Creating a society that encourages and makes it easy to start and grow a business requires more than just money and a good idea. It requires a network of interlocking institutions, policies and cultural attitudes collectively known as the “entrepreneurship ecosystem.”
Entrepreneurship is a major catalyst for economic growth in both industrialized and developing countries. Entrepreneurs establish new businesses that create employment and provide services and products to increase the wealth of their local and national economies. Gender influences the entrepreneurial landscape.
In Nigeria, there are gender differences when it comes to access to resources for business start-ups and expansion, difficulties in getting credit and loans as well as women’s businesses having fewer employees and shorter business longevity than their male counterparts.
In recent years, we have seen mobile phones evolve from a convenience to an essential business tool, enabling entrepreneurs to address pressing business challenges, increase access to new markets and operate more efficiently. Yet, women entrepreneurs lack access to the technology and resources needed to succeed. In comprehensive research carried out by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, “Mobile Value Added Services – a Business Growth Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs“, it was observed that key business challenges for women entrepreneurs include access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT), affordable resources, networks and access to marketplaces. Over 88% of women entrepreneurs surveyed were willing to use mobile value added services to address their core challenges.
To train women entrepreneurs to employ Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) to expand and grow their businesses.
Meet Our Women Entrepreneurs
Itng Idorenyin Samual, Water purification business in Nigeria
Idorenyin Samual (Doren) Doren is the owner of a flourishing business in the city of Uyo in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, supplying purified water sachets to the local universities, shops and market traders. Doren is also a mentor to other women entrepreneurs, who have learned from the challenges she has overcome along the way, including establishing herself in what is a male-dominated sector in Nigeria.
Despite being a role model and inspiration for other women, Doren is clear on how her business has been enhanced through her use of Business Women. The text messages introduced Doren to the idea of sending her customers Easter and Christmas cards and using this opportunity to undertake customer satisfaction surveys. This exercise revealed what her customers love about the business – including the eye-catching attractive packaging – but also where they would like to see improvements, such as an improved delivery service. Doren learned from this feedback and is now planning to recruit an additional driver to divide the deliveries between rural and suburban customers.
“I didn’t do these survey letters before. It was from the text messages that I got to know of this and now I’m happy to be writing letters to all of my customers.”
Although Doren had a passion for science and a vision for her business from a young age, she recognises that ambition alone does not guarantee success. As she explains, “If you don’t know how to interpret your dreams, your goals, then you don’t have anything. You could have a dream but you also need the capacity to interpret it, to become visible.”
Aniema Eden, Frozen food business owner in Nigeria
“If a woman runs a business successfully, it helps her and the family. If a woman gets this training and then puts it into practice, the money she earns with her business will help her to solve so many family problems which helps the nation at large.”
Aniema Eden owns Rasa Ventures, which sells frozen meat and fish, ice blocks and purified water. It occupies a shop on a busy street in Uyo in Nigeria, so enjoys regular customers. The business also specialises in providing products for large scale events, such as weddings, funerals and parties.
The Business Women text messages provided valuable ongoing support as Aniema developed her business. According to Aniema, many have given her new ideas. She recalls one that prompted her to talk to her customers about what is unique about the products she offers: “Sometimes customers come and they will say ‘that person is selling for 5000, why is yours 6000?’ I say ‘do you know where they got it from? Have you checked the expiry date?’ I know where I get my products from. I know how much my suppliers get and I know how fresh my products are.”
On another occasion a text message encouraged her to show appreciation to her staff so she bought food in as a thank you to the team who came in early so a customer could collect their ice. “That was an encouragement to them. I believe if I put the effort in to appreciate them they will perform better.”
Aniema wants to use what she has learned to help other women and has established the Women Leaders Forum, a group of successful women from both business and the public sector who provide support to women in the rural areas surrounding Uyo.
Ijeoma Ewurum, Poultry farmer in Nigeria
“If you just sit back and think ‘I know it all, why am I reading all these text messages?’ you will just be on the same level every week, every month, every year. But when you read the text messages and put them into practice, you sky rocket!”
Ijeoma Ewurum, a mother of nine, lives on a compound on the outskirts of Aba in Abia State. Keeping poultry had always been a hobby for Ijeoma, and she was able to focus her energy into making it a business after she retired in 2013 from a long career as a teacher.
In under a year Ijeoma has become one of the most trusted egg suppliers in the area, particularly popular with bakers. Her good reputation is thanks to the high quality of her eggs and she attributes this to the Business Women service. It was the Business Women text messages she received that focused on innovation that encouraged her to take measures to improve her eggs.
After researching what she could do Ijeoma invested in a special vitamin supplement and the colour and size of her eggs are now consistent. As a result, customers are happy and are spending more: “One lady usually takes three crates of eggs but she called me up and said ‘next time I want ten.’”
Ijeoma also describes how the text messages have helped her to understand concepts such as capital investment: “Formerly, if I hear that word I just pass by it but these text messages have educated me more. Capital is the money you invest in your business. It’s not the type of money you say ‘ok I invested 100 Naira but I am in need of 2 Naira, let me just borrow this.’ No! You don’t touch it – that is your capital.”
The impact of these lessons have come together: Ijeoma is now saving the extra money she is making from her improved eggs to invest in growing her business. Her plan is to scale up production so that she can start selling to hotels and restaurants.
Since 2012 and as part of this program, YTF has trained 4,500 women entrepreneurs with a goal of reaching 6,000 by the end of 2015. Women entrepreneurs are representative of the following states in Nigeria: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Imo, Kogi, Ondo, Rivers and Taraba. Their businesses are representative of the following sectors of the national economy: wholesale and retail, light manufacturing, hospitality and social services.
- Classroom and Online Training: A combination of experiential workshops, case studies and guest speakers.
- Industry tours: These build competence among women entrepreneurs through contact with successful women entrepreneurs from other regions. Women involved in the garment industry would visit small-scale manufacturers and learn about market trends, design, supply chain management, pricing, labeling and others in an effort to facilitate the sharing of opportunities and challenges.
- Power Hours: Designed to be a series of sessions focused on transferring knowledge and skills, facilitating networking and promoting the exchange of experiences among women.
Training for NWEMVAS began in October 2012 and the initial assessment of the businesses and lives of the women entrepreneurs it is impacting leads us to believe there is potential for more widespread gains. We will measure their increase in revenues, job creation and a widespread adoption of best practices like business planning and better supply chain management “paying it forward” to their families and communities, and the formation of networks that benefit women.
Women participants benefit from a strength of numbers that would be gained and will not only provide networking and value-added services, but also a collective voice for the needs and concerns of women entrepreneurs in the country.
Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, Intel and MasterCard.
Articles/Press on NWEMVAS
SheEntrepreneur – Who Says She Can’t Change the World
On the partnership between YTF and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (CBFW)
On the partnership between YTF and MasterCard.
Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs & Mobile Value Added Services Blog