Helping women entrepreneurs in Bolivia with a digital platform: an assignment that Young Professionals Julia and Yoorim seized with both hands. Early in 2022, they traveled to Bolivia to work on this challenging assignment for Banco Fie, a partner bank of Rabo Partnerships.
In the Young Professional Program of Rabobank, you work on two business cases, one of which you can do abroad. Julia and Yoorim worked on the concept, user research, strategy and prototyping for a digital platform for women entrepreneurs in Bolivia. This platform aims to empower female entrepreneurs by educating them and providing the tools they need to start, improve or grow their business.
Julia: “In Bolivia – and throughout South America, in fact – there is a large gender gap in entrepreneurship. Women in business do not get the same opportunities as men for a myriad of reasons. It may be more difficult to arrange financing, formalizing their business, or using digital tools. Perhaps, it is a combination of being a single mother and not having the right resources to succeed. There is a long list of examples, and we tried to alleviate some of those pain points with this digital platform.
“We traveled to Bolivia with a group of 10 Young Professionals to improve financial inclusion in Bolivia,” Julia explains enthusiastically. “That was very special, because the pandemic was still going on. It had been a while since a group of Young Professionals went abroad to work on the business case. It used to happen every year, but during the pandemic, travel was almost impossible and required approval from the management board of Rabobank.”
Conversations with female entrepreneurs
Yoorim: “We started our project with user research. We created personas and customer journey maps using previous research on female entrepreneurs’ technology literacy. Women in Bolivia are less technically skilled. A considerable number of women are not confident in using technology for their businesses. We also talked to women on the streets and markets about their situation. They often run their clothing or jewelry stores with a child on their arm: they are single mothers or have a large family to take care of. ”
Julia: “We researched what motivates women entrepreneurs and what obstacles they face, because the platform has to be in line with what they need. We also paid a lot of attention to the usability of the platform. We help the users incorporating a combination of persuasive technology strategies and methods.”
A platform where women can help each other, follow training and sell products
The platform consists of 3 parts: a community, where women can talk to each other and help each other, training modules on a wide variety of topics and a marketplace where women can sell their products and services.
Julia: “Because Banco Fie wants to achieve different goals, we drew up a roadmap. First you build the community where women share knowledge and the educational modules. Once these prove to be successful, you introduce the marketplace.
“We actually recommended against a marketplace, because we think the focus of this project should be on women helping women. However, our stakeholders were really adamant on adding it to the project. We agreed, but only on the condition that user retention and base were really successful.”
Yoorim: “It’s common in application development: you first launch your minimal viable product and later you add features. We focused on developing the community: a place where women entrepreneurs can share success stories with each other.”
Presenting to the CEO of Banco Fie
Julia: ” We received a lot of positive feedback after our presentation of the strategy and roadmap to the CEO and Management Board of Banco Fie. They were very impressed with what we had set up in such a short time. We worked on this assignment for a total of 4 weeks, including 10 days in Bolivia.”
“We are extra proud of that because we organized this project all by ourselves. The initiative for communicating with the client and stakeholders was ours. We had all the freedom to come up with our own plans and ideas,” adds Yoorim. “The CEO was surprised with what we came up with and they plan to continue the development of the platform.” Yoorim smiles, “They even asked us if we wanted to stay.”
They almost did, because Yoorim and Julia’s return flight was cancelled, so they spent the weekend in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s largest cities.
Julia: “It was a great experience to see more of the country. The people in Bolivia are so incredibly friendly, I felt deeply moved by them. You want to give something back for all the help you receive! It was my motivation to make this project a success.”
For Yoorim, the same is true: “I found it really hard to say goodbye to our clients and the people at Banco Fie. We were only there for a short time, but it felt like we had been colleagues for years.”
Tips for other Young Professionals
In the Young Professional Program you work on your technical skills in addition to your job and you get plenty of room for personal development.
Yoorim: “This project is a great opportunity, I have enjoyed the research and thinking a lot. But personally it was also a challenge. I am from South Korea and when I first arrived in the Netherlands, I sometimes had trouble understanding the culture and people around me. In Bolivia, I had to deal with yet another way of communicating, which gave me a broader perspective. On the whole, the project was very special for me as a woman. Working on a project helping female entrepreneurs, motivated me more than any other project!”
Julia, who is from the United Sates, studied chemistry and medicine before making the switch to innovation management and ICT. “And now I’m a Business Analyst,” Julia laughs. “I just can’t sit still, and that’s why the YPP is a good fit for me. You are constantly working on developing yourself further. Rabobank gives you plenty of room and opportunities to try out different roles and participate in projects that align with your interests, even if there is a big diversity in them. But the biggest bonus was our trip to Bolivia. It was a unique experience!”