Lara Gurgel and Agata Slota - Mar 05 2021
Brazilian Women Entrepreneurs Take on the E-Commerce Challenge

Izabel Delmontes is a Brazilian entrepreneur who is planning to expand sales of her cocoa-based products to Paraguay and Argentina.

COVID-19 has crippled small and medium businesses in Brazil, and the cost has been disproportionately high for women. According to one survey, 86 per cent of female entrepreneurs have had to reduce their business activities or close because of the pandemic. According to another, 52 per cent of Brazilian business owners have had to close their businesses temporarily or definitively.

For those who have weathered the storm, the pandemic has demonstrated how crucial it is for businesses to go online. And the economic downturn has amplified the need for a diversified client base, which can mitigate risks and potentially even attract foreign customers.

But reaching international markets seems completely out of the question for most small and many medium businesses. "Brazil has many quality products, but many entrepreneurs do not know how to sell them, especially in the digital environment," explains Izabel Delmodes, Partner at Blue Forest Cocoa, a four-person company that sells cocoa-based products. For women in particular, the process of moving a business online and then competing with an international market seems not only too complex, but also overwhelming.

"Brazilian women-led and owned companies are capable, but they need support to overcome their fears and gain the knowledge necessary to grow," Delmodes says.

Supporting Women Business Owners

Thanks to much-needed support, female entrepreneurs like Delmodes are taking the next step in introducing their business to a wider market.

The UK government-funded Brazil Trade Facilitation program helps micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) overcome constraints to exporting their goods by bridging the 'digital divide'. The program assists businesses in launching storefronts online and teaches business owners the skills and knowledge needed for cross-border trade.

Over the past year, the program has connected 150 individuals with training provided by the eCommerce Institute to help them understand the potential of international sales and demystify the idea that exporting is 'for the few'. In addition, the program partnered with eBay to help another 50 people set up shops and increase their competitiveness on the platform, including building a dedicated eBay Brazil Hub for the MSMEs to advertise their products.

The program's MSME initiative has a strong focus on gender equality. Of the 181 companies the team selected for the support, 120 were women-led or owned.

“We were able to reach so many female-run businesses by targeting communications to women and Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs, by linking participants facing financial difficulties with scholarships offered by training providers, and by using our colleague Monnike Garcia’s extensive network,” explains Sara Selleri, who leads the program’s ‘gender and inclusion’ team.

The initiative is promoting inclusion in other ways as well. For example, the training has been tailored to female and Black entrepreneurs and other economically disadvantaged groups to give them the tools to respond to specific challenges. It also covers topics that promote women’s economic participation more broadly.

Taking Their Goods to the Global Market

During the course, Delmodes reports that she increased her knowledge of logistics, strategic planning, and pricing for the digital world. This year, she plans to start a cross-border e-commerce operation in Paraguay and Argentina.

"This opportunity opened my mind. I already knew that the future of global trade would be entirely digital, but the training helped me to learn and plan my company's future," she adds.

Sheila Makeda, CEO of Makeda Cosméticos, also attended the training. Makeda runs a cosmetics company targeting Afro-Brazilian needs. Before attending the course, she seriously considered opening a virtual store and exporting her goods but believed that the process was too complex. Now, the company is preparing to launch its virtual store and sell its products and cosmetics training to Colombia.

"The course helped me understand that exporting is not impossible for women," Makeda said. "Projects like this enable women to occupy places where they are often not invited, giving us the confidence we need to belong in all spaces."

The Brazil Trade Facilitation program is now looking at developing services that will scale up this type of support to MSMEs across the country.

"We are learning from the MSMEs," explains Monica Coutinho de Souza, who leads this initiative for the Brazil Trade Facilitation program. "We’re looking at this through their eyes – what constraints do they face along the internationalisation journey, what would be most useful to them. And we want to do this in an inclusive way – not only looking at the most prepared companies, but also the ones that need more help.”

Ultimately, all key services that will help bring Brazilian MSMEs into the global market will be accessible via one online ‘Global Trade Hub,’ currently in development by the program in partnership with Apex-Brasil, Brazil’s trade and investment promotion agency, and other stakeholders participating in the program.

As Coutinho de Souza explains, “By offering targeted services for women-led MSMEs to reach foreign markets, the Global Trade Hub can be an important tool to promote women’s economic empowerment and help promote gender equality in Brazil.”

The Brazil Trade Facilitation programme is funded by the UK government, through the Prosperity Fund, and implemented by Palladium. For more information, contact