Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Guest Post: Using Mobile Value Added Services to Break Down Business Barriers

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
May 9, 2012

Fadhilah Arshad, a businesswoman, talks to a supplier as she sells cloth at her bazaar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1, 2009 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters). Fadhilah Arshad, a businesswoman, talks to a supplier as she sells cloth at her bazaar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on December 1, 2009 (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).


As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post on mobile money and cash transfers, I’m covering developments in mobile technology this week on the blog. Today, I have a guest post from Henriette Kolb, CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, who will discuss how mobile value added services designed for women entrepreneurs in emerging markets can help them grow their businesses. The Cherie Blair Foundation has made women’s access to mobile technology a focus of its work. Tomorrow, I will do a recap of a meeting I’m hosting at CFR on ways to harness mobile technology for global economic growth.

Women entrepreneurs in emerging markets are critical drivers of economic growth and job creation, but many women struggle to grow their businesses. At the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, we recognize that mobile technology is rapidly emerging as transformational to women who have the entrepreneurial potential, but lack the business tools and advice to prosper in their communities. In partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation and Booz & Company, we have published a new report entitled Mobile Value Added Services: A Business Growth Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs. Focusing on three emerging markets, Nigeria, Egypt, and Indonesia, the report identifies business challenges that women entrepreneurs face across multiple sectors in all three countries. Our research provides a compelling argument that these business barriers can be addressed through the development of targeted mobile value added services.

The common business challenges reported by the women surveyed for our report include a widespread lack of access to digital channels, limits on affordable resources, and barriers to networking and expanding customer bases. On average, 94 percent of the women entrepreneurs believed that addressing their most relevant challenges would increase the value of their businesses and 50 percent believed that the increase in value to their businesses would be significant. Elizabeth Tinunbu in Lagos, Nigeria, for example, started a toy store business in order to generate income for her family. Demand for her products grew and she now employs three other people. However, Elizabeth faces barriers to expanding her business to the next level. She is unable to access proper distribution channels that allow for growth and is facing difficulties in reliably sourcing the materials she needs. Mobile services that specifically address the challenges and realities of women like Elizabeth not only have the potential to drive substantial social and economic change for the women who utilize them but also they represent a major market opportunity that thus far, has largely been ignored.

The number of women entrepreneurs that exist within each of the three markets forms a powerful and dynamic demographic of mobile phone users. Our research finds that micro-entrepreneurs represent 98 percent of entrepreneurial activity across the markets in the study, accounting for 38 percent of GDP on average. Most importantly, this population of entrepreneurs throughout Indonesia, Egypt, and Nigeria includes an estimated 32 million women already. The average monthly mobile spend of women entrepreneurs surveyed was almost four times greater than the market average, as they need to reach customers, financial services, and suppliers. In using mobile as part of their everyday business activities, women entrepreneurs show strong potential value to a range of commercial actors such as mobile network operators and handset manufacturers.

We know that if women entrepreneurs succeed they create jobs and contribute to their own economies. In the exciting but fast-paced mobile industry, we must strategically focus resources on the realities that millions of women around the world encounter on a daily basis and work to develop practical solutions in order to maximize impact and positive change.

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