Photo: Kate Holt

Mobile Services for Women Entrepreneurs

By Ann Mei Chang, Senior Advisor for Women and Technology, Franklin Fellow, U.S. Department of State

Mobile Services for Women Entrepreneurs

In Indonesia, Amisha makes and sells made-to-measure wedding dresses. In Lagos, Elizabeth and three other employees make traditional Nigerian children’s toys. A world apart, both Amisha and Elizabeth are examples of thriving and enterprising women entrepreneurs who make their living producing valued local goods. They both also face limitations to their business growth due to the expense and limited reach of traditional marketing channels, such as classified ads and personal connections. And, they represent one of many opportunities where mobile services have the potential to significantly enhance the productivity and efficiency of women micro-entrepreneurs who are a key engine of low-income economies.

The explosion of mobile phone adoption across the world has presented both challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs. In the seminal study, “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity”, the GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation found that a woman in a low or medium-income country is 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. Lack of access to this key technology tool limits women’s ability to grow their businesses. For example, their productivity may be hampered by having to travel some distance rather than make a single phone call, they may be missing information such as the latest market conditions or pricing, and they may be inconvenient for a customer to reach.

A newly released study by the Cherie Blair Foundation, “Mobile Value Added Services:A Business Growth Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs” identifies marketing and seven other tangible business challenges where mobile services may provide superior solutions. The report finds that women micro-entrepreneurs have both the desire and willingness to pay for such services. As we’ve seen through the successes of microfinance, investing in women has been shown to be the most effective way to invest in children, families, and communities. So, empowering these women with mobile services to streamline and expand their businesses not only helps these individual women, but will also lead to a stronger, more resilient society.

Beyond enhancing their existing businesses, access to and familiarity with technology also has the potential to encourage women over time to consider moving towards potentially more lucrative opportunities in the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector. This might be as simple as computer data entry through a micro-work platform, as a more trained technician maintaining equipment, or even starting a software venture to develop mobile services to improve the lives of even more women.

Editor’s Note:

Ann Mei Chang is the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology and Franklin Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the United States Government or the U.S. Department of State.

For more on the Cherie Blair Foundation, click here.

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One Response

  1. In a continent where illitracy is high, communication infrastructure very poor or in most cases non existence, where women are less likely to own or access business development tools and services, ICT is proving to be a ‘breakthrough’ in enhancing ‘inclusive businesses’. Beyond urban women using mobile and communication technology  for entrepreneurship, rural women involve in agriculture and forest products sector in ‘deep’ rural hinterlands are also making use of ICT for business and social objectives. In Northern Mali, TREE AID  ( ) and SAHEL ECO in collaboration with rural tree product based Entrepreneurs have set up a Market Information System using a combination of Mobile phones SMS, Local Enumerators, Internet and Commercial and Community FM radio stations to broadcast market information on Non wood Forest Products. Info on availability, prices, quality, quantity, contacts persons and sites. Apart from the market info. Community Members are also using ICT for other socio cultural and environmental activities like alerting on wild fires, availability of water resources and other social challenges and opportunities.

    Challenges in the sector include electricity power, limited network coverage, adaptability of the technology to local realities, language, complexity with technology etc. ICTis a great tool 4D, investing in the sector to make it cheaper, more User-friendly, etc

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