At Youth for Technology Foundation, our focus is right there in our name. Our goal is to equip young people in low-income communities and developing nations with critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity skills grounded in technology. But that’s not all we do. Part of our mission has always been to actively listen to the communities that we serve and use their feedback to continually improve our programs. This is how we are able to ensure we’re equipping people with the skills and technology to solve their most pressing needs.
Shortly after we began our work in 2000, we started hearing from the young people we were educating that their mothers would benefit from the knowledge they were gaining, as well.
“When we commenced work in Nigeria, our programs were centered on youth development. But very quickly, several of our youth participants commented that their mothers would benefit from our training programs,” says Youth for Technology Foundation Founder and CEO, Njideka Harry. “Whether it was as basic as digital literacy training, or entrepreneurship and life skills, our young people actually told us, ‘Our mothers need this training.’”
Studies by the World Economic Forum have shown that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their income back into their communities, compared to only 40 percent for men. “For Youth for Technology Foundation, investing in women was not an afterthought,” says Mrs. Harry, “It was really the smartest economic thing to do in order to build these communities that we work in.”
As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, we have been reflecting on the many ways we’re helping equip women entrepreneurs with the tools they need to realize their full potential. Our Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services (WEMVAS) program highlights our ongoing commitment to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender Equality.
In 2014, Mastercard entered into partnership with Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) to bring business management education, financial literacy skills development, and greater access to financial services to women entrepreneurs in the Niger Delta.
Over 15,000 female entrepreneurs and apprentices have participated in the Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services (WEMVAS) program to date! This program provides participants with 10 hours of instruction in a classroom setting and access to online training so they can continue to learn year-round at their own pace. Ongoing support is offered throughout the year, as well, through SMS-based messages that participants receive twice a week. The texts include information ranging from business basics, leadership skills development, money management, sales and marketing tips, as well as financial literacy information that can help women access banking services and credit. They can respond directly to these texts or call our offices with any follow-up questions.
WEMVAS participants also have the opportunity to attend a “power hour” networking event designed to encourage women to exchange experiences with their fellow entrepreneurs. They are also provided with an opportunity to tour successful female-led businesses in their community.
Women business owners who have participated in WEMVAS training report as much as 60% growth in their businesses! While this is exciting progress for existing entrepreneurs, according to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, only 17.8% of Nigerian business owners are women. We recognize that there is still more work to do to address this gender imbalance and ensure that more women have the opportunity to become entrepreneurs. This is a large part of why we’ve begun offering special training to the female apprentices of the business owners with whom we work. We want to make sure that the next generation of startups includes more women equipped with the skills that will ensure success.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, Balance for Better, is a call to action for accelerating gender balance. After all, balance is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, $12 trillion USD could be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality in the workplace.
“Our ultimate goal at YTF is to give people the tools that they need to be able to provide a decent life for themselves and their families. We recognize that entrepreneurship is one avenue for achieving this,” says Mrs. Harry.
In 2019, YTF will be offering training to women entrepreneurs at 13 live events across 4 states in Nigeria – Anambra, Imo, Lagos, and Cross River – in addition to the ongoing online curriculum and SMS messaging program. With the help of our partners at Mastercard, we hope to reach more than 500 female business owners this year who are looking for solutions to the challenges that are holding them back from the next level of growth. By providing these solutions and helping grow women-owned businesses, we’re doing our part to promote gender equality in entrepreneurship and creating balance for a better future.