By Njideka Harry
CEO & President, Youth for Technology Foundation
Statistics show that female entrepreneurs in Africa serve as the backbone of the economy and have the power to drive incredible growth. A Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey indicates that women play a vital role in Nigeria and are proactive in starting businesses, with 41% of early-stage companies in the country being run by females.
But what these statistics don’t tell are the stories of these women: of their heart, bravery and determination to make their businesses succeed and improve their own lives and those of their families and wider communities. What these surveys don’t measure – and should – is the resilience and creativity these women display every day to ensure that the next day is brighter than the one that went before it.
We wanted to draw attention to the incredible resilience women entrepreneurs’ show in Nigeria, in celebration of the annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Day – part of Entrepreneurship Week. Today is a day of reflection, and a day to celebrate. Today I highlight two women’s journey to find self-fulfilment and financial freedom.
Take Eucharia, a 36 year old proud mother of four. She started her tiling and building materials supply business, Tokaf Investments, in what is a typically male-dominated industry. Another challenge was an over-sized and under-used warehouse that served as more of a liability than an asset. The training she received from Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) allowed her to totally re-brand her business and grow it by 60%.
She has used mobile technology to revolutionise how she runs her business: she uses WhatsApp to send customers pictures of her products, as well as conduct research on what they would like to see. Combined with the business management and financial skills she learnt that enabled her to scale down the warehouse and find a more fitting storage space, Eucharia has cut costs significantly and created growth that allows her to support her family, and also help mentor young girls in her community. We know technology enables financial inclusion. For financial inclusion to be effective and successful, resources like financial literacy training must be devoted to segments of the population, like women, who have all too often been excluded from the financial value chain.
Nneka, who owns a cooking and kitchen Supplies Company called Ebony Ventures, has learnt not to overextend credit to her customers, and has started separating her personal and business life. The training resulted in greater diligence in how she extends credit – even to her best customers – and in how she prices her products, as well as the adoption of a secure point-of-sale (POS) system in her shop. Not only that, the record-keeping skills she learnt have helped her streamline her operations.
Women have widely been recognised as engines of growth – hence Women’s Entrepreneurship Day marked annually on 18 November – and helping women achieve their true potential was a key part of the reason YTF was founded in 2000.
Numerous programmes are aimed at enabling the continent’s future – in particular the youth and women – reach their potential with the right tools. One such programme is Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs and Mobile Value Added Services. We partnered with Mastercard on this programme to improve the financial literacy of Nigeria’s women, who are often the family breadwinner. We are equipping them with essential business management and capacity building skills, all supported by mobile technology.
Since the programme’s launch in 2012, YTF has trained over 11,000 female entrepreneurs in Nigeria, with close to 1,231 benefitting this year alone. These women receive 10 hours of classroom training, which consists of workshops on business planning, financial literacy and book-keeping, obtaining licenses and personnel management, among others, as well as industry tours with successful entrepreneurs and power hours to facilitate networking.
Participants also receive SMS alerts twice weekly with additional information and tips on topics such as leadership, money management, sales and marketing, and banking – harnessing the power of mobile technology in a country with a 92% rate of cell phone ownership.
The topics are aligned with the realities and challenges that these women are facing, which have only become more pronounced in the last year as Nigeria’s economy has stuttered due to commodity market volatility and increased political and economic uncertainty.
What these growing constraints have highlighted, though, is not how the average Nigerian has had to tighten an already uncomfortably snug belt. It has illustrated in glorious technicolour the never-say-die attitude of Nigeria’s female entrepreneurs.
The training also ensures the sustainability of the female entrepreneurship ecosystem – a priority of both YTF and Mastercard – and is why we are expanding the partnership to include the further training of 150 apprentices beginning in 2017. These apprentices are the talented young women that the female entrepreneurs have brought into their businesses, and training them is grooming the next generation of successful African women entrepreneurs, starting a ripple effect that has the potential to be felt generations from now.