, we could hardly satisfy the fast growing social demands. Therefore, it becomes more important to further enlarge the incubator’s function, to lead women entrepreneurs onto the information express way, and to offer urban woman the “start-up” advice, training, financial loans and other kinds of supportive services by way of information, communication and technology network. Then we got the bidding information for the World Bank InfoDev ICT project. In early 2003, under the direct leadership of Tinjin Women’s Federation and with the supports of All China Women’s Federation, Tianjin Municipal Government, Tianjin Municipal Information Office and Tianjin Communication Corporation, we produced the tender book “To Enhance
TWBI’s Function And Effect By Using ICT”. After fierce competitions with other 81 incubators from developing countries, we won the grant support of the InfoDev Incubator ICT Initiative from the World Bank with our unique advantage. The project object is by way of enhancing the business incubator’s ICT infrastructures and its application level of ICT, to improve and strengthen the incubator’s business incubation capacity and function; to quicken the pace in facilitating the electronic and information service of the center; to raise the awareness of the incubator and SMEs in using ICT to develop business through the integration of Internet, Communication-net and TV-net, thus to push the employment and economic development of our city. The first target groups of Tianjin Women ICT network are the women who wish to get support form the network. We will strive to integrate women’s training with project offering, venture creation, employment and social service, to make it a systematic service project for venture creation, so to meet the different service demands from the society. Based on the practical incubation, we will establish an ICT service network including hardware facilities and software support; Women Pioneering Fund; ICT venture creation business plan competition; a packaged training to women entrepreneurs on ICT skill, venture creation, management and finance software; and also the improved function of China Women Business Incubation website, making it a virtual platform for small business incubation.
Ⅱ. The present state of ICT facilities and technical support.
From Oct. 2000, the first stage of the incubator, to Oct. 2002, there were basically no tenants using ICT, the infrastructure was poor and no access to Internet.
Through implementing the UNDP project, we have been equipped with some basic network installations. The team of professionals and experienced management is capable of fulfilling the preliminary technology-support service for business.
It witnessed 3 phases for the infrastructure construction:
From Oct. 2002 to Mar. 2003, 10 of the tenants in the incubator used Dial mode for the Internet. We established the professional network center; planned the ICT technology and early implementation of the project, built “www.twedc.com” primarily.
From Mar. 2003 to Mar. 2004, assisted by national & international institutions, The Network Center has facilitated appropriate digital LAN equipment, 10M fiber Internet access, 144 bts, to guarantee the incubated business the basic condition for Internet access. There are 16 workshop using Fiber Internate Access.
From Mar. 2004 to Aug. 2004, based on “Tianjin Women’s Enterprise Development Corporation”, we set up the “China Women Business Incubation” website with the support of “e-North” containing 2 data bank systems and 2 forum systems. We invite experts experienced in ICT knowledge and small business management to be consultants to offer employment, venture creation and business incubation service to the society for TWBI and micro credit by using ICT.
To further strengthen the awareness of women entrepreneurs in using ICT, we will have some new measures like 3-month free access to Internet for the tenants, offering network and e-commerce training free of change. After 5 training classes in Sept. 1, we expect to have another new users on the basis of the present 16 businesses for Internet.
Ⅲ. Concrete measures to serve Tianjin women’s reemployment & venture creation by means of ICT.
ICT as a means, not an aim, is a tool for information modernization. Our final aim is to help more women realize successful business creation, thus increase more jobs.
1. The activity of ICT pioneering business plan competition and Women Venture Creation Fund.
To increase the awareness of entrepreneurs to start-up business in a scientific way, especially to practice serving for the target group-women entrepreneurs by using ICT and further extend the social effect of the World Bank ICT project, TWBI called for pioneering business plans via the spotlights of “3.8” International Women’s Day to entrepreneurs, mainly women (incl. female students) and the entrepreneurs who provide more jobs for women. TJTV and e-North etc, gave media reports. After the assessment by the expert panel, fine and feasible business plans will be decided on Sept.1, 7 winners will be the tenants to TWBI, as key businesses to be incubated, followed up, and be the real examples for TWBI World Bank InfoDev ICT project and to be fostered and analyzed. We will summarize and disseminate the model consequently.
What is worth mentioning is that the winners will not be awarded a grant, but by the different amounts of “Women Venture Creation Fund” loan, and to be tenants to TWBI free of rents for some months etc. This is a good way for the entrepreneurs to be encouraged and pressed as well, so to raise the possibility of success. Meanwhile, the capital can be remained, as a fund part for continuous use and sustainable development, hence made the course developed further. For more consideration, we plan to have the activity every one or two years to assist more entrepreneurs and play the role of Women Venture Creation Fund to the largest extent.
2. The project website construction
The development of China Women Business Incubation is the 4th activity of TWBI’s InfoDev Project. It was kicked off in June 2004, and be completed in Aug, 1. 2004. The former website “www.twedc.com” has not been renewed for a long time with practical contents. The registered name of the new website will be “China Women Business Incubation”. The old website will be remained as www.tjwbi.com, and www. twedc.com
The function of the website:
2.1 To the potential and the new entrepreneurs, it will provide:
l Membership on line consulting and training in venture creation.
l On-line service: government authorities, the related policy & regulations on private sectors, micro-credit and capital collection, project recommendation and business information etc.
l Tool kit: such as resource service, venture creation remote classes, the writing of business plans, business and legal contracts, agreement samples etc.
l Business Creation Seminar: on line consultation by experts on marketing, policy and law, business authorization, incubation, management, finance and ICT knowledge etc.
l On-line operation and credit platform for micro credit and capital collecting.
l Business Incubation: yellow page, products introduction, a new window for businesses to display themselves and to search for more cooperation.
l Incubated businesses are easy to get access to the authorities related to creating businesses and developing new business.
l Connecting with related websites to exchange views with different organs and regions.
l Connecting with related international websites to make it better disseminated, to increase cooperation and exchange views between nations, and to strive for more international support for the disadvantaged people.
2.2 To the laid-off women who seek jobs, it will offer:
l On line employment instruction and information announcement.
l Skill training in connection with off-line classes.
l So far in 2004, we have held 12 various training classes incl. gardening and flora arts, home care and service, venture creation, network, e-commerce, international authentication etc. 600 people benefited from them. The off-line courses will be shown selectively on line, to display the cross-region and inter-active advantages of Internet and to let more people benefit from it.
IV. Case Study
Qiu Hong, the trainee in the venture creation training class, opened the High Sense Decoration Designing Co., Ltd. She had only 2-3 customers every month. But customers increased to 10 after she took part in the training class and remained the level from Apr. to July. Based on her company’s condition and following expert’s advice, she employed bravely 3 designers and worked out CI for her company. Market grew quickly. The Venture Creation training is the instructor for the micro & small company like ours, she said.
After Mrs. Tang Huiqin was remanded the business project, she got contact with Qin Qin labor Service Corp., the graduate tenant of TWBI. She was arranged by the center to practice and got trained in the company. With General Manager Fang Na’s help, Mrs. Tang formed the first Labor Service Company in the newly established BaoDi District. The district Women’s Federation found a shop front for her and the local labor bureau supported her with 3000 Yuan opening fees from the reemployment fund. She acted as a sample, “I got to know the center serving the laid-off workers from newspaper and I listened to the lecture “successful People ’s Venture creation”, where I met Fang Na. She was laid-off from a textile factory, and I, from a socks factory. We have similar experience and personality: honest and warm. I am not for big fortune; my company is named Qin Qin, meaning diligent, industrious and hard working, just out of warm heart. After my first business transaction, I said that I am 40 years old. Today is a most meaningful day. Although I am tired, I am happy, because I realized the value of my life through creating my own company. I am working hard, and feel tired, but I am happy.
Duan Yanfen, the woman entrepreneur in TWBI ever did lots of jobs. In 2002, started Zhang Ke JianYe Network Co., Ltd. After getting trained in the center, she realized that the SMEs are not well aware of utilizing ICT, due to capital problem. She was active to design a web page for the incubations tenant business free of change and co-developed the internet business with TWBI, thus incubated business & the center share the common resources and search for common development.
V. Experience and lessons.
1. Many of the TWBI tenants know little about ICT and did not realize the importance of it. At the incubator’s early stage, tenants were assisted just for the reemployment problem of laid-off women workers. As a result, many tenant business were labor intensive with low sci-tech contents. They just thought of ICT as expensive and unnecessary. We are working hard to help them know the benefit of ICT by using the basic ICT facilities like mobile phone and E-mail. We also absorb some new clients who are able to use ICT.
2. Some tenants have signed long-term agreements with Dial service and ADSL supplier, couldn’t use the outlets of TWBI. To encourage them to use the broadband unit, TWBI decided that at the first stage tenants could get free ICT training and enjoy 3-months service free of charge before they are changed, and the network service charge will be added to the incubation expenses consequently. We were fortunate to have the company of China Tianjin Communication Corporation, investing in the preliminary hardware installation. But it is estimated the service charge can hardly cover the cost to the supplier in 3-5 years.
3. When using ICT, the tenants tend to get quick feedback. In reality, it takes time to improve production efficiency and profits of any business. In a short term, when the firm applies ICT to production operation in a proper way, the production efficiency and profit tend to decrease. This is where the problem is. TWBI is striving for broader technological support to help them overcome the difficulties. The ICT training class is just underway.
4. At an early stage, the support from the government authority of information and communication is indispensable; especially when ICT concept is new to the incubator. We regard it as win-win cooperation, i.e., the said communication company likes to get more client resource to make up for the preliminary wiring expense and other inputs.
5. Information produces positive effect to employment quantity and structure subject to that laborers be trained continuously in skill upgrading and structure adjustment. We know that when any new technology appeared, many people lost their jobs while some new jobs no doubt were created in some related fields. According to the 1990s data of ILO, (see reference book 1), there were more job opportunities in the country where ICT was most extensively used. Computer and information technology are not limited to hi-tech field, but in the basic industries, such as offering basic service, information collection, recording and editing etc. so we opened training class of quick recording, e-commerce, network etc. we centered the social resources to train the laid-off and unemployed women, opened venture creation training to provide instruction to the said women, in the training we change “information into knowledge, and knowledge into fortune” through ICT work to improve women’s capacity in employment and venture creation in the region.
6. Training should be focus on practice, effectiveness and operation. Unemployed people should well select training course for successful reemployment and venture creation. Study shows that mere skill training cannot resolve unemployment ultimately. ILO experts think that trade discrimination should be got rid of, on one hand, we should consider the effect of social gender awareness, on the other hand, laborers are free to select. So we developed“a packaged training” in order that the unemployed people can increase the possibility of venture creation and reemployment by network information service after they learned the basic concept and skill of starting a business. In the training, their gender awareness and the sense of credit got raised, they could obtain project recommendation, lecture by successful women entrepreneurs, at the same time, they could join the training of ICT, network and e-commerce. Over the past six months, 300 people/time attend the trainings, thus guarantee the sustainability.
Through our efforts, we become the only unit among all other women’s institution in China to be qualified in venture creation training. We attended the SYB (start your business) teacher’s training, to apply the ILO training model into ours. Though the training, we will provide loan channels for the women who want to create micro companies, first, offer the micro credit loans from Tianjin Women’s Federation; second, offer the re-employment loan from Tianjin Municipal Labor & Social Security Bureau and Financial Bureau; third, the winners of business plan competition will be supported by different amounts of loans.
VI. Follow-up action of the project:
As an employment type incubator, we should have different ways for different people: female students, who have some knowledge of network, but weak in the awareness of independent venture creation, afraid of the market, should be focused on the sense of venture creation; business women, who know little about ICT knowledge, should be nurtured with the awareness of using ICT.
According to the Project timetable, the project will be completed on Feb.28, 2005. Our previous practice has proved our approach as basically feasible. Our follow-up actions are:
1. Our aim is to publicize the use of ICT among women entrepreneurs, to realize employment through venture creation and to incubate small business successfully on line; it’s also our innovative idea and a breakthrough in work.
2. Have an “East & West Cooperation for Common Development” initiative, cooperating with Gansu Province to establish a Women’s Business Incubator” in the western poverty-driven area. It is expected to help 5000 women from poor families find jobs through labor transform and venture creation within 5 years.
3. We are co-operating with the French company Planet Finance to apply for the micro credit and ICT project from the EU, in order to benefit more small business owners. 6000 people are estimated to be benefited directly and indirectly.
It is our hope that through our study of women venture creation by using ICT, we can obtain equal rights and opportunity for women in employment and venture creation, increase their sense of self-esteem, and take in the gender awareness as main stream for economic policy making, to enhance women’s capacity in starting up their own businesses and meanwhile get more support and concern from both home and abroad.
1 ILD <World Employment Report 2001---Employment In The Information Economy> Labour And Social Welfare International Labour And Information Institute Translation, China Labour And Social Security Publication House.
2 Guide Of Social Gender Analyse, Social Science Document, Author: Candida Marth
3 ICT And Employment Development Strategy, Third International Conference Document.
4 English_Chinese Legal Terms, China Foreign Translation Publication House Corp.
Author: Tan Jingchang Xin Chunying