Women in Digital SMEs and Their Contribution to Indonesia’s Economic Recovery

April 30, 2021

Indonesia has become the haven to at least 22 million womenpreneurs, running more than half of the SMEs in Indonesia.1 While various sectors in the nation are traditionally male-dominated, Indonesian women today are frequently involved in economic activities beyond their household, from informal small-scale businesses to a variety of prestigious fields. Since the women’s emancipation movement in the late 1800s, women’s ability to elevate their societal roles was made possible by pioneers of women’s rights for education; R.A. Kartini of Jepara and Dewi Sartika of Bandung. Their scriptures and campaigns unlocked the door and let light take up space for Indonesian women to make significant shifts to the nation’s economy today.

In the current digital age, women’s progress towards parity has been moreso accelerated by the existence of technology; giving inexpensive access to any form of resources, cutting down barriers to network, providing a platform to be seen, and beyond. More particularly, women with a high entrepreneurial spirit have addressed market needs, brought innovations and even sparked inspiration—whilst still performing critical roles within the family.

Womenpreneurs: Breaking down the vital roles of women in business

With the gender-specific term surfacing to give a dedicated title to women in business, it has become evident that women’s inclination to pursue entrepreneurship is not any less than that of men’s.2 A 2019 study showed that Indonesian womenpreneurs, among other countries, are even expected to grow more than men entrepreneurs.3 On the global scale, female entrepreneurship is found to be higher than global and regional averages in almost every Southeast Asian country. In particular, the female entrepreneurship rate in most Southeast Asian countries reach up to 21%, with Indonesia being among the strongest in efficiency-driven economies globally.4

Local perspectives on Indonesian womenpreneurs have also bolstered findings from international research. Data on the Development of Micro, Small, Medium and Large Enterprises in Indonesia shows that throughout 2014 to 2018, 99,9% of 64 million business units in Indonesia were from the SMEs category, in which 60% of it is managed by women.

“Women, especially womenpreneurs in the SMEs category, hold the biggest role and potential in sustaining the national economy, especially in this pandemic,” claimed Bintang Puspayoga, the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Minister in an auspicious statement last February.5

As the pandemic has closed borders and requires local empowerment more than before, businesses have to adopt new methods that generate opportunities to fortify their role in the economy. In other words, bringing the business digital in the current pandemic now goes without saying—be it to survive, to start, or to grow. The rapid development of available technologies, such as that of SaaS products, have been among the most influential tools in helping these SMEs tackle the pandemic challenges with efficiency. Moreover, women-owned SMEs who have set up shop in the e-commerce marketplace report to generate more revenue (35%) in comparison to those that merely focus on the offline turf (15%).6

Furthermore, digitalisation has enabled one-woman microentrepreneurs to realise their business idea with reasonable capital and tap into the giant wave of e-commerce users, while also giving them a high degree of flexibility in various aspects. One of it is the flexibility of working hours that works well with the many roles a woman typically has (e.g. work and home responsibilities).7

The preference to build their own business has also been advocated by at least 40% of Indonesian women in a survey by Google.8 Another study also revealed that Indonesia is among the 9 countries in which women report equal or greater entrepreneurial behaviors when compared to those of men.9 As a matter of fact, SIRCLO’s internal findings note that among the top 5 brands using SIRCLO Store with the highest turnover since 2020, 3 are women-owned. Taking that on board, women made the old-fashioned belief of “kodrat” into something that no longer confines them, instead something that evolves as they hustle in pursuit of their ambitions.

Power in unity and e-commerce 

For womankind, it has always been about coming together as one, gaining collective strength, and combining their voices to amplify the message they want to send across. In the e-commerce world, this community-driven spirit is facilitated in one of its key pillars that have been rising since 2019; social commerce. As of latest records, Indonesia’s social commerce revenue has exceeded Rp 344.6 Trillion or more than half of the nation’s total e-commerce revenue, making it an attractive sector for entrepreneurs or small businesses alike across the archipelago.10

To put it simply, there are two types of social commerce, direct and indirect. Direct social commerce is a model wherein consumers can immediately get in contact with sellers through the built-in messaging features of social media platforms and directly purchase the item. On the other hand, indirect social commerce means it involves the role of a third party in the process, such as resellers.11

How exactly does this key pillar accommodate women?

Quoting from a Forbes article, “For women to advance professionally, we need to exploit our one true advantage—a strong female support group.”12 Women’s penchant for joining a network of support and creating communities within communities make up a highly prospective blueprint for social commerce to take effect. There’s moreover a rise of certain e-commerce players who precisely target, foster, and champion women’s communities. For instance, Orami, an Indonesian parenting platform that combines Content, Commerce, and Community, has launched a program called “Ibu Sibuk” (Busy Mothers). Embodying the spirit of social commerce, the initiative provides a platform for women to become womenpreneurs while making the most of their network.

It has been observed that while having or nurturing one’s network is inclusive to women and men, these groups are generally inclined to carry out different methods. As an illustration, instead of being more straightforward in achieving certain goals in their networking process as found in men, women are believed to often form smaller, deeper networks based on trust.13 According to a study by the Kellogg School of Management, a majority of women adopt this approach because it brings forward one extra ingredient; a close inner circle of women that offers gender-specific critical information.14

“Empowered women empower women.” Leveraging this status quo among womankind, the indirect social commerce model that involves the human factor fits like a glove, especially since Indonesian people are generally bound to trust information better when conveyed by the human factor.15 

Parting Words

The evolution of e-commerce coincides with the timeline of womenpreneurs’ evolution, leading to the high potential of social commerce in current times. When Indonesia’s President bellowed “Love our local products!”, woman-owned SMEs were at the position to be the country’s panacea in a crisis. Historically speaking, this  trails back to the powerful spirit ignited by pioneers of women’s rights which laid the groundwork for the women characters in the works today. Without raising her voice, Kartini raised her words and they stood the test of time. To continue on her legacy, we encourage womenpreneurs everywhere to realise their business idea swiftly and with efficiency—even with Rp 0,- capital.

It is really no longer a time of damsels in distress, as it has reached an era where damsels are saving the day, even when they’re in distress. To all womankind reading this, we’re rooting for you. 


SIRCLO neither provides regulated advice nor guarantee results. The materials we convey reflect general insight and best practice based on information currently available, and do not contain all of the information needed to determine a future course of action. Such information has not been generated or independently verified by SIRCLO and is inherently uncertain and subject to change. SIRCLO has no obligation to update these materials and makes no representation or warranty and expressly disclaims any liability with respect thereto.