GVAN Background Document



Women. Developing world. Employment. Global Cooperative. Computer networking. Virtual assistance. These are the key words for GVAN, the Global Virtual Assistance Network, an idea for a global business to facilitate the economic advancement of women in the developing world through virtual entrepreneurship. Our objective is to connect women currently constrained by physical or cultural barriers to the market for their skills no matter where that market is located, and also to others like them, other parts of the world, and opportunities for gainful employment and learning. This will be achieved through computer networking with the aim of employment in a relatively new, rapidly proliferating service sector—Virtual Assistance (VA). GVAN will be structured as a global cooperative, connecting to national and local level VA co-ops to form a three-tier network. The member/worker women can provide a range of VA services to a local or/and global market of small-scale enterprises, NGOs and non-profits requiring administrative support and E-connectivity. GVAN is charting new ground through extension of connectivity and economic possibility to hitherto untapped women entrepreneurs. Once established, the possibilities for reach and range of services, and resulting economic and social empowerment for the women are endless, and will stem from the synergy arising from their collaboration.

This paper is built upon previous work by Linda Alepin, Anil Srivastava, Chandra Ehrmann, and Byron Henderson. The preceding papers are indexed in the appendix of this work.


In the last few decades, women’s empowerment has been the catch phrase for myriad governmental and NGO initiatives on the local, national and global scale. Recently, its pursuit received priority in the UN Millennium Summit, which deemed women’s empowerment to be one of eight most pressing Development Goals for the millennium. The other goals—such as child mortality and eradicating illiteracy—have been noted to be largely dependent on women’s empowerment. Against this background, the two facets of women’s empowerment—education and gainful employment—become the benchmark for monitoring progress in developing countries, and providing a framework for sustaining development and eliminating poverty. Our project, GVAN (Global Virtual Assistant Network) is focused on the latter of these facets— i.e. gainful employment— with the aim of economic and social empowerment of women in the developing world.
It is widely acknowledged that the problem of gender inequality is especially pronounced in the developing world. Living in poverty, women often lack the skills or opportunities to forge a better future. The numbers tell the story: Of the more than 1 billion people in the developing world who live on less than $1 a day, 70 percent are women. Research scholars believe that such gender inequality in the economic systems of the developing world may be based on systemic deficits in the acquisition of social rather than material resources. The most important implication of this finding is that policy or activities geared toward women’s empowerment through gainful employment should focus on international opportunities for women.
The idea of GVAN sprung from the need to overcome socio-cultural barriers hindering women’s meaningful participation in the economic realm, and for them to reach out to the market where they can sell their services, no matter where that market is located. In today’s information society, services become globalized as a matter of course in the virtual marketplace through the use of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies). However, women of the developing world have been largely excluded from such activities.
GVAN is one of the emerging initiatives to tackle this challenge, maintaining that ICTs can help improve the well being of people, and at the same time, that something can be done to make true the dream of an information society for all.


A Virtual Assistant (VA) is an independent entrepreneur providing administrative, creative and/or technical services. Utilizing advanced technological modes of communication and data delivery, a professional VA assists clients in his/her area of expertise from his/her own office on a contractual basis.
Typically, the VA will offer several of a spectrum of services that can be provided remotely. This range of VA services is growing manifolds as providers adapt to the electronic delivery medium and businesses become accustomed to purchasing services online.
Among the more common services now offered by Virtual Assistants are:
• Administrative support
• Medical transcription
• Technical writing and editing
• Translation services
• Website maintenance and design
• Internet based research

GVAN aims to offer a remote assistantship package may include some of the above services. Our target market includes enterprises with limited scale and resources. These enterprises require technical and secretarial services and want to have an e-savvy image to reach out to their own target markets, and at the same time value cost cutting strategies. Within the developing world, we would focus on local SMEs. Within North America and Europe, our target market would be global NGOs and non-profits.
For such enterprises, the VA is an attractive alternative to permanent and temporary employees. Unlike such employees, the VA charges by the hour or project, often remains with the client long-term, and has a vested interest in seeing the client flourish. In fact, in this manner the VA, herself an entrepreneur, may often function as the “growth partner” of the enterprise.
Further, VAs (who by definition are already online) can help the offline enterprise integrate itself into the Internet environment, guiding the operation as it gets its “virtual legs” and learns how to transact business and navigate information networks in the online world.
Virtual assistance has been shown to be a viable micro enterprise option for groups that historically have had few entrepreneurial choices and even fewer employment opportunities. The ‘digital divide’ (the socio-economic expanse widening between computer/ Internet users and the digitally excluded) that is at the forefront of IT policy debates in the developed and developing worlds as a social and economic threat, can only be improved with increased opportunities for virtual entrepreneurship, particularly among women. GVAN hopes to compound the entrepreneurial nature and social benefits of the VA industry and the self-organization that a cooperative form encourages in order to maximize social and economic benefit.


GVAN, the Concept:
GVAN has been conceived as an organization for gainful employment at the ‘edge of the network’. Our vision is to provide $10 a day net income to 10,000 women in the developing world through employment in computer networking/ virtual assistance. The business will take advantage of the rapid proliferation of a relatively new class of service providers—Virtual Assistants (VAs) (described in more detail below).

GVAN, the Organization:

GVAN will be structured as a global cooperative. The co-op model, for those unfamiliar, is a business model that balances local social objectives with profit-making aims. Its goal is for members to associate for the purposes of building a business that will provide economic benefit to its members who are also its owners. Co-ops are democracies with each member holding only one share and having only one vote. Members will usually elect representatives to boards and standard business methods in marketing, accounting and management are employed. Co-ops are highly organized at the national and international level providing support to their fellow co-ops in all aspects of business from financing to marketing, lobbying and training. Their social orientation makes them NGO-like and capable of being recipients of grants.

The benefits of this particular structure are:

• The cooperative is the form that most directly has the potential to provide the decentralized management, and wholesome environment for a populace that has been largely voiceless and dependent so far.
• As mentioned above, the cooperative structure may well bridge the division typically held between business and social goals. It is probably only this business form that recognizes that business and social objectives are not in conflict, but rather, intertwined in complex ways. To survive as associations of business groupings, and simultaneously associations of people, in cooperatives both business and social objectives must be met. Social objectives are unlikely to be realized unless the business is effective and viable. Similarly, business objectives are enhanced when cooperatives actively address their social aims.

Following the co-op model, the international federation would be GVAN. GVAN would be a service co-op owned by member co-ops. These member co-ops might be national “NVANs”. These national VA networks might have one or more member co-ops that would deliver VA services. Ultimately, these “primary” co-ops would be the ones delivering the VA services through their individual VA members. Such primary co-ops would be like a business partnership of VA freelancers who would share hardware etc. In the terminology of the co-op movement, these primary co-ops would be “worker co-ops” in that they would be co-ops owned by the people working in them.
A picture of the simple model would look like this:

The international federation, GVAN, would be a service co-op providing hardware and software bundles, developing training and certification, making linkages with international agencies and markets and so on.
In such a federation model how does the money flow?
The money flows in at least two directions. The first source of money is the local client of the VA services. Let’s say this is an NGO in India that contracts with a local VA co-op for services to develop a newsletter. The VA co-op may have its hardware and software on lease from the NVAN, the national network co-op. The local co-op may have training and long distance services from the NVAN. The local co-op may also pay dues to the NVAN because it sees value in a national body to be its voice in legislation reform, legal advice, business formation assistance, assistance in getting loans etc.
The money may also flow down from the NVAN to the local co-op in the case of grants or assistance distributed under an international agency grant, for example.
All profits of the local co-op go to its worker/member/owners.
In turn, the NVAN will buy products and services from the international federation, the GVAN. GVAN may also pass money down to the national level where it has obtained grants and aid. In that case it acts as a grant manager and will take a management fee, usually in the range of 15% in the co-op world.
As overseer of the national networks (NVANs), the role of GVAN would also include:

1. Training the women to run a cooperative and VA/ information
brokerage firm, and teaching them how to recruit others
2. Providing structure and macro resources
3. Encouraging the NVAN women to look for opportunities within the local culture to increase local sales.
4. Developing an online education system that the NVANs would subscribe to, which could also be used as a discussion and problem solving forum (or using the opencourse.org link to provide it)
5. Collaborating with other related organizations to improve or extend GVAN.
6. Providing organizational support to minimize delays and problems in the international transfer of funds.
7. Providing/ supervising logistical support and ancillary services that will be required for the operation of the local NVAN units. One cannot forget that these women have very limited mobility, and suffer the double work day that is the burden of the financially underprivileged even more than women from other social and economic backgrounds. Simply introducing these women to an employment opportunity will not dissolve the other barriers preventing them from gainful work. GVAN needs to organize as a holistic endeavor that addresses the reality of these women’s responsibilities.
This must include:

• Micro credit cooperative, shared responsibility for the loans etc.
• Childcare services required, other supportive infrastructure at the micro or local level. Perhaps the crèche could become an ancillary initiative.
• Household chores/ responsibility rotating delegation and sharing.

We now turn to a description of the main features that must be considered in the making of the business plan for GVAN.


What are the core values enshrined in GVAN?
What would be the best and worst case scenarios we should take into consideration, as stemming from the core values?

Mission Statement: Gainful employment for women at the edge of the network, through computer networking/ VA. Women are the core value, around which a business should be organized to make their livelihood sustainable. Since they are the core value of GVAN, the priority is to construct the space for them to self organize on the local and regional level, and be part of a global cooperative connecting them to others like them, other parts of the world, and opportunities for gainful employment and learning.

Best-case Scenario: We build a sustainable business for these women and it has significant positive economic and social spill over.

Worst Case Scenario:
At this point:
• Given that there are multiple options for business plans, the fear is that we may get too diffuse to take off.
• Our expertise may be more in the organization and technical side, rather than the business, and so we may generate a faulty or non-comprehensive business plan in the context of specific geographies in the developing world.
• Unavailability of required funds.

Once we get past the conceptual stage, the problems that could arise include:
• Low quality service capabilities because of issues unique to the developing world— inconsistent infrastructure, insufficient training, or women are under qualified and have language issues.
• Social barriers that nullify the project,
• Local telecomm companies or other corporations that co-opt it.


What are we going to do?

Provide a range of remote and ‘physical’ (i.e. interactive through web/mobile network) Virtual Assistant services for administrative support or web solutions. These would include:

High Skill services:

• Website Design: Designing the aesthetic elements, organization of data, comprehensiveness of links, convenience of lay out etc, according to the client’s specifications and needs. We can also be looking at connecting the website through mobile networks, which are more easily accessible/ available in the developing world.
• Business Consultancy: Advising the client about the best practices in their specific industry, and ways to improve in defined areas such as business management, client relations, and marketing, HR etc.
• Graphics Design: Constructing the pictorial elements in the website, pamphlets, brochures, calendars etc.
• Software development: Writing software programs according to the clients needs.
• Ebook Publishing: Constructing web friendly designs to ensure convenient presentation and payment efficiency in putting downloadable books on the net. May involve scanning and data conversion.

Medium Skill services:

• Copywriting: Designing content for websites, brochures, pamphlets etc.
• Editorial Services: Online proofreading and related services for Ebooks, business documents, marketing docs etc.
• Web Research: research on specific topics from public access sites, or others specified by the customer and authorized.
• Administrative Support: Online secretarial and data organization services.
• Information Dissemination: E.g. dispensing updated information on property rights (—important for the local customer in developing countries) and other laws pertinent to the client.


What are we going to do to create value?

1. For the local consumer, the value comes from the provision of hitherto unavailable, but useful services. GVAN will provide services that have so far not been accessible to local Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (henceforth referred to as SMEs) in urban, semi urban areas and small towns.
2. For the global or North American consumer, the value comes from affordability of the services, and the opportunity for social investment that it grants the consumer. GVAN will provide affordable services to the socially concerned global or North American market made up of Non Governmental Organizations (henceforth NGOs), and an extensive base and reach that could generate a symbiotic or synergistic relationship between GVAN/NVANs and the NGOs.

A further description of the value of GVAN’s offering for each consumer group follows.

For the Local Consumer:

Value through the 5 Ps:

Product: VA services.
• Value for local consumers: In the local market, the services would be made available to SMEs. There is a need for such services in order to maintain or enhance competitiveness in a rapidly industrializing terrain with an incessant surge of new entrants to their respective business.

Price: According to the core value of GVAN, each member’s daily work must provide her $10 a day net income. This would be far above the wages of an average call center type worker who makes $2- $6 a day. However, since the service we provide is more high skill, and new, this wage goal may become attainable. The potentially immense value generated for the consumer—enhanced competitiveness, better marketing, more efficient organization etc—would make it so.

Place: Virtual market where services are made available through the Internet, or negotiated and delivered via cell phone/ text messaging.
• This creates value for local consumers because they can connect to the service provider at any convenient time.
• If a cell phone messaging system is used, the convenience of the consumer, and accessibility of the service provider will be even greater.
• Once multiple NVANs are established, there will be significant exchange and connection between them, which could also add to the information and communication base of the individual SME.

Position: GVAN will position itself as:
1. An entity charting new ground. In recent years there has been a proliferation of projects geared towards enhancing e-connectivity in the developing world. Several of these are designed by national banks or telecomm companies to expand their market. There are few projects geared towards enhancing the market of SMEs.

2. A service provider with an extensive knowledge base (in the form of GVAN the global cooperative), and intensive local knowledge (from the local trainers and the women themselves).

• Thus, the main sales point for GVAN is that it will fill a crucial gap in the business and marketing strategies of SMEs, by providing services that are not available so far.
• This conjunction of local and global knowledge will be valuable to the local SME demanding administrative support or web solutions that are modern and efficient, but also relevant.

Promotion: GVAN can be marketed through the local or regional manufacturing and trade associations, and employer’s federations in their newsletters and signboards.

This will ensure:

• Guaranteed access to at least part of this section of society, which can be quite amorphous and hard to connect with.
• GVAN will have the stamp of reliability afforded by the manufacturing association.
• Low cost of marketing.

For the Global/ North American Consumer:

Product: VA Services. The target market, North American or Global NGOs and non-profits, need administrative support, data entry services, editorial services etc, often in languages other than English.
• GVAN would have a worker base from the population targeted by NGOs. The benefits accorded through this include a more grass roots level of access to the developing world, esoteric information, language etc.
• GVAN provides this socially aware consumer group with the opportunity to support a worker group that has so far had a largely constrained presence in the economic realm.

Price: $10 a day net per person, as opposed to at least $10 (approximate avg.) per hour for the same services as provided within the developed world.
• Value for the North American or global consumer: NGOs and non-profits are often on a tight budget, and seek cost cutting strategies. GVAN would provide them with an affordable alternative to BPO outfits or local/ national administrative support firms.

Place: Virtual market where services are made available via Internet.
• This creates value for NGOs because they can connect to the service provider at any convenient time.
• Once multiple NVANs are established, there will be significant exchange and connection between them, which could also add to the information and communication base of NGO clients.

Position: GVAN will position itself as a global business cooperative of women from the developing world, providing efficient and affordable services in English as well as languages relevant to NGO work in the developing world.
• Thus the main sales point for GVAN is the cost-effectiveness of its services.
• The location of hubs in the developing world provides opportunities for a two-way information exchange (GVAN women to NGOs and vice versa), and the development of a symbiotic or synergistic relationship between the two.
• GVAN will provide multilingual and culturally specific services as per the requirements of the individual NGO or Non- profit.
• At the same time, GVAN is a virtual organization germinating from Silicon Valley, CA. It has access to cutting edge technologies, which give it the capability to provide administrative support or web solutions that are contemporary and efficient.


What do we need to accomplish in order to validate the concept through testing?

The establishment of GVAN would be along the following steps:

In order to accomplish the first step, i.e. create a prototype, we need to consider the following:

1. Funding
2. Training
3. Technology application

• Funding: At this point, we have not researched all the options for funding. We are looking at multiple sources for funding the prototype.

• Training

The target worker population would be women who have received grads/ post grads in English, Business or Computer Science. After completing their years of study, these women are currently seeking employment that would provide them with a good income and opportunity for a stable career, but at the same time one that does not require much travel, odd hours etc. For such women, GVAN would alleviate mobility and safety issues, as it would be an opportunity to work close to their homes, in the company of other women. Within the worker co-ops of GVAN, the women would need to be trained in basic computing skills and familiarity with the Internet. Each hub would consist of women with different skills to ensure a complementary/comprehensive skill set on the whole.

Training Requirements: Basic computing and familiarity with the Internet is a must for all the workers. In addition, GVAN would require them to have one or more of the following skills:

1. Computer/ IT based: website design, graphic design.
2. Business/ Marketing based: online business consultancy, email marketing.
3. Language based: content design, editorial skills.
4. Administrative Support: secretarial skills, database organization etc.
5. Information Dissemination: Up to date knowledge of specific subjects such as property laws etc.

GVAN could provide the women with a vehicle to increase their skills through access to financial assistance, through projects and as a knowledge base offering communication with experts etc.

• Technology:

GVAN requires hardware, software and telecommunication networks. The main priorities guiding the application of technology are cost efficiency, ease and use of maintenance, security and data privacy, and the provider’s interest and support for GVAN. Maintaining these factors as the criteria for GVAN’s technology options would help in building a simple and goal-oriented facilitation infrastructure. Another major concern would be data privacy and workstation security, especially as relating to trans-border data flow. We would need to design our technology system in consonance with trans-border data flow legislation, and aim to contribute to the growing discourse on data security.
The objective, however, is not to inundate the women with tech details, but rather to demystify technology and keep it a trivial part of the effort. The pattern we will follow is one of constant renewal and replacement as new needs, priorities and range become apparent. Therefore, we will begin with options made most easily available by our technology partners, and continuously review and replace components as better and more viable solutions become available.

Our technology partners could include:
1. Telecommunication companies to provide small satellite terminals and the satellite network.
2. Appropriate hardware and software platform for VA service relay.
3. Alternative energy companies to ensure uninterrupted power supply in remote areas where power is unavailable or has long hours of outage.
• Next Step: Showcase
The ideal opportunity to show case a limited test run of GVAN would be at the World Summit on Information Society in Tunis, to be held in November 2005. The delegates to be present at the Summit include ministers and international diplomatic and humanitarian organization officials who will take the opportunity to compare notes on national and regional IT policies, particularly in the developing world, and discuss trends and policy agendas for the future. At this forum GVAN may offer a valuable example of ground-up economic empowerment through application of ICT. We are currently in conversation with WSIS officials to attend to the guidelines of the WSIS Exhibition.


AcrossWorld Communications, Inc:
AcrossWorld is a venture funded, Silicon Valley-based Company with the “know-how” and the “know-who” to tap into and accelerate emerging markets, using strategic deployment of information and communication technology based solutions. Founded in 1998, AcrossWorld is now operating in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Dominican Republic.
AcrossWorld incubates new solutions appropriate to developing countries, and also consults, coaches, and educates to grow the overall market through multiple efforts. Our role in GVAN will be as host of the working group consisting of several volunteers and partner organizations, and also the core of the secretariat for GVAN.
Partner organizations and/or people include [Arranged in alphabetical order]:


Linda Alepin
Anat Bernstein- Reich
Kanika Bhattacharya
Maria Chan
Nancy Hafkin
Byron Henderson
Kiran Karnik
Shivani Khanna
Nancy Levitt
Dorothy Okello
Seema Paul
Margarita Quihuis
Kavita Ramdas
Chetan Sharma
Anil Srivasatava
Amy Song
Telle Whitney


AcrossWorld Communications, Inc.
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
British Columbia Institute for Co-operative Studies
Center for New Futures
Digital-Diaspora Network Africa
Digital Partners
Global Fund for Women
International Labor Organization
National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM)
Staffcentrix, LLC
UN Foundation
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
Women of Uganda Network (WOGNET)
World Bank Institute


Kanika Bhattacharya is trained in international relations, with emphasis on gender relations in the developing world. She has researched various topics relating to women’s empowerment, such as through grass root political participation and reproductive health. She is also interested in the social implications of global industries such as the Coffee and the Pharmaceutical industry, and is excited to work on a project such as GVAN that converges business and social goals. She is currently working as the coordinator for GVAN at AcrossWorld Communications.

Byron Henderson has most recently served as Vice President .Coop Operations for the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) and Vice President of DotCooperation, LLC, the sponsor of the .coop level domain, one of the top level domains approved by ICANN in November 2000. As an independent project developer Mr. Henderson is now working on a global directory for cooperatives and on content management systems for development organizations. He is a Fellow at the University of Saskatchewan’s Center for the Study of Cooperatives, has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Apple Computer’s Advanced Technology Group and is a founder, director and distinguished scientist of the EOE Foundation, a non-profit educational technology group. Mr. Henderson has also consulted on technology issues to the World Bank, UNDP, International Cooperatives Alliance of Geneva and the US Department of Defense.

Helen Peters, M.A., is a Regional Vice President for DBM's Performance Optimization Services. She is dedicated to delivering consistent, leading edge, and customer-focused executive coaching, and broader leadership and organizational development solutions to DBM clients. Her primary accountabilities include Business Development and Client Support, managing and developing a high performing team of excellent executive coaches /consultants, and providing strategic guidance and support to North American and globally-based colleagues.
Ms. Peters has worked for a number of Fortune 500 firms, with significant international experience in IT, Human Resources, and General Management, including living and working in Europe for over five years. She has conducted published research and speaks regularly on a wide range of leadership topics including keys to leadership effectiveness, cross-cultural issues in leadership, and leadership and gender.
Ms. Peters is on the Board of Directors of Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence. Ms. Peters is also on the Advisory Group for the Global Women's Leadership Center at Santa Clara University.


The following are some examples of Virtual Assistants as present and successful in their individual domains. How they would correlate or compare with GVAN and whether or not they might compete with GVAN is an issue still being researched.

Aaron’s VirtualAssistance
Advantage Geoghegan Web Design
All Secretarial Services
Andrea M. Pixley, Virtual Assistant
Creative Designs Virtual Assistant (CDVA)
DOCU-TYPE Administrative & Web Design Services
Georgina Fallon Secretarial and PA Services
Instant Assistant, Inc.
J.O.G. Secretarial Services
Military Spouse Virtual Assistants (MVSA)
Outside Office Administration
Para-Professional Legal Assistance
Paula McBride, Virtual Assistant
Paula McBride, Virtual Assistant
Tracy Resnick
Virtual Solution
Allison Lane Business Solutions


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