Mobile Value Added Services: a business growth opportunity for women entrepreneurs
The speed of the spread of mobile phone usage across the developing world has been startling, and the potential for the technology to inspire transformational change is tremendous. This is due in large part to the wide range of services and activities that extensive mobile phone usage facilitates, from the rapid spread of M-Pesa, a mobile based financial services platform offering banking to millions, to healthcare, education, business needs, and more. Such benefits are known as mobile value added services (VAS), and for women in particular, this enhanced ability to be better connected translates directly into enhanced opportunities to improve incomes, livelihoods and economic empowerment in general. To illustrate in depth the vast potential offered by mobile VAS for women entrepreneurs, this Cherie Blair Foundation for Women report examines the use of and benefits accrued from mobile VAS by women entrepreneurs in Egypt, Nigeria, and Indonesia, and the role that commercial partners can play in collaboration with non-profit sector to promote and enhance the use of mobile VAS.
Through the use of surveys and interviews, the report identifies eight key challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, in all three countries, all of which concern access to fundamental aspects of business management and growth: access to digital channels; affordable resources; new and existing marketplaces; market data; marketing channels; tools to improve business processes; training and mentorship; and networks with other entrepreneurs. The report then uses analysis of the survey data, combined with empirically explored literature review, to assess how mobile VAS can effectively address each of these challenges. Over 200 individual mobile VAS products were identified that are currently available from a variety of stakeholders, both big and small. From discussions with many of these stakeholders, together with the survey data, the report provides an in-depth look at the market and socio-economic opportunities associated with mobile VAS, and argues that through collaboration, all stakeholders can benefit.
The report establishes that micro-entrepreneurs, specifically women entrepreneurs, form a considerable part of the economy in Nigeria, Indonesia and Egypt, and that there is a significant opportunity to support these women entrepreneurs through tailored mobile VAS. In each country, women recognise the direct and substantial value that mobile phone use can have on their businesses, and display willingness to use phones to address business challenges. This bodes well for the potential successful application of mobile VAS, which could generate transformational outcomes in terms of improved socio-economics and livelihood opportunities, as well as in commercial benefit to private sector stakeholders. This should encourage both NGO’s and governments, and commercial stakeholders, to direct the flexible and accessible nature of mobile VAS specifically toward the women entrepreneur demographic.
While the twin tracks of non-profit and commercial objectives may have differing objectives, the report makes the case that uptake and impact of mobile VAS can be best addressed through collaboration and partnership between non-profit and commercial stakeholders. For example, manufacturers can benefit from the expertise of the non-profit sector in recognising and fulfilling the needs of women entrepreneurs, while commercial stakeholders can provide technical and distributive capacities that can augment, enhance, and scale-up efforts to enhance income-generating opportunities, increase positive socio-economic impacts, and offer a new, profitable market. Going forward, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, along with local commercial and nonprofit partners, will draw on these key research findings as it seeks to implement projects in Egypt, Indonesia and Nigeria aimed at enhancing their capacity to effectively manage their businesses, improve their confidence in their business management skills via training and community engagement, and expand their opportunities to access capital that will enable business growth.