YTF on International Women’s Day: Our Beginnings, Our Lessons and Our Recipe for Success
Here are some sobering stats: Thirty-one million girls in the world don’t have the opportunity to pursue an education when they are taken out of school and forced to work or marry. For those girls who attend school in the developing world, twenty percent don’t complete the sixth grade. The White House is even bringing light to this issue with their Let Girls Learn initiative. As the inevitable happens and girls transition into womanhood, organizations like YTF are stepping up to help give support. We take the passion behind keeping girls in school and apply it long-term, helping women gain the tools they need to lead sustainable lives.
We know educated girls and women are healthier, can make smarter choices about their future, and ultimately can help lift themselves, their communities and their countries out of poverty. Full and equal access to and participation in education and entrepreneurship for women of all ages is not only imperative for achieving gender equality, it’s an economic necessity.
We’ve learned a lot in the fifteen years since our humble beginnings, including a model we are proud of to help train and support women entrepreneurs.
Here’s how we did it.
How it all began: The mother message
When YTF started our work in Nigeria in 2000, we knew we wanted to bridge the digital divide between young people in the developing world and young people living in developed countries. Our focus was on what we now know is a key intersection: technology in education and employment/entrepreneurship. We knew youth struggled with these two areas in developing countries. Both going to or staying in school and getting a job or starting their own business were challenges that we saw as an opportunity. Two years later, youth in YTF programs sent us a clear message – their mothers could also use the training we were providing. Mothers were (and are!) the economic pillars of the communities we serve. In fact, studies show that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their families, compared to just 30 to 40 percent of men. Mothers also provide better nutrition and health care, and spend more on their children.
The bottom line: Investing in women and girls creates long-term social and economic benefits for all individuals, their communities and the world as a whole.
Women entrepreneurs in training
Once we mixed in a focus on women in the community, we honed in on equipping those women to be successful entrepreneurs. YTF’s program for women entrepreneurs involves training in both business skills and financial capabilities. Our training modules are delivered to women entrepreneurs in Nigeria across four industries:
- Wholesale and retail
- Light manufacturing
- Social services
Classroom training is a combination of workshop delivery, breakouts and guest speakers. We found the interactive breakout sessions within the classroom training to be very effective. Not only do smaller groups allow women to be actively engaged, but this set up also gives them a platform to boost their confidence through presentation and speaking opportunities. Our classroom sessions are typically opened by a successful woman entrepreneur in the community. We call her the ShEntrepreneur. She helps get the women pumped up and ready to soak up all the information from YTF’s Master Trainers.
There are several steps we take to help boost effectiveness. To ensure full engagement of the women entrepreneurs on an ongoing basis, YTF field workers conduct on-site visits to the women entrepreneurs. We also invest in research because we know that gaps in data can result in uninformed policy decisions as well as missed opportunities to improve the lives of the women we serve. Finally, we help participants conduct internal analysis. Feedback from post-training surveys indicated that many of the women entrepreneurs found great value in ongoing SWOT analysis on their business to gain deeper understanding about bookkeeping and diversification of businesses during low sales periods.
We have learned some key lessons along the way:
1. Women can be exceptional entrepreneurs, even across industries. Over the course of a 12 month period after participating in the training sessions, the women have grown their businesses by two metrics: revenues and number of employees. This success comes even in the face of adversity, as many women in our programs operate their businesses in highly competitive traditionally female-dominated sectors where high growth rates are less likely, such as retail and social services.
Seventy-eight percent of the women we have trained say they have hired additional employees as a result of receiving the training. Our women entrepreneurs (40 percent of which indicate they are head of household) have achieved business growth despite having lower levels of education and significantly higher levels of household responsibility.
2. Women entrepreneurs can grow their businesses despite a lack of financing. Women entrepreneurs report record success in growing their businesses, including increases in satellite or physical locations or an increase in revenue and number of employees. However, this growth is financed largely through their extended family systems and earnings. While many of the entrepreneurs agree they need external financing, they are not motivated to apply for it due to the challenges of navigating the application process, working with male bankers, or their perceptions of risk compared to the likelihood of success. As all the women feel they now have the business acumen and competencies to run their businesses more profitably, we’re working to help them take that next step.
3. Mentoring and networks are highly valued in the process. Ninety-three percent of the women entrepreneurs understand the value of networking, though less than half of them have a formal mentor; male or female. YTF’s industry tours are organized to give the women a peek into a day in the life of a fellow woman entrepreneur. The tours have been very successful in exposing the participants to women who are in the same industry. The working women have witnessed successes and challenges, and they understand the importance of paying it forward by mentoring and teaching skills to other women.
4. Training must be ongoing, and face to face can’t be ignored. While many women entrepreneurs in the developing world may benefit from what some call a “mini-MBA,” this model involves only providing women with education via SMS messages on their mobile phones. We’ve found when women are learning, they need to talk with and confide in others. They need to see and hear other women to help retain what they learn. Appropriate technology via mobiles, community radio and more is fine, but it must be complemented by classroom training.
On this International Women’s Day, we’re excited to report that our work with women entrepreneurs continues to build momentum. We are currently on target to provide business skills and financial inclusion training to 2,500 women entrepreneurs in Nigeria to become banking agents. They will join our network of women entrepreneurs, each with their own challenges, experiences and aspirations, but alike in their determination to succeed and to make an impact far beyond themselves.