As One Woman’s Business Prospers, So Does Her Community

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  • 23 Aug 2013
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Today, August 23rd, marks the one-year anniversary since YTF launched the Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services (NWEMVAS) program in Nigeria.  The program is supported by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.    Shortly after launching the program last year, I posted an article, “ShEntrepreneur, Who Says She Can’t Change the World?” that provided an overview of the program and its goals.

Since the launch of the NWEMVAS in 2012, I have had the incredible opportunity to interact with and learn from some of the most amazing women entrepreneurs, ShEntrepreneurs as we call them, as they shared their experiences with starting, sustaining and growing their businesses.

ShEntrepreneurs in Imo State participating in the NWEMVAS program
ShEntrepreneurs in Imo State participating in the NWEMVAS program

Recent research[1] demonstrates that mobile value added services (MVAS) can help address some of the key challenges Nigerian women entrepreneurs face in their businesses.   The combination of mobile technology and entrepreneurial training is a systemic solution to bridge the knowledge void women entrepreneurs in the developing world face.

YTF is providing training to 2,000 women entrepreneurs in the Niger Delta.  Classroom and online training is a combination of experiential workshops, case studies and guest speakers.  Women entrepreneurs also participate in YTF-led site or industry tours that build their competence and confidence through interactions with and observations of successful women entrepreneurs in their industries and regions.  The month of July was met with a visit to a yogurt-manufacturing business in Aba, where the participants shared best practices about managing market trends, supply chains and product pricing.

ShEntrepreneurs attending the Imo State consultative sessions
ShEntrepreneurs attending the Imo State consultative sessions

Mrs. Chidiebere O. has a women’s retail clothing and handbag business in Imo State.  My meeting with her started off on somewhat of an emotional angle as she shared the tragedy of losing her husband when her children were still babies.  As a young widow, she knew she had to sustain herself and her children alone and knew that going into business for herself would afford her the flexibility to work and at the same time be available as primary caretaker of her children.   The income generated from her business is the sole source of income for her family and is used to pay her children’s school fees, rent and other family expenses.  She uses her mobile phone primarily to keep in touch with her suppliers and her customers.  Subscribing to Business Women[2] has been of huge benefit to her and the daily Short Message Services (SMS) she receives reminds her to ‘stay the course’.

Chidiebere explained that her knowledge was expanded immensely by attending the classroom training YTF offered and even more by her participation in the industry tour, which has inspired her to establish a handbag manufacturing center.  Her advice to other women wanting to go into business, “You have to start somewhere.  Start small, be disciplined, focus on your customers and all other things will fall in place.”

ShEntrepreneur explaining a business concept during Abia State classroom training
ShEntrepreneur explaining a business concept during Abia State classroom training

I have had the opportunity to interact with Mrs. Joy U., another ShEntrepreneur, over the course of the Nigerian Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services program.  For about three years, her business has been manufacturing local cleaning agents and products.  Joy has an exceptional way of drawing you into her business. As she described her day-to-day successes and challenges, I felt like I, too, was living her business with her.

Joy’s husband is also an entrepreneur and deals with construction material.  As a participant in the NWEMVAS program, Joy subscribes to Business Women.  In her words, “receiving the daily SMS messages simply makes my day.” On certain days, Joy describes there may be network issues that prevent the message’s receipt.  “I look for my message every day; and when I don’t see it on my phone, I miss it.  In addition to the knowledge I receive from the classroom training and industry tours that YTF provides, receiving the content that comes with Business Women serves as a constant reminder of what I should be doing with my business to expand and to be sustainable.  The messages I receive about money management are critical as they are a reminder of how important it is to minimize costs and still maintain the tempo of the business.”

While Joy has a Nokia phone and subscribes to the service, her husband does not subscribe to the service yet.  “I write the messages down every day in a notebook”, she chuckled.  “In fact, many times when my husband comes home from his business, the first thing he asks for is to see the notebook.”

Mrs. Stella L. became an entrepreneur five years ago primarily to assist her husband in taking care of their seven children.   She is a Coca-Cola distributor.  When I met with her at her business, she was sporting her “ShEntrepreneur” t-shirt.  “I wear this shirt very often”, she said.  “Other business women often stop me to inquire about how they can participate in the program.  I am always very eager to share how the program has empowered me to improve my business, my family and my life.”

Stella explained that by attending the program, her business acumen has improved significantly.  “You know, for many of us women,” she said, “we run our businesses from our handbags. We are not very careful to ensure we manage business expenses and income separately from household finances.”

At YTF, we know that educating and empowering women catalyzes a virtuous cycle that positively affects the health, education and productivity of future generations.  Studies show that narrowing the gender gap in employment could increase global income per capita as much as 20% by 2030[3].

As we reflect on the past year, a lot has been accomplished already.  There is still the potential to reach many more women entrepreneurs partnering with them to build their businesses.

We are grateful to our partners:  the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women; ExxonMobil; MTN Nigeria and Nokia for making this important work possible.  Also, to the ShEntrepreneurs we work with – thank you for allowing YTF to be part of your lives and your vision for your businesses and communities.

Njideka Harry is the Founder of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF).  Mrs. Harry serves as a consultant to several social enterprises, for-profit businesses with a social mission and international agencies on matters related to technology for development, youth entrepreneurship, gender investing, and corporate social responsibility.  To learn more about her work at YTF, connect with her on LinkedIn.

[1] Mobile Value Added Services – a Business Growth Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women (2012).

[2] Business Women, a Nokia Life Service, offers essential tips and practical advice on starting and running a successful business to female entrepreneurs in Nigeria on their mobile phones.

[3] Ernst and Young, “Groundbreakers Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the World Economy” (2009)

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